Of Owls & Malkuth Moments

Yesterday evening, as I was getting myself ready for the Honors Christmas party, smelling of soap and aftershave, my ten-year-old son Nicholas came running into the house and called up the stairs, “Dad! Mom says to put on your shirt and come outside!”

“My shirt’s already on,” I said. “What for?”

“There’s an owl!”

I slipped quickly into my shoes and trundled down the stairs, trying not to break my neck as I fought my way into a sweater.

Outside in our narrow back yard facing a stand of trees, I joined my wife and son, who both said, “Shhhh!” to keep me from shaking the earth, I guess. The wind-washed air was cold and still. The scraggly fingers of the naked trees reached into the sky, framed darkly against the failing light in the west. Just then, I heard the telltale triple hoot somewhere close by. Leslie pointed and there, about 50 yards away, high up on a lonely branch, sat a huge horned owl. He was almost black against the sky, but the profile was unmistakable. I ran back into the house to grab some binoculars and took a good look when I got back outside, though there wasn’t much to see in the gloom, just a stately creature surveying the scenery, looking for food.

“We better not let any of the cats out,” I said, handing the binoculars to Nicholas. The neighbor’s annoying golden retriever must have spotted the stranger because he started to bark senselessly. Seconds later, the magnificent creature spread its wings and swooped overhead in our direction, heading east. He flew directly over us, the speckled white of his broad chest clearly visible, and then, like an owl out of Harry Potter, flew toward the stunningly beautiful full moon rising in that direction.

I don’t generally like the cold, but the night sky is always at her best when the air is swept clean by the northwestern broom. Some of my most worshipful moments take place under the dark, dark of the December nights, when Orion’s Belt competes with the Seven Sisters for bragging rights and Andromeda’s gown glitters frostily. The full moon was achingly gorgeous last night. Whenever it looks like that I have to wonder at the Divine imagination. And sometimes I ask myself if anyone else I know is staring up at the same time, marveling with me at that beautiful sphere hanging impossibly suspended in our sky. We take it for granted because it’s there, and always has been, and doesn’t bother to ask our permission to come and go. Regularity breeds invisibility.

But then this morning, walking the dog at 6 am, the sky was still dark, with just the earliest tip of light in the East. And with the leaves all gone I could see the normally hidden southwestern sky and, for the first time in a very long time, I saw Venus, the Morning Star, hugging the horizon. It brought memories flooding back of winter days from my youth when I would rise early and see that brilliant light blazing away on the dark edge of the retreating night.

These are Malkuth moments, moments in which the earthly creation speaks, if we can hear it, and tells us who we are and how we fit into the grand scheme of things. Malkuth is a concept from Jewish Kabbalah–not the stupid New Age blather you’ll find if you Google the word, but a genuinely useful idea about gaining an understanding and respect for the creative foundation of existence, a consciousness of God in the physical world. It is symbolized by the Tree of Life that receives its essence from God and then shares its healing virtue and beauty with the rest of Creation, whether we see it or not, whether we bother to partake of it or not. But we can help it along if we recognize it for what it is. Increasingly I find that sipping at this Divine communion cup is better than singing a book full of hymns.

I’m really not trying to sound like Buddha here or some dirty, orange-clad holy-man with a flea-infested beard. For me these moments are beyond price. For as long as I can remember, my great unknowable sadnesses and secret agonies have been soothed by the silent singing stars in the Great Dance, as Dante calls it, with the big winter moon hanging over the hoary night while the rest of the world is snug indoors. I’ve just never written about it before. I wonder why we have allowed the night sky to become the property of the occultists. It’s like letting someone run off with your finest china dinnerware and never bothering to set the table again afterwards.