Aug 3, 2020
“We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.”― Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power
I’ve never been much of a gardener. Perhaps, this is because I’ve convinced myself that as an unusually color-blind woman, even if I did have a green thumb, I wouldn’t be able to see it. The fiery red bloom of a desert columbine in the Sandias is invisible to me unless I’m looking quite carefully for the shapes and tissue like texture of petals; only then can I see this sexy, miraculous flower.
My first plant love has come as revelation. She is a luscious and productive grapevine. We first met three summers ago when I moved back to New Mexico after almost 20 years away. That summer, when I feared careening into the abyss and felt no ground to stand on, daily mesa walks baking in the sun retaught me that the supportive ground would come up again and again under my feet. I first found my plant friend laden with wet and delicious fruit as I crossed the last wide stretch on my daily way home in the summer of 2017.
I didn’t know if her caretakers would want me to feel her sweetness bursting in my mouth. She was, after all, in the neighbor’s yard. But my ardour for her has only grown over the years, as I grieve the seasonal end of her fruit bearing time and marvel at her autumn leaves then watch them desiccate and grow brittle. I then witness her snakelike spine reveal itself, intricate, and complex in nakedness. I find her wondrous snow-covered and strong. And though I can’t see the green come in, her texture changes, her moisture and suppleness returns, and one glorious day, I can see again among the fine tendril-like curls, the baby grapes.
The days between the new moon and full moon are pregnant with the erotics of the growing world. It was during these days when my beloved neighborly grapevine grew to sweetness. The baby grapes have matured again, and again the stems bow pendulously with bunches of sweet green pods bursting with divine nectar. It is grape harvest season again. It is Tu B’Av.
Two weeks ago, the new moon of Rosh Chodesh Av gentled us inward for reflexive tenderness and preparation. New moon is the lunar resting time; new moon shines inward with a resonance of finding the divine through the infinite journey inside. Now, we have the counterbalancing full moon of Tu B’Av reflecting the sun’s brightness. Full moon is the lunar reflective time; full moon shines outward with the reverberation of finding the divine through the infinite journey of connection.
Tu B’Av marks the start of grape harvest, and Yom Kippur marks the end. Tu B’Av nods back to the heartbreak of Tisha B’Av and looks towards the great relief of Yom Kippur, and Tu B’Av invites us into the joy of now. Tu B’Av welcomes us to celebrate the pleasure of our bodies and the erotics of singing boldly, dancing outside, giving flowers anonymously, studying rapturously. Talmud teaches us to display this unbridled joy in borrowed clothing so that none will be embarrassed for not having the proper garments. This is a mysterious holiday, a pinnacle of joy in a season of holy transformative pain, an invitation to know pleasure without shame.
The mystery of Tu B’Av is unknowable to our mortal selves. It’s like trying to understand Spirit. What do we mean by God? Understanding God isn’t like seeing God in the majesty of mountains, or hearing God in a child’s laughter, or recognizing God in a deep emanation of intuition. Understanding Spirit as humans means embracing the paradox that our very capacity to understand Spirit is limited by our humanness, and simultaneously knowing that we are a part of God and that the holy spark of Ein Sof shines infinitely in each of us.
Our pleasure and creativity, our bodies and arousal, our inspiration and romance and our joy are all compounds of magnificent contradictions, oozing metamorphosis and lit-up with divine spark. May the full moon reflection of this Tu B’Av ignite the spark.
“To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.”― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
“Pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy . . . There is no way to repress pleasure and expect liberation, satisfaction, or joy.”― Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good