Tuesday, September 21, 2010


We (Jewish people) have so many rich and deep traditions, as you might expect from a religion that is thousands of years old.  And these traditions come from holy scripture as much as they come from culture and and all the other ways we human beings come to make meaning of our lives.  They are a combination of all the things we have collectively seen and done and known, and they have brought us to this point of organized liturgy - religious habits and practices that symbolize what it means to be Jewish in these times.

We have scripted prayer and ancient ritual and modern interpretation and biblical Hebrew and contemporary philosophy alongside the enduring words of divine inspiration.  And all of it works in its own way, for its own purpose, giving us a strong but often elusive identity of what it means to be Jewish.  And we agree almost as much as we disagree on what it means and what G*d intends.

And there is always so much to learn and know and see, ways into being Jewish that are religious or cultural or political or geographical or spiritual or philosophical or intellectual, and there isn't a single place in life where Jewish identity doesn't have some say, some pull, some sway. 

But for me, in the midst of all of this, the one thing I miss again and again and again, is the pure silence of union with G*d.  Before I even turned 20, I took a wonderful detour from Jewish experience and immersed myself in an Eastern practice of open-eyed meditative yoga, where I stayed for over 25 years.  And went deep, deep, deep into the practice of silent connection, silent union with G*d, a practice of profound and transformative power.

And while meditation was always accompanied by the rigorous work of refining the intellect through study, the power and purity attained in silent meditation, sitting intentionally with G*d, transcends anything the human mind can reach on its own through conscious effort. 

Daily disciplines guided every moment - every second of thinking and speaking and doing - creating an unending laboratory of spiritual experimentation.  We examined and tended every inch of the internal landscape of the mind and heart looking for the obstacles standing in our way of getting ever closer and closer to G*d, and in the process, getting ever closer and closer to the very best of who we could be.

The relentless pursuit of spiritual perfection is a daunting task for us mere mortals and ordinary human beings, but it opens space in the soul that sparkles with possibility in ways we can otherwise miss in our busy lives.  And for me, the polish on the sparkle came through diving deep into the powerful silence of G*d's presence. 

Communal meditation, a few or hundreds or even thousands of us, sitting together in that same silence, invoking the presence of G*d, created an atmosphere, a tangible 3-dimensional experience, of pure peace.  And you didn't have to meditate or even believe in G*d yourself to feel it.  Anyone could walk into this space and feel something wonderful and warm and comforting reaching back to embrace them.  And that something was just the simple beauty of spiritual power brought alive in silence.

So now, when I sit in synagogue, and listen to the prayers and the readings and the sermons, I appreciate the words and the work it took to put all of this together.  And I appreciate that this comes to me having been handed down from generation-to-generation, and I'm just the latest recipient of it all.  And I love that we continue to come together in community and am so grateful to count myself a part of the community.

But no matter what, I miss the silence.  I miss the space and time and intention of all of us sitting together in recognition of G*d's meaningful presence in each of our lives, opening our hearts to Him in silence, offering up everything we are and listening to hear what He has to say, our own thoughts quieter and slower and deeper than usual, and doing all this together.

Because Jewish community is as much about community as it is about G*d, and it's not enough to sit on a mountain top by yourself.  And it's also not enough to fill your head with so much law and learning that there's not room for anything else.  And it's not good to leave your heart empty especially when your head is too full.

I'm not sure where the place and space is for us to come together in silence in Jewish life right now.  But I imagine that Jewish history is filled with such moments, when it was clear that all our thinking and talking was not a tall enough elevator to get us to G*d, and perhaps we've arrived at such a moment again.

1 comment:

The Biker said...

Uplifting writing; more, more!