A student recently asked me if I do this “spirituality thing” all the time. She asked if intense reflection is a part of particular experiences (learning, davening, etc) or is it an all-the-time activity. A few recent experiences lead me to answer with the following thoughts.
I believe spirituality is a way of living life fully. Limiting spirituality to regimented moments alone means that either a) life is only experienced fully during scheduled moments or that b) structured times can’t be spiritual, given their inherent limits (ie., not-full-ness) . And so I offer the following reflections in a personal attempt to weave given structure and free spirit, and in thanks to a student who inspired me.
Entering and emerging from the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge is at once a terrifying and inspiring journey.
This week’s Parasha tells us that
…When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of God filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the God filled the Tabernacle.. . over the Tabernacle the cloud of God rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the House of Israel throughout their journeys. (Ex. 40:33-38)
God’s Presence, the Shechinah, fills the holy space in the company of a cloud. Just an hour ago I stood in the hills of Marin County, watching clouds fly overhead and around, almost through the space I occupied. Could God have been there? Was there still room for me? Was my ability to be fully present due perhaps, to the fact that I was a recipient of the moment (one of the ‘House of Israel’) instead of its facilitator (Moses)?
What if I hadn’t been already swimming in this week’s Torah Portion? Would I have still experienced the grandeur? Would those glorious clouds have rushed over my head and not through me?
Witnessing the play of children, their curiosity, their wisdom, and their emerging selfs is spectacular. When you are their parent or teacher, when you (I) remember to not fetter them and to let their hands create, when you remember to stand back, to not let a camcorder’s viewfinder distract you from true seeing, life is rapturous.
We read in this week’s Parasha:
And Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has singled out by name Betzalel, son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Judah. God has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft and has inspired him to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood — to work in every kind of designer’s craft — and to give directions. He and Oholiab son of Achisamach of the tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work — of the carver, the designer, the embroiderer in blue, purple, crimson yarns, and in fine linen, and of the weaver — as workers in all crafts and as makers of designs. (Ex. 35:30-35)
Are my children not gifts of God? Are my eldest daughter’s passion, my son’s laughter, my daughter’s artistry, not intense and holy? When I stand back and see the variety of children and parents assembled in the sunlight, do I offer thanks to the Maker of Designs?
And what if I weren’t so closely tuned in to these threads of Torah? Would I miss the beauty of the weave?
I believe that the purpose of a Spiritual practice is to experience life more deeply. Do you need to be able to quote Torah or Midrash? Perhaps not. But they certainly help. I am more open to finding the holy in the world because I swim with Torah, I eat with Torah, I parent with Torah, I cry with Torah.
Isn’t this a bit intense? Yes.
Do I hold onto this depth when I’m trying to get dressed in time for a meeting, when my inspiring children are acting their ages, when I’m tired? Do I always remember to look at the sky? Does the journey always evoke wonder? No.
But reaching for intensity in structured ways means that I’m more open to wonder when I’m not looking for it as well.
Remember the first text. There was no room for Moses when God filled the space. If God is all there is, if I’m always looking for the next spiritual experience, there might not be enough room for “normal” moments.
Remember the second text. Betzalel’s divine gift is to create with physical materials. We might imagine that sometimes the wood’s natural grain, the make-up of the stone, even the snarls in the thread didn’t readily agree with Betzalel’s design. But feeling them with our very human hands is the gift.
Eventually, through the process of interacting with the world in which we live, entering and emerging from clouds, allowing ourselves to see the world through children’s eyes, hands, and hearts, swimming in the waters of Jewish sacred wisdom texts, the tapestry of an encounterable spiritual life might emerge.