I engage the Bible in a playful spirit in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com. The down-to-earth spiritual system of Judaism called Kabbalah provided me with tools for approaching Torah in a lively ways. Kabbalah provides a symbolic language and a metaphorical way of thinking for playfully exploring how divine energies are drawn down into our everyday world. Lest you view my playing with sacred and spiritual texts as irreverent and sacrilegious, we learn from the Bible itself to approach it in a playful spirit.
In Psalm 119:174, we read: “Your Torah is my plaything (sha’ashua).” The Hebrew word sha’ashua is a toy to engage children in play. In Proverbs 8:30, 31, King Solomon speaks in the voice of the Torah: “I [the Torah] was the artist’s plan. I was His [God’s] delight every day, playing before Him at all times, playing in the inhabited areas of His earth, my delights are with human beings.” This translation from the Hebrew original is based on the wisdom on the first page of the ancient biblical commentary Midrash Rabba.
In emulation of God’s playfulness and delight, enjoy playing creatively with the Torah story to make it reveal fresh insights into your life story. My book Photograph God teaches how to make the vibrant dialogue between the biblical narrative and yours reach to the ends of the Earth through the blogosphere and Twitterverse.
ENTERING THE GARDEN OF EDEN THROUGH YOUR KITCHEN
For a taste of my playful ways to study Torah, I present here my book’s introduction “Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life.”
Abraham rushed to the tent to Sarah and said, “Hurry! Take three measures of the finest flour! Kneed it and make rolls!” Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender and choice calf. (Genesis 18:6, 7)
Abraham ran after a calf that ran away from him into a cave that was the burial place of Adam and Eve.
At the far end of the cave, he saw intense light emanating from an opening.
When he came close to the opening, he found himself standing at the entrance to the Garden of Eden.
About to enter the pristine garden, he remembered that his wife and three guests were waiting for lunch back at the tent.
What should he do? Should he trade paradise for a barbeque?
The Bible tells us that he chose to return to the tent and join his wife in making a meal for their three guests.
Abraham realized that paradise is what we create with our spouse at home. Other visions of paradise are either mirages or lies.
Enjoy life with the wife you love through all the days of your life. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)
My wife, Miriam, and I worked together to create paradise in our vegetarian kitchen.
Adam and Eve had a vegetarian kitchen.
Spirituality emerged from our collaboration making a potato casserole for our guests.
We bought potatoes and scallions in Avi’s vegetable store and cottage cheese and grated yellow cheese in Bella’s grocery.
We baked the potatoes in the microwave, sliced them into the baking pan and covered them with the cheeses.
Miriam washed the scallions, cut them up, and sprinkled them over layers of cheese-covered potatoes.
After the casserole was baked, we served it to our guests.
This biblical narrative linked to revealing God in a contemporary kitchen is the text from the “Paradise or Barbeque” post in the blogart project Torah Tweets: A Postdigital Biblical Commentary as a Blogart Narrative. You can see the images for this post as “Genesis 4: Paradise or Barbeque” at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.
“Paradise or Barbeque” exemplifies the core concept of Bible Blog Your Life:
An invitation to develop creative ways to photograph God in all that happens in your everyday life while crafting a vibrant dialogue between your story and the Bible’s story.
Bible Blog Your Life speaks to people of all religions and spiritual traditions as it explores thoughts from the Bible and kabbalah in fresh and imaginative ways. It uses kabbalah, the down-to-earth mystical tradition of Judaism, to help you appreciate the creative process shared by you and God. It challenges you to inspirationally link an ancient spiritual tradition to your life in a networked world.
PHOTOGRAPH ‘THE PLACE’ WHERE EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING
God does not exist in reality. God is reality itself. Rabbi David Aaron, who teaches kabbalah in the Old City of Jerusalem, explains in his book Seeing God that God is the all-embracing context for everything. In Hebrew, God is called Hamakom, which means “The Place.” God is the place where everything is happening. You do not exist alongside God. You exist within God, within the only one reality that is God. Everything is in God, God is in everything, but God is also beyond everything.
Seeing God is all about getting in touch with reality. If you want to photograph God, focus your lens on Hamakom, The Place, anyplace where you see divine light illuminating reality. Let your camera collect the light reflecting from the reality shaping your everyday life and you will find yourself photographing God in action.
SHATTER POPULAR IMAGES OF GOD
The English word “God” is a Germanic word that often conjures up images of some all- powerful being in the sky zapping us if we step out of line. Your first step to photographing Hamakom, The Place of all the action in your life, is to shatter popular images of God.
The Bible admonishes us not to create graven images that delimit a God that kabbalah calls Ein Sof “Endless” and Ha’efes Hamukhlet “Absolute Nothingness.” God is no thing, nothing, and has no name.
To photograph God, you need to get rid of “God.” You need to abandon conceptual graven images, idols of God engraved in your mind from childhood. Free your mind from any images of God. See God as Hamakom, any place that you focus your lens.
Since I am writing this book in English, I reluctantly use the word “God.” A comparable word does not exist in the Bible in the Hebrew original. We rather find names for the emanations of divine light illuminating our thoughts, feelings and actions. Hebrew speakers call God Hashem, literally “The Name,” the name of the nameless One.
The most frequently used word in the Bible that is translated as “God” is YHVH. Since it is made up of only vowels, it cannot be pronounced. It is the sound of your breathing. YHVH should be translated as “Is-Was-Will Be.” It combines in four letters the present, past and future tenses of the verb “to be.” When the Bible is studied in Hebrew, YHVH is read as Hashem. When the Bible is read aloud in synagogue, the reader sees the word YHVH and reads it as another word, the word for Lord Adonai.
Everyplace in this book that you see the word “God,” read it as Hashem.
The divine response to Moses asking for God’s name is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, “I Will Be as I Will Be.” God’s name is no thing, not a noun. It is a verb that actively points to a future open to all possibilities.
Getting rid of the popular image of God is the essence of biblical consciousness. In the Bible, Abraham is called the first Hebrew, which means “one who crosses over.” He crossed over from popular images of God of his times shaped from clay to an imageless God that permeates all of reality and beyond. As a prelude to the biblical story of Abraham beginning his journey away from his father’s world of idolatry, the oral tradition tells that Abraham was minding his father’s idol shop when he took a stick and shattered the merchandise to bits. He left only the largest idol untouched, placing the stick in its hand. When his father returned, his shock at seeing the scene of devastation grew into fury as he demanded an explanation from his son. Abraham explained how the largest idol had broken all the other idols.
Use your camera as a tool to shatter the popular conceptual idol in the sky called “God” by focusing on Hamakom. Focus your lens on whatever place you find yourself.
SPIRITUAL DIMENSIONS OF EVERYDAY LIFE
You can discover unprecedented creative opportunities for linking biblical texts with the spiritual in your everyday life through digital photography, a narrative blog form, and the Internet’s social media.
The Torah Tweets blog begins with a series of quotations from the Bible, contemporary thinkers, and popular literature that establish down-to-earth spiritually as the major theme of Judaism. Weaving through Bible Blog your Life, you will find this theme inviting you to discover spirituality as it flows down into your life.
“For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp.” (Deuteronomy 23:15)
“Judaism does not direct its gaze upward but downward … does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence, nor does it seek to soar upon the wings of some abstract, mysterious spirituality. It fixes its gaze upon concrete, empirical reality permeating every nook and cranny of life. The marketplace, the factory, the street, the house, the mall, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop of religious life.” (R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik)
“It is not enough for the Jew to rest content with his own spiritual ascent, the elevation of his soul in closeness to G-d, he must strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of it – the world of his work and his social life – until not only do they not distract him from his pursuit of G-d, but they become a full part of it.” (R. Menachem M. Schneerson)
“The first message that Moses chose to teach the Jewish people as they were about to enter the Land of Israel was to fuse heaven to earth, to enable the mundane to rise up and touch the Divine, the spiritual to vitalize the physical, not only as individuals but as an entire nation.” (R. Abraham Y. Kook)
“If there is a religious agency in our lives, it has to appear in the manner of our times. Not from on high, but a revelation that hides itself in our culture, it will be ground-level, on the street, it’ll be coming down the avenue in the traffic, hard to tell apart from anything else.” (E. L. Doctorow)
PHOTOGRAPH THE SPECTRUM OF DIVINE LIGHT
This book teaches you how to make an invisible God become visible through your creative lens. It draws on the ancient wisdom of kabbalah to help you recognize that you have been looking at God all the time and often missed the action. It helps you develop conceptual and practical tools for photographing God as divine light reflected from every facet of your life.
Just as a prism breaks up white light into the colors of the spectrum, kabbalah reveals a spectrum of divine light based upon the biblical passage:
“Yours God are the compassion, the strength, the beauty, the success, the splendor, and the [foundation] of everything in heaven and on earth” (Chronicles 1:29).
Learn that photographing God is to creatively photograph these six divine attributes revealed to you in all aspects of your life. Focus your lens on acts of compassion, strength, beauty, success, and splendor that you encounter every day and everywhere. Shift your focus to see ordinary events as being extraordinary, incredible, and amazing. Take nothing for granted. To be spiritual is to be continuously amazed.
You can better understand and appreciate the range of meanings within each of these six divine attributes by seeing them expressed in the lives of biblical personalities: Compassion (Abraham and Ruth), Strength (Isaac and Sarah), Beauty (Jacob and Rebecca), Success (Moses and Miriam), Splendor (Aaron and Deborah), and Foundation (Joseph and Tamar). Imagine walking with your camera millennia ago photographing key events in the lives of these people. Then take your camera and photograph actions that you observe in the lives of family, friends, and others you encounter that parallel events in the lives of Abraham, Ruth, Isaac, Sarah, Jacob, Rebecca, Moses, Miriam, Aaron, Deborah, Joseph, and Tamar.
TURN YOUR LENS ON YOURSELF
See the spectrum of divine light in your creative process. Develop skills for identifying the colors of the divine spectrum revealed in your surroundings by first seeing them in yourself. The “Tree of Life” kabbalistic model will help you get in touch with your creative experiences as you photograph God in the flow of your life. Looking inward at the dynamic flow of divine light as your intentions, creative thoughts, and emotions are actualized will help you appreciate your outward search for meaningful images to photograph.
Since the Bible teaches that we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), turning your lens on yourself to observe your own creative process can offer clues to the way God works. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one the 20th century’s foremost thinkers, writes that the dream of creation is the central idea in Jewish consciousness. He emphasizes the importance of the human role as partners of the Almighty in the act of creation. We can catch a glimpse of the process by which God created the world by gaining insight into our own parallel creative process.
LINK YOUR STORY TO THE BIBLICAL STORY
This book invites you to connect your personal narrative to the biblical narrative. It guides you in creating a blog to observe, document, and share how your everyday experiences reflect biblical messages. It teaches how to find fresh meaning in your life story by relating it to the biblical story through digital photography and creative writing.
Having learned how to focus your lens on God wherever you look will help you create blog narratives gleaned from your creative reading of the Bible. You will be encouraged to explore imaginative ways for blogging photographic sequences that link two stories – the story of your life as it unfolds and the enduring biblical story. You will also experiment with writing accompanying tweet texts to disseminate worldwide through your blog, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.
A Bible blog is a dialogue between images and text. The images are a sequence of photographs sandwiched between two types of texts: the Biblical text and the text that you write about your life in response to your inspired reading of the Bible.
A blog is an ideal Torah art form, a web log of living process in a networked world. It is an active form that unfolds over time rather than a static form like a still life painting entombed in a golden frame that had been the prevalent art form until modernism emerged.
The biblical narrative in the first five biblical books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), unfolds over time as it is read from a Torah scroll in weekly portions. A blog is also a narrative in chronological form read by scrolling down through portions called “posts.” However, unlike the Torah story that begins “In the Beginning,” a blog begins at the end. A blog displays its story in reverse chronological order with the most recent post appearing first. When you open a blog, you first see the last post and then scroll down to earlier posts.
The posts from the year-long Torah Tweets blogart project that my wife, artist Miriam Benjamin, and I created, offers a model for your Bible blogging. We developed the Torah Tweets blog to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage. During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted photographs reflecting our life together with a text of tweets that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives. We invite other couples, individuals, and families to join us in discovering the Bible as inspiration for celebrating their lives through creating their own Bible blog. Bible blogging is a creative way to reveal spirituality in your everyday life.
Since the Torah Tweets blog begins with the last post first, it requires scrolling backwards to view it. This reverse chronological order starting with the last portion of the Torah makes it awkward to use it as a model for creating your blog. Therefore, I made it easier to use by reposted the Torah Tweets blog in the order of the Torah portions beginning with the first portion of Genesis and ending with the last portion of Deuteronomy. This new blog has the same the name of this book, Bible Blog Your Life. You can access it at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.
Write your text as tweets that can spread across our networked world. Tweets are messages of not more than 140 characters required by the Twitter social networking website. Limiting the number of words is a creative challenge that imitates the Torah itself which does not waste words. Torah tweets are like bursts of bird song that sometimes gain a haiku-like poetic flavor.
Our year-long blogart project is a narrative art form that reveals a paradigm shift from the Greek to the Hebraic roots of Western culture. The conceptual background for the Torah Tweets blog is offered in my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness. It explores how the static, moderate, passive Hellenistic consciousness revived in the Renaissance contrasts with the dynamic, open-ended, action-centered Hebraic consciousness emerging in contemporary art forms.
The active interface between photographic narratives and biblical texts is a postdigtial expression of Hebraic consciousness. Wikipedia’s definition of “postdigtial” refers to my book, defining “postdigital art” as artworks that address the humanization of digital technologies through interplay between digital, biological, cultural, and spiritual systems. It points to an attitude that is more concerned with being human, than with being digital.
Make your Bible blog transform the mundane into the spiritual, the ordinary into the extraordinary, and experiences of daily living into expressions of biblical values.
TO BE CONTINUED
Follow my Times of Israel blog every week where I will post excerpts from my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life. See praise for the book at http://photographgod.com. You can read the entire book at once by ordering it from amazon.com and most other Internet book sellers.