Friday 18 February 2011

Meet "Velveteen Rabbi" Rachel Barenblatt

Anybody following the current Sunday night drama about a girl retracing her grandfather's history in Israel as a part of the British army , played out against the contemporary frictions of suicide bombers, the Israeli militia, and peace strugglers in Israel will begin to get a feel for the complexities.

The Bible promises are clear concerning Israel, but as Daniel Yordy has pointed out....which Israel? And this current Israel which has been so facilitated by the house of Rothschild, probably for the express purpose of rebuilding the Third Temple, complete with sacrificial system, and yet a political entity that even the Orthodox Jews in Israel don't recognise. Somewhere in between all the lines God's Word is being worked out, but we have to listen hard for God's Spirit, and not let ourselves be duped by what we see with our eyes.

I was explaining to Daniel Yordy that the exact words of our New testament scriptures are as follows:
Romans 11:25For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery--so that you will not be wise in your own estimation--that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;

26and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

28From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers;

29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

30For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience,

31so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.

32For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

33Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!



36For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

To hear Christians speak, you would think that a total eclipse of all God's Spirit had occurred in Israel. This very arrogant spirit is the same one that got the Jews into bother in the first place with Jesus.
Here saints is the KEY to all history being worked out:

For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
This is not Jews.This is flesh life. Yes Jews were in the picture.
But so were the Lutherans, when the Calvinists broke off from them.
And the Anabaptists when they broke off from the others.
Then later the "non-conformists" breaking away from their mother country to go to America to a life of religious freedom.....
The Huguenots being effectively pushed out of France, many of whom came to England,
And so on and so on down through every inflexibility to the present day.

What is the present day? Well, in my locality it is the current church leadership preventing me from speaking publicly.

All this has continued through all the centuries, beginning with the Jews.
There are no people anywhere that are immune. We all act from this arrogant spirit of human tradition. Of taking the moral high ground, when the truth is we are the LOW GROUND.

God shuts everyone everywhere up in disobedience.

So in a more humble spirit listen for the Spirit of God in these two posts of Rachel Barenblatt.
Please understand that I am fully aware that she is caught up in ritual and law....actually she sounds if anything incredibly "high church" like Christian Orthodox churches and Catholic churches....only ofcourse she represents the "traditional" rock from which we Christians were all hewn. This indeed says more about how Christian churches have dragged the Old Covenant Law practices and rituals right into church life and stuck a great neon sign over it, Las Vegas style, with the Words "New Covenant worship" flashing over the if the words themselves suddenly "Transubstantiate" our worship Catholic style into some new era.

No, in Rachel's writing on Holiness and This is spiritual Life there's a whole lot more passion and love for God going on. I'd be interested in your feedback.

As God is holy by Velveteen Rabbi
In a comment on this post, I told Mis-nagid that I see no disjunction between the idea that the Torah as we know it was written by (multiple) human hands, and the idea that there's holiness encapsulated in Torah and that studying it can lead us to holiness. He emailed me afterwards and asked, reasonably enough, what I meant by holiness. My first thought was that, like art (or porn), I know it when I see it. But that seems glib, and his question got me wondering whether I have a better answer.
Predictably, I started my exploration by looking at what other people mean by holiness. The incredibly cool Online Etymology dictionary has a lot to say about the English word "holy." At its heart, it may once have meant "that which must be kept whole" or "that which is inviolate." My first sense that holiness relates to wholeness came from Wendell Berry, who writes (in The Art of the Commonplace), "The word health belongs to a family of words, a listing of which will suggest how far the consideration of health must carry us: heal, whole, wholesome, hale, hallow, holy." He's talking about the deeper meanings of health, but I think his list has bearing on the deeper meanings of holiness, too. And indeed, Webster's Dictionary tells me, among other things, that "holy," applied to a person, means "spiritually whole or sound."
In Hebrew, the root kadosh (or qadosh, as some transliterations would have it) means "sanctified." Though it bears no etymological relation to the root of l'havdil, "to separate," some heavy hitters have argued that the two concepts are linked. This page holds a relevant section of Leviticus, followed by commentary from Rashi and Nachmanides which addresses the relationship of holiness and separateness. (The Wikipedia entry on holiness begins with "Holiness means the state of being holy, that is, set apart for the worship or service of [God]...") I have to admit, that's a connotation I'm not crazy about. The religion major in me understands the power of setting apart; the egalitarian ecumenicist in me wants holiness to connect, rather than separating.
For another perspective, check out this essay by Avi Lazerson, which drashes the etymological relationship between holy (kadusha) and harlot (kadasha) in order to argue that God's holiness resides in God's un-bounded-ness. God exists beyond boundaries, as harlots exist beyond social conventions.
Okay, enough about what the tradition means by holiness; what do I mean by it?
For the last ten years we've belonged to a local community-supported farm. A couple of summers ago I ran into a minister friend there, who like me was picking his week's share of cherry tomatoes. "This is some of the holiest ground I know," he said. I agreed wholeheartedly. What makes the ground of Caretaker Farm holy? Not its tremendous spiritual/edible abundance, but the precursor to that abundance: the kavvanah (intention) with which it is farmed. I wouldn't rule out that some places may be innately holy, but on the whole I think we make holy places together.
Holiness is something we both make and find. True in our dwelling-places; true in text study. Is Torah inherently holy? Depends on who you ask. I'd say there's some holiness in Torah, and that further holiness accrues through our study. Holiness is that which aligns us with God. (Here, as always, I'm using "God" as shorthand. I'll try to explain what I mean by "God" another day; "holiness" is proving slippery enough!) As it is written in Etz Hayim, "The Torah is holy not only because it comes from God but because it leads to God."
We're instructed to be holy as our God is holy. So how is God holy? God is fundamentally whole; God is aligned with righteousness; God balances this and that, yin and yang, mercy and judgement, with perfect equanimity. Are we capable of that? Maybe not, but it seems worth trying. To me, that's at the heart of the instruction to be a holy community unto God. As this commentary argues, holiness is an essentially communal phenomenon. We're supposed to work together at creating and embodying wholeness. The goal may be impossible, but the journey is worth the work.
The people I know who strike me as holy are engaged in that. Though some of them happen to be rabbis or ministers, senseis or roshis, what makes them holy in my eyes is not their rank or ordination but how fully present they are in every interaction. They know who they are and where they're going. They're deliberate, focused, and awake. They're doing the important work of improving creation.
And that's part of why I have no trouble believing simultaneously that Torah was written down by people, and that there's holiness to be found in studying it. Working righteously with kavvanah, mindful of our Source and our ideals for ourselves, makes holiness: in people, in places, in texts. Holiness may be one of God's essential qualities, but through the choices we make in our lives, we can also make it our own.

This is spiritual life by Velveteen Rabbi
On the first day of the hashpa'ah (spiritual direction) training program which I began in early 2009, my spiritual director described what her spiritual practices had been like before she had children, and then she talked about how her spiritual life inevitably changed once her kids came on the scene. She was clear that spiritual life does continue; but she noted that it may need to take different forms than it did before. (She said other things too, but that was what really struck me. I was newly-pregnant then, and did not know that I would miscarry a few days later, so I was hyperconscious of everything having to do with prospecive parenthood.)
I remember hearing similar stories from Reb Marcia, the dean of the ALEPH rabbinic program. At one point during DLTI, she reminisced to us about davening while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her kids to take to school and about singing along with a recording of the morning liturgy in the car. She told us those stories by way of encouraging us to get Hazzan Jack's Learn to Daven! cd and to listen to it often -- and she's right; it's a great way to become comfortable with the full text of the classical morning service -- but I think of her exhortation often now when I daven along with Reb Shawn Zevit's Morning I Will Seek You in the car on the way to daycare.
It's easy to think of spiritual practice as something we do when we can dedicate space and time away from our "regular lives." If I could just get on top of my to-do list, then I could make time to pray. If I didn't have dishes to wash, laundry to fold, thankyou notes to write, a desk to tidy, bills to pay, emails to return, blog comments to moderate.
But all of life can be spiritual life. I can begin my day with modah ani; I can say the blessing sanctifying the body as I moisturize my skin in the morning, or as I use the bathroom, or as I change diapers; when I see my son beginning to walk, I can follow the morning liturgy in thanking God Who makes firm our steps.
There's no necessary dichotomy between real life and spiritual life. Spiritual life isn't just something that happens when we can make time for it, or when we can dedicate ourselves to it wholly -- as delicious as that is! Those of us who've had the luxury of occasionally going on retreat know that the real challenge can be integrating the peak experience of the retreat into ordinary life once one has come home again. The question isn't "who am I when I can spend my morning in yoga and meditation and prayer" -- it's "who am I when I wake up to the baby and the bills and the tasks on my plate?"
There's never enough time to get wholly on top of the to-do list. (If nothing else, cooking/dishes and laundry are self-generating tasks: cook one meal and eat it, and the next day you're still going to be hungry again.) The time to study a little Torah, or to pray, or to meditate, can't be "when everything else is done" -- because everything else is never done. Besides: Torah, prayer, self-care are important. More important, maybe, than the other things on our to-do lists a lot of the time...though most of us don't inhabit a paradigm where that perspective is commonly shared.
The real challenge of spiritual life -- for me right now, anyway -- is remembering that all of life is spiritual life. As I drive wherever I'm going, God is all around me. God is manifest in the people standing in the grocery check-out line or on the airplane jetway. Every step I take is an opportunity to be mindful of one foot, and then the next; every breath I take is an opportunity to inhale God in, and exhale God out. Spiritual practice doesn't just have to mean meditation, or yoga, or enfolding myself in tefillin and tallit and spending quality time with the siddur. Washing dishes can be a spiritual practice. Babyminding can be a spiritual practice. Self-care can be a spiritual practice.
There's a Hasidic idea of avodah b'gashmiut, service or worship through corporeality, which I love (and which I've blogged about before.) That idea goes like this: physicality, the mundane world in which we all operate, isn't an obstacle to connecting with God -- it's the very vehicle through which we can have that connection. Tending our bodies, tending our children, eating food and clearing the table: all of these are opportunities for spiritual connection. In Hasidic language, the task is one of "elevating the sparks" -- finding the holiness latent in each of these things, and lifting it up to heaven.
Every day is full of sparks waiting to be lifted up. Whatever you're doing right now can be part of your spiritual life too.

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