Spirituality as a Powerful Force of Change
by Rabbi Shoni Labowitz
As the new dawn is rising on a Friday morning at a resort off the Florida coast, a group of people wearing headphones are power-walking to the drumbeat and chants of the Jewish morning liturgy Elohai, neshamah shenatata bi tehorah hi - my God, the soul you have given me is pure. As the sun sets after a day of integrating spirituality and bodywork, meditation and conscious living, this group of men and women of varying ages and religious backgrounds from around the continent reassemble in a hallway adjacent to a meditation chapel. They are preparing for the Sabbath by experiencing a ritual in which they will symbolically unite with God. Music plays, candles flicker, and one by one they proceed into the chapel and stand under a wedding canopy where they marry the many images of God within themselves.
To these retreatants, and millions alike, spirituality is not a fad. Spirituality, like health food, may have appeared to start as a temporary trend. Just as eating non-toxic, unprocessed, whole foods changed the attitude of the health industry, so too is spirituality changing the attitude of religion and its ministry.
Like the desire for real food, people are seeking a real connection to a real God, a God that is as natural and close to them as their own bodies and as far-reaching and all-encompassing as an unexplored universe. They want to feel God within themselves and to be able to see themselves in the many images of God. They want to be able to sit at a corporate or political board meeting and see the presence of God reflected in every member.
They want to take a vacation of silence and be able to hear God amidst the noise and chatter of their daily lives. They want to enter their homes with the same reverence they would enter a sanctuary where God dwells. They want to feel more healthy, wholesome, and holy with the knowledge that God is their friend and guide breathing, loving, and walking with them.
When we feel a sense of God in our bodies, we can more easily walk with God in our lives. The problem is when we only know spirituality through things we have heard or read and not experienced it in our bodies, we forget. We jump out of our beds at the sound of an alarm and forget to acknowledge the miracles that abound in the awakening cells, tissues, and membranes of our own bodies. We rush through the morning rituals of getting dressed and forget that we are anointing and adorning a vehicle that was born to carry the light of God into the world. We gobble down breakfast and forget to acknowledge the sun, rain, soil, and the numerous other participants that God enabled to bring the food to our table. And the stress with which we begin our day travels with us through the rush hour traffic, into the sales meetings, political lunches, and staff briefings. We forget to breathe, love, and walk with God and then we wonder why we get a headache, feel frustrated in our relationships, and take a whole evening to unwind before we jump up at the sound of the next morning's alarm.
When we feel a sense of God in our bodies, we can more easily walk with God in our lives. The B aal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, said that everyone - even those in religious occupations - should pause throughout the day and consciously connect with God. All we have to do is take a moment to pause, go within, and meet God there.
The Tikkunai Zohar (69:100b, 130b) states, "For every part in your body and in your life, there is a parallel part in the many faces of God." Open to it, every interchange in our bodies and lives can lead us to touching the face of God. Just imagine.
When we connect with our bodies, we connect with the body of God. When we play, we play with God. When we shed blood, we shed the blood of God. When we are in union with another, we are in union with God. When we birth new life, we birth new forms of God. As our bodies and lives change, our images of God change.
Dr. Jean Houston has said often, "When you know something in your body, you know it in your life." When we feel the passion of God in our bodies and in our lives, we can't help but bring this spiritual fervor into everything we do. As an example, prayers that were once confined to recitation while sitting in pews and holding a prayer book become, with spiritual fervor, expressions of God's love that flows through our bodies. This sense of spirituality is changing, not the prayers, but the ways in which we pray in temples and churches throughout the country. At B'nai Jeshurun in New York City and TAO in Ft. Lauderdale, people are dancing in the aisles as they pray. At TAO services begin with yoga postures, and the musical worship and dancing builds to a crescendo with a hands-on healing circle. On any given day at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, you can touch the spirit of God by prayerfully walking the circular maze of the labyrinth.
Spirituality is a way of life that affects the way we perceive ourselves individually and profoundly affects our communal perceptions. Just as we can no longer confine prayer to a pew, we can no longer limit spirituality to a solitary journey within. Psalm 104:20 states, "You bring on darkness and it is night." The Talmud (Baba Metzia 83b) explains this verse by comparing the world in which we live to the darkness of the night. Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzatto expounds on this by teaching that if this world is like the darkness of the night, there are two problems we could encounter; both have to do with our ability to see. One, we may not be able to see at all in the dark, thereby missing what is in front of us. And two, we may not see clearly and think that a pillar or cement post is a human being, or vice versa. In other words, without God's light to clarify our vision, we will begin seeing each other as inanimate objects, void of feelings and spirit.
Once we touch the face of God within ourselves, we begin seeing God everywhere, in the light and dark, in the animate and inanimate, and in the varied faces of those with whom we work, love, play, and are yet to meet. We begin seeing each other as kindred sparks, all children of the many images of who God is here on earth. As our spirituality grows, it moves outside our neighborhoods into the streets of our cities and the ivory towers of our institutions. No longer are we isolated architecture of the night. We become communities that are part of a larger landscape, pulsating with the vibrancy of life, love, and godliness.
A spirituality that empowers one needs to empower all. To feel secure in the peace, joy, and freedom we have found in spirituality, we must make it available to everyone. We do this not by proselytizing a particular set of beliefs or religion but by guiding people to the God of their choice in order to seek their own inner truths.
I recall one of the first encounters I had when volunteering in a woman's detention center. I was escorted into the "community room." Motionless, bored bodies of multi-racial teenagers were draped over, under and around the tattered chairs and broken desks. I introduced myself. The few stirs were as quiet as a kitten's purr. They aimlessly introduced themselves. Still not too exciting. The conversation got a bit more animated when we spoke of God. What caused a real stir was when I asked everyone to rise and pray with me. Some stood, others still feigned sleep, while yet others threw objects of distraction around the room.
Instead of reading or chanting a particular prayer, I began to speak about the importance of our names and how they identify who we are as unparalleled imprints of God. We created a circle around the room and one girl at a time entered the center of the circle. We repeatedly chanted her name aloud while she silently prayed to the God of her choice. As the girls in the circle became increasingly engrossed in the sanctity of the moment and in the process of being recognized for their divinity, those that were sleeping or attempting to distract the others slowly arose and joined the prayer circle. Whether we are with a professor, a doctor, a president, a thief, or a murderer, each person is another imprint of who God is, revealed or hidden, in this world. Everyone wants to feel that they have an identity and something worthwhile to contribute to life.
Spirituality neither demands respect nor demands that we ascribe to more rules and stringent structure. Rather, spirituality teaches us to give respect and inspires more faith, confidence, and courage. It is time to take all we have learned through spirituality into the darkness of this world, to see each other through Godded eyes and awaken to the dawn of a new day.