Who could have anticipated the massive changes in our lives over the past few years? From all sides, our lives seem to have been in a constant cycle of changes. I live with change all the time. For me, that is nothing new. And I have become more “Zen” about change each year. But I know that not everyone is as embracing of change as I am. And trust me, I was not always this way. It has taken me time, practice, and patience. So, as I wrote in one of my weekly messages a few weeks ago … breathe.
This will be a year of change for all of us. Change is inevitable. Of course, we can fight change and become Sisyphus trying to push the boulder up the hill, or we can simply release the change and embrace what it brings. We always have a choice. Amid these great changes, what can we do to find grounding? Where is our foundation in a world in flux? I am of the mind that the greatest stability will come from our ancient and enduring faith in God and in the eastern concept of karma.
Developing and preserving spiritual faith may be a difficult journey for many of us. In acknowledging our belief, we are often called upon to challenge modern values for a deeper, more abstract reality. The philosopher Kierkegaard, of whom I speak often at the Holy Days, described the immeasurable “leap of faith” made by those of us who embark upon such journeys.
Faith is particularly important in Judaism with its emphasis upon God’s eventual judgment of each human soul. Even within a single religion, faith is not a fixed concept, but may change in emphasis over time. In Judaism, for example, the Torah interprets faith to mean an immense trust in God, rather than—as now—a belief in God’s very existence. The Divine Presence is manifested through Torah, which records the history and nature of God’s covenant with us.
The power of faith is indisputable: individuals throughout history have been prepared to sacrifice their most valued possessions, including their lives, because of their trust in God.
Faith and doubt are inextricably linked in spiritual experience. In his teachings, the Buddha acknowledged the limitations of blind faith, requiring that his students should always test his words. The Zen Buddhist tradition believes that three elements are needed to make spiritual progress: great faith, great doubt, and great perseverance. Faith is required to discover and trust the inherent truth of Buddhist teaching; doubt to challenge and overcome superficial understanding; and perseverance to continue despite distracting hopes and fears. In recognizing the complexities and hardships of a spiritual path, our religions and beliefs also celebrate the enduring human determination to overcome them.
In this coming year, may our own work on our faith provide the foundation to get us through challenging moments and may the changes we sense and experience in our lives all be for the good. Dora and I hope that 2022 will bring you all much fulfillment and peace.
God is in the Breath
There is a place beyond where words cannot go. Try as we might, words can only allude to our most deeply felt emotions: wonder, marvel, awe. Designed to help us communicate about ideas, facts and values, words fall short when it comes to the depths of human feelings, to an almost mystical connection to other living things and to life itself. Words get us to the shores, but to move to the depths we have to discard our words for other modes of expression.
If powerful emotions are always deeper than words can express, then how much more so something that is beyond human comprehension and limitation! God, the Source of all emotion, the Creator of life and the universe, is far beyond the ability of mortals to comprehend, let alone to describe. Our words simply fall flat when trying to describe the One who is beyond human understanding, the One who is our source, our Master and our Meaning.
Yet, speak of God we must. It is our crowning glory to be able to speak. Since human beings are able to communicate across the generations and around the world through the medium of language, we rely on words to carry an insight they cannot completely explicate. Since God is beyond all comparison, and since words correspond to human experiences and perceptions, it follows that no word or set of words can fully express God’s unique, incomparable nature. Yet, the Torah uses an unusual phrase to describe God – El Elohei Ruhot, God, Source of the Breath of all Flesh.
What a powerful metaphor through which to see God! God is the source of breath, that reliable, cyclical in and out of air on which our lives depend. Nothing makes us feel quite so fresh as a clear breath of air, and nothing can make us miserable quite so quickly as troubled breathing. Beyond the air itself is the way our bodies feel while breathing – the filling up as our lungs expand conveys a sense of health and well-being. When angry or frightened, a few deep breaths can fortify us and calm our mood.
God is the potent source of that ethereal energy. As we breathe in and out, we rely on the Divine inspiration (and exhalation) that connects us with God as the Source of Breath. God is not the only Source of Breath, but breath itself. Our breath – like our God – is something we cannot see or touch but is our very essence. Our connection to life is through this intangible but constant presence. With breath, we can run, learn, love and live. Without it
we become mere corpses.
So God is, among other metaphors, teaching through our breath. Taking in and breathing out, we share with other living things in the visible participation in the rhythm of life. God is never farther away than the next breath.
It is hard to believe that 6 months have passed since Dora and I arrived at TBS. The winter brings us all time to breathe, to sense, to know. It is a time to slow the pace of life, to encounter nature and the world, to do the things that we seemed to never have time for before. So breathe deeply, love unconditionally, and be open to the never ending possibilities of being.
Happy New Year!