Absolutes

Judaism

Absolutes
Wednesday, August 29, 2018

God reveals the essence of divinity to Moses: ehyeh asher ehyeh, most often translated as I AM what I AM [Exodus 3:14]. A more accurate Hebrew translation would be “I will be whatever I will be.” In either case, the Hasidic understanding of the text is the same: God is all that is. God is all that is happening at every moment. God is I AM—not a being or even a supreme being, but Being itself. . . . [Each of us is] a keeper of the I AM; just as a wave is a “keeper of” the ocean in its particular place and time, so are you a keeper of God in your particular place and time. To realize this about yourself is to realize it about all beings. —Rabbi Rami Shapiro [1]

The biblical tradition reveals that whenever the prophetic gift is lacking in any group or religion, such a group will very soon be self-serving, self-perpetuating, and self-promoting. Without prophetic criticism, all sense of mission and message is lost. Establishments of any kind usually move toward their own self-perpetuation, rather than “What are we doing for the world?” In fact, the question of mission is not even asked because self-perpetuation has become an end in itself.

I believe Jewish religion is archetypal religion because it illustrates the pattern of maturity/immaturity, advancement/regression, best/worst that characterizes all cultures and all religions—inside their history and inside of the inspired text. Christianity has almost always made the same mistakes, but we normally cannot see them or acknowledge them because we are too close to them and our own egos are involved. Once we recognize Judaism as archetypal religion—that the patterns of ego and transformation and regression are universal—the prophets have served their function.

Prophets step in to disrupt the usual social consensus. When culture says, “How wonderful our group is!” prophets respond, “It’s just not entirely true!” So you see why the prophets are often killed (Matthew 23:29-39). Prophets expose and topple each group’s idols and blind spots, showing that we make things into absolutes that are not absolutes in God’s eyes, and, conversely, that we relativize what in fact is central and important.

The tendency in religion to “absolutize” things comes from a deep psychological need for some solid ground to stand on, and I understand that. But the prophets keep saying, “God is the only absolute!” Don’t make the fingers pointing to the moon into the moon itself, as it were. Jeremiah said, “The temple, the temple, the temple of YHWH! Don’t you recognize it has become a robber’s den?” (7:1-11). Jesus quotes this very message (Mark 11:17). But, of course he was talking about Jerusalem, and surely not our parish church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Santiago, Chile, or the Vatican in Rome.

The spiritual journey moves us from recognizing that our group is God’s “chosen people,” even in our imperfection, to knowing that all people—in fact all of Creation—are God’s beloveds and are made in God’s image and are equally imperfect in that reflection. Don’t waste your time calculating degrees of imperfection! Imperfection is the pattern that draws forth the Divine Mercy.

References:
[1] Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales: Annotated and Explained (Jewish Lights Publishing: 2004, 2013), 4.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation; no longer available);
and Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CDMP3 download.

Image credit: Red and Orange Solar Flare (Rosette Nebula [detail])
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God reveals the essence of divinity to Moses: ehyeh asher ehyeh, most often translated as I AM what I AM. A more accurate Hebrew translation would be “I will be whatever I will be.” In either case, the Hasidic understanding of the text is the same: God is all that is. God is all that is happening at every moment. God is I AM—not a being or even a supreme being, but Being itself. . . . [Each of us is] a keeper of the I AM; just as a wave is a “keeper of” the ocean in its particular place and time, so are you a keeper of God in your particular place and time. To realize this about yourself is to realize it about all beings. —Rabbi Rami Shapiro
FacebookTwitterEmailPrint