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Judaism: Hasidic Mystics: Weekly Summary

Sunday
Hasidism is the great movement of religious revival that brought new spirit to the lives of Jews in the towns and villages of Poland and Ukraine toward the latter half of the eighteenth century. —Arthur Green

Monday
The essential message and practice of early Hasidism are simple. The message: “. . . the whole earth is full of God’s glory” (Isaiah 6:3). The practice: “. . . I place God before me always” (Psalm 16:8). Understand these and you understand Hasidism. —Rami Shapiro

Tuesday
The Hasidic masters were careful to point out that silent meditation is not an end in itself. It is a practice whose test must come in the world of action and interaction. Each night, as we review the events of the day, we must ask ourselves: Have I lived this day with awareness? —Or N. Rose and Ebn D. Leader

Wednesday
It is a greater thing if the streets of a person’s native town are as bright as the paths of heaven. For it is here, where we stand, that we should try to make shine the light of the hidden divine life. —Hasidic teaching, translated by Martin Buber

Thursday
One who reads the words of prayer with great devotion / may come to see the lights within the letters. —Hasidic teaching, translated by Arthur Green

Friday
The Hebrew Scriptures, against all religious expectations, include what most of us would call the problem—the negative, the accidental, the sinful—as the precise arena for divine revelation. —Richard Rohr

A Prayer Upon Waking

The eighteenth-century Hasidic Rabbi Hayim Heikel of Amdur, active in Lithuania, counseled conscious remembrance of God first thing in the morning. Rabbis Or N. Rose and Ebn D. Leader introduce and translate:

What is your first thought upon rising? How often is it about physical or emotional exhaustion, time pressures, or worries about the new day? Are you aware of the process of waking from sleep, or do you immediately and automatically move through a series of activities to get yourself (and your family) up and out of the house? How does the beginning of your day affect the hours that follow? . . . .

Like many of the practices proposed by the Hasidic masters, changing our early-morning routine is not easy; at times it might even seem impossible. Yet imagine how this adjustment could reshape your day. How might your morning unfold if your first thoughts were devoted to what is most significant in your life? [1]

When you awake in the morning
immediately remember
that the blessed Creator has acted toward you with
goodness and kindness,
for He has returned the soul to you (Berakhot 2a);
the soul that fills your whole body. . . .

Before opening your eyes,
draw the Creator to you—
likewise with your ears, mouth, and mind.

If you follow this practice,
all your deeds will be holy that day,
as it is written, “I foretell the end from the beginning”
(Isaiah 46:10). [2]

References:

[1] Or N. Rose and Ebn D. Leader, eds., trans., God in All Moments: Mystical and Practical Spiritual Wisdom from Hasidic Masters (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2004), 1.

[2] Hayim Heikel of Amdur, Hayim V’Hesed, #1, in God in All Moments, 3.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Holy Dissent

Father Richard values how Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures introduced the gift of self-critical thinking into one’s relationship with God:

The Hebrew Scriptures, against all religious expectations, include what most of us would call the problem—the negative, the accidental, the sinful—as the precise arena for divine revelation. There are no perfectly moral people in ancient Scriptures; even Abraham rather cruelly drove his second wife into the desert with their child. The Jewish people, contrary to what might be expected, chose to present their arrogant and evil kings and their very critical prophets as part of their Holy Scriptures. They include stories and prophecies that do not tell the Jewish people how wonderful they are but, rather, how terrible they are! It is the birth of self-critical thinking and thus moves consciousness forward. No other religion has been known for such capacity for self-criticism, down to our own time. [1]

The Jewish rabbi and noted theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel understood such self-critical thinking and dissent as central to Judaism and to all vibrant and healthy religion:

Inherent to all traditional religion is the peril of stagnation. What becomes settled and established may easily turn foul. Insight is replaced by clichés, elasticity by obstinacy, spontaneity by habit. Acts of dissent prove to be acts of renewal.

It is therefore of vital importance for religious people to voice and to appreciate dissent. And dissent implies self-examination, critique, discontent.

Dissent is indigenous to Judaism. The prophets of ancient Israel who rebelled against a religion that would merely serve the self-interest or survival of the people continue to stand out as inspiration and example of dissent to this very day.

An outstanding feature dominating all Jewish books composed during the first five hundred years of our era is the fact that together with the normative view a dissenting view is nearly always offered, whether in theology or in law. Dissent continued during the finest periods of Jewish history: great scholars sharply disagreed with Maimonides; Hasidism, which brought so much illumination and inspiration into Jewish life, was a movement of dissent. . . . Creative dissent comes out of love and faith, offering positive alternatives, a vision. [2]

Father Richard seeks a both-and approach that embraces self-criticism without falling into excessive intellectualism or despair:

Self-criticism is quite rare in the history of religion, yet it is necessary to keep religion from its natural tendency toward arrogant self-assurance—and eventually idolatry, which is always the major sin for biblical Israel. We must also point out, however, that mere critique usually deteriorates into cynicism, skepticism, academic arrogance, and even post-modernistic nihilism. So be very careful and very prayerful before you own any self-image of professional critic or anointed prophet! Negativity will do you in. [3]

References:
[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, 2022), 14.

[2] Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Dissent,” in A New Hasidism: Roots, ed. Arthur Green and Ariel Evan Mayse (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2019), 174–175.

[3] Rohr, Things Hidden, 14.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

I recall my first mystical experience at the age of 4 or 5, sitting on my bedroom floor by a large window and knowing I was not alone. My traditional Protestant church upbringing (order) eventually resulted in confusing crises of faith (disorder), that led to a brand new knowing of a loving God in a good world (reorder). I continue to loop back through it again and again and again in a very labyrinth-like way. —Karen H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Knowing Less, Loving More

For early Hasidic mystics, learning the Scriptures was important, but encountering God directly within the Scriptures was even more so. Jewish scholar Arthur Green translates from a collection of Hasidic teachings on contemplative prayer:

One who reads the words of prayer with great devotion
may come to see the lights within the letters,
even though one does not understand
the meaning of the words one speaks.
Such prayer has great power;
Mistakes in reading are of no importance.

A father has a young child whom he greatly loves.
Even though the child has hardly learned to speak,
his father takes pleasure
in listening to the child’s words. [1]

Another saying goes like this:

Sometimes while at prayer you may feel
that you cannot enter
the upper world at all.
Your mind remains below and you think:
“The whole earth is full of His glory.”
But really you are nearer to God than you know.
At such times you are like a child
who has just begun to understand
how close to God he is.
Even though your mind cannot yet transcend this world,
God is with you in your prayer. [2]

The Christian contemplative tradition also prioritizes transformation over information and a humble stance over certainty. Father Richard writes:

We must approach the Scriptures with humility and patience, with our own agenda out of the way, and allow the Spirit to stir the deeper meaning for us. Otherwise, we only hear what we already agree with or what we have decided to look for! Isn’t that rather obvious? As the apostle Paul states, “We must teach not in the way philosophy is taught, but in the way the Spirit teaches us: We must teach spiritual things spiritually” (1 Corinthians 2:13). This mode of teaching is much more about transformation than information. That changes the entire focus and goal of our reading and study.

We need transformed people today, and not just people with answers. As Eugène Ionesco wrote, “Explanation separates us from astonishment . . . ”. [3] I do not want my teachings and my too many words to separate anyone from astonishment or to act as a substitute for inner experience. The marvelous anthology of books and letters called the Bible is all for the sake of astonishment—not “proof” or certainty! It’s for divine transformation (theosis), not intellectual or “small-self” coziness. Ideas are not a problem—but a true inner experience is something else. It changes us, and human beings do not like to change. The biblical revelation invites us into a genuinely new experience. The trouble is that we have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas—about which we can be right or wrong—rather than an invitation to a new set of eyes. [4]

References:

[1] Arthur Green and Barry W. Holtz, eds., trans., Your Word Is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer, 2nd rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Jewish Lights, 2017), 117.

[2] Green and Holtz, Your Word Is Fire, 121.

[3] Eugène Ionesco, Découvertes (Geneva: Albert Skira, 1969), 72.

[4] Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, 2022), 1–2, 135.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

I recall my first mystical experience at the age of 4 or 5, sitting on my bedroom floor by a large window and knowing I was not alone. My traditional Protestant church upbringing (order) eventually resulted in confusing crises of faith (disorder), that led to a brand new knowing of a loving God in a good world (reorder). I continue to loop back through it again and again and again in a very labyrinth-like way. —Karen H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Shining the Light of Divine Life

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878–1965) helped introduce the non-Jewish world to the passionate spirituality of nineteenth-century Hasidism. As a young boy, Buber lived with his grandparents in Lemberg, present day Lviv, Ukraine. He was impacted by his grandfather’s Hasidic faith and went on to dedicate much of his scholarly life to sharing the legends, sayings, and stories of Hasidism. Much like the sayings of the Christian desert fathers and mothers, Hasidic short sayings contain wisdom beyond their words. We share several from Martin Buber’s work and encourage you to read them slowly, several times, to experience their prayerful wisdom.

This first saying is reminiscent of Thomas Merton’s words, “For me to be a saint means to be myself.” [1] We discover our true identity in God when we no longer pretend to be anything other than who we are:

Rabbi Zusya . . . said, a short while before his death: ‘In the world to come I shall not be asked: “Why were you not Moses?” I shall be asked: “Why were you not Zusya?”’ [2]

The following saying captures the Hasidic emphasis that, as the biblical Jacob discovered, “this place is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17):

It is said of a certain Talmudic master that the paths of heaven were as bright to him as the streets of his native town. Hasidism inverts the order: It is a greater thing if the streets of a person’s native town are as bright to them as the paths of heaven. For it is here, where we stand, that we should try to make shine the light of the hidden divine life. [3]

The final saying reminds us that, while God’s presence is found in all reality, it takes an inner willingness to encounter it:

‘Where is the dwelling of God?’ 
This is the question with which the Rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him. 
They laughed at him: ‘What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of [God’s] glory?’ 
Then he answered his own question:  
‘God dwells wherever man lets him in.’ [4]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972), 31.

[2] Martin Buber, The Way of Man, According to the Teaching of Hasidism (New York: Routledge Classics, 2002), 10. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate inclusive language.

[3] Buber, The Way of Man, 31.

[4] Buber, The Way of Man, 33.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

Around the age of twelve, I was walking with my family right after the rain, and my sister and I were splashing around in the puddles, laughing and having so much fun. Suddenly the sun came out, streaming through the trees, and I was overcome by a penetrating sense of joy. I felt beyond myself as if I was looking at my family from a distance and seeing them from the inside out. I felt full of love for them and I felt connected to all that was around. I felt truly alive, whole, and connected to everything in a way I had never experienced before. —Catherine D.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Silence Is Preferable

Rabbis Or N. Rose and Ebn D. Leader consider the role of silence in Hasidic prayer. They stress the delicate balance of action and contemplation:

Judaism has earned a reputation as a religion of words and deeds. Silent meditation is a practice we associate more readily with various Eastern traditions. Our daily experience strengthens this impression. How much silence was there in the last Jewish prayer service you attended? Our tefilot (prayers) tend to be overwhelmingly “wordy”; the siddur (prayer book) demonstrates the cumulative effect of generations of liturgists adding more and more words to our prayers.

The practice of silence emphasized by the Hasidic masters . . . may come as a blessing for those who have learned its benefits from other traditions, and who now wish to integrate it into their Jewish lives.

Yet the Hasidic masters were careful to point out that silent meditation is not an end in itself. It is a practice whose test must come in the world of action and interaction. The hanhagot [spiritual practices] provide us with guidance for meditation and prayer, but the ultimate challenge they pose is this: Can we maintain our spiritual focus in the world beyond the synagogue, study hall, or retreat center? Each night, as we review the events of the day, we must ask ourselves: Have I lived this day with awareness? [1]

Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (Ukraine)—a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov—commends contemplative silence as a way to meet God:

“He who speaks too much brings sin”
(Pirkei Avot 1:5).
The meaning of this teaching is as follows:
the word sin means deficiency.

Even when you speak with others about the wisdom
of the Torah,
silence is still preferable.

Silent contemplation offers greater possibilities for
connection with the Divine
than does discussion or speech. [2]

For Father Richard, the sacred nature of silence is at the heart of contemplative awakening:

Silence is not just that which is around words and underneath images and events. It has a life of its own. It is a being in itself to which we can relate and can become intimately familiar. Philosophically, we would say being is that foundational quality which precedes all other attributes. Silence is at the very foundation of all reality—naked being, we might say. Pure being is that out of which all else comes and to which all things return.

To live in this primordial, foundational being, which I am calling silence, creates a kind of sympathetic resonance with what is right in front of us. Without it, we are just reacting instead of responding. The opposite of contemplation is not action, it is reaction. We must wait for pure action, which always proceeds from a contemplative silence.

We have to be awake right now and we can be through silence. It is not a matter of being more moral but of being more conscious—which will eventually make us more moral! [3]

References:
[1] Or N. Rose, Ebn D. Leader, eds., trans., God in All Moments: Mystical and Practical Spiritual Wisdom from Hasidic Masters, (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2004), 113.

[2] Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Hayim V’Hesed, #9, in God in All Moments, 115.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 1, 4, 25.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

Around the age of twelve, I was walking with my family right after the rain, and my sister and I were splashing around in the puddles, laughing and having so much fun. Suddenly the sun came out, streaming through the trees, and I was overcome by a penetrating sense of joy. I felt beyond myself as if I was looking at my family from a distance and seeing them from the inside out. I felt full of love for them and I felt connected to all that was around. I felt truly alive, whole, and connected to everything in a way I had never experienced before. —Catherine D.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

God Before Us Always

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, often credited as the founder of Hasidism, is known as the Baal Shem Tov or by the acronym “Besht.” He lived in Mezhbizh (now Medzhybizh in western Ukraine). The Besht was ecstatically in love with God. Like Francis of Assisi, he began a grassroots movement of joyful love and service that appealed to ordinary people, not only to a scholarly elite. Rabbi Rami Shapiro explains this stream of Judaism:

The ancient Rabbis taught, “God desires the heart.” They themselves, however, seem to have preferred the head. Judaism has struggled through the ages to find a balance between heartfelt yearning for God and the intellectual mastery of God’s Word. Generally speaking, it was the head that won out. Yet, when things got too heady, the pendulum would swing in favor of the heart. The eighteenth-century Jewish revivalist movement called Hasidism was one of these heart swings. . . .

The concept of d’veikus (“clinging” or “cleaving”) is found in the Torah [the Hebrew Scriptures] where the verb davak signifies an extraordinary intimacy with the Divine: “To love YHVH your God, to listen to His voice and to cleave to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days . . .” (Deuteronomy 30:20). To achieve d’veikus is to realize that God is your life. While later Hasidic masters spoke of d’veikus as a union with God requiring the dissolution of the self, this was not the original understanding. God is your life, but your life is still yours; that is, Torah speaks of d’veikus as an experience of feeling the fullness of God present in your self without actually erasing your sense of self. . . .

The essential message and practice of early Hasidism are simple. The message: “. . . the whole earth is full of God’s glory” (Isaiah 6:3). The practice: “. . . I place God before me always” (Psalm 16:8). Understand these and you understand Hasidism. . . .

Although the Hasidim themselves do not use this analogy, the relationship of a wave to the ocean aptly captures the situation Hasidism says we are in. . . . Focus on yourself as a wave, and you are increasingly frantic and worried. Focus on yourself as the ocean, and you find tranquility and peace of mind. . . . Hasidism tries to wake the wave up to being the ocean. Awakening to your true nature is what it is to “place God before you always.” Everywhere you look you see God, not as an abstract spirit but as the True Being of all beings. . . .

The Besht believed that God was everywhere and could be found by anyone whose heart was open, simple, and pure. At a time when Judaism was focused on a scholar elite, he reached out to the masses with a Judaism rich in compassion, devotion, and hope. His inner circle of disciples took his teachings out into the larger world, creating a global movement that continues to this day.

Reference:

Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales: Annotated and Explained (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004, 2015), xxvii, xxviii, xxix, xxxii, xxxiv.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

As a retired pastor unable to share in worship during the pandemic, I have been sustained by the mystics. This wisdom gives me a vision of a larger body of Christ, beyond the boundaries of denominations and renews my hope for a more vulnerable and compassionate future. —Bruce D.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

A Spiritual Renewal

For this week’s Daily Meditations, we share wisdom from Hasidism, a Jewish mystical tradition that emerged several hundred years ago in what is now Ukraine. Jewish scholar Arthur Green summarizes this movement’s origin and its reliance on contemplative prayer: 

Hasidism [is] the great movement of religious revival that brought new spirit to the lives of Jews in the towns and villages of Poland and Ukraine toward the latter half of the eighteenth century. Here worship, particularly in the form of contemplative prayer, came to be clearly identified by a new group of religious teachers as the central focus of the Jew’s religious life. Both the ecstatic outpourings of ordinary people and the highly sophisticated treatments of devotional psychology in the works of early Hasidic masters bear witness to this new and unique emphasis upon the inner life of prayer. [1]  

The Polish-born rabbi and influential theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) found great inspiration in this period of Jewish spirituality and history:  

Then came Rabbi Israel Baal Shem (c. 1700–1760) in the eighteenth century, and brought heaven down to earth. He and his disciples, the Hasidim . . . uncovered the ineffable delight of being a Jew. God is not only the creator of earth and heaven. He is also the One “who created delight and joy.”. . . Jewishness was as though reborn. Bible verses, observances, customs, suddenly took on a flavor like that of new grain. . . . The Jews fell in love with the Lord and felt “such yearning for God that it was unbearable.”  

They began to feel the infinite sweetness that comes with the fulfilling of the precept of hospitality or of wearing the tallith [prayer shawl] and tefillin. [2] What meaning is there to the life of a Jew, if it is not to acquire the ability to feel the taste of heaven? [One] who does not taste paradise in the performance of a precept in this world will not feel the taste of paradise in the world to come. And so the Jews began to feel life everlasting in a sacred melody and to absorb the Sabbath as a vivid anticipation of the life to come. [3]  

One of the great themes of Father Richard’s teachings is the importance of experiencing God’s love and delight, and the emptiness of religion without it:  

The trouble with much of civic religion and cultural Christianity is the lack of religious experience. People who haven’t had a loving or intimate experience with God tend to get extremely rigid, dogmatic, and controlling about religion. They think that if they pray the right words, read the Bible daily, and go to church often enough, it will happen. But God loves us before we do the rituals. God doesn’t need them, but we need them to tenderly express our childlike devotion and desire—and to get in touch with that desire. The great commandment is not “thou shalt be right.” The great commandment is to “be in love.” [4] 

References:

[1] Arthur Green and Barry W. Holtz, eds., trans., Your Word Is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer, 2nd rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Jewish Lights, 2017), vii.

[2] Teffilin are small black, leather boxes containing verses from the Torah, with straps used for wearing on one’s head or arm.

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Earth Is the Lord’s; and, The Sabbath (Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1963), 75, 76–77.

[4] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1999, 2003), 88.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green.  

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

As a retired pastor unable to share in worship during the pandemic, I have been sustained by the mystics. This wisdom gives me a vision of a larger body of Christ, beyond the boundaries of denominations and renews my hope for a more vulnerable and compassionate future. —Bruce D.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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