Spirituality: Search and Recovery
We have lost our ability to see the miracles in front of us, to find in the sun setting the exemplification of all that is wondrous about living. I suspect that all of us can recall a sunset that defied our limited expectations.
My book The Basic Beliefs of Judaism: A Twenty-first-Century Guide to a Timeless Tradition has just been published. When I began doing research and writing for the book, I thought I wanted to help people who wanted to begin or continue their spiritual search. The idea of such a search sounds enticing and even dangerous, as though there are a series of alleys in life, most of which lead to dead ends or dangerous situations. But the optimistic underlying assumption of the idea of a spiritual search is that if we look long enough and in enough places and try on enough spiritual identities, we will eventually locate our true selves and live happily ever after, at least in a spiritual sense. I wanted to provide a guide for those who looked down the Jewish alley, who wanted to discover how the Jewish mind worked in dealing with the big issues of life, such as God, evil, and the afterlife. I figured that we’re all looking for the meaning of life on our life journey, and I could at least provide one possible answer for some people who were searching.
But what I discovered as I wrote was that the true spiritual search involved as much of a recovery as a discovery. We didn’t just need to look in new places and have new experiences, but we also needed to perceive the world we once knew and experience even now in a new way. We need to recover our own world, to recover insights and perceptions we once had but have lost.
I was once walking with one of my daughters, who was then about three years old. As we walked, she spotted a bright, colorful butterfly. She stopped and stared at it as it fluttered around us, and, evidently uninspired, flew away. I was ready to keep walking, but my daughter remained still. Finally, she turned to me and said, “That’s the third butterfly I’ve ever seen in my life.”
That is an example of the first aspect of spiritual recovery: to re-capture our childlike innocence about all of life. The sheer wonder of a butterfly, a sense of awe before its majestic colors and flight, is a symbol of our lost skills, our ability to be overwhelmed by the curious strangeness and beauty of life.
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