I recently taught a writer's workshop at a Jewish retreat center called Elat Chayyim in upstate New York. I was intrigued with the idea of teaching in a context where people were on retreat, praying each morning, doing yoga and Jewish meditation as well, and singing thanks after every meal.
|Best Jewish Writing Michael Lerner selects 100 best contemporary Jewish books. Beliefnet editors pick basic Jewish books. What are your favorite Jewish books?|
Most of the people who come there feel they are on a spiritual journey and I believe they are--well, partly I believe all of us are, but some of us just haven't realized it yet. People who say I'm not a spiritual person are pretty incomprehensible to me. It's a bit like saying, I don't have a soul, or I was born without a conscience, or, my life is meaningless. There are moments when we feel all of these things, but can we be so wholeheartedly sure that those moments stand for all or our truth? I much doubt it. If we doubt everything, shouldn't we also doubt our doubt, at least once in a while?
Anyway, I wanted to teach this course in writing personal autobiography and decided on the theme of the spiritual journey, in part because I view the book of Genesis--in Hebrew the book of "beginning"--as being about all kinds of individual spiritual journeys. There's Abram receiving the mysterious call "lekh lekhah"--take yourself out--abandon your home and father's house and go where I tell you. Imagine, he actually listened. There's Sarah chuckling and joking with an angel. There's their grandson Jacob wrestling with an angel and perhaps also his conscience; there's Jacob's dream-vision of angels moving down a ladder; there's also Hagar's encounter by the well of living seeing, and her unique name of God that arises from her own experience, "Atah El Roi," or "You God see me." (That's a name worth meditating on.) In fact, each of these heroes and heroines, Jewish or non-Jewish, male or female, seems to go on a journey, and encounter new and fresh names of God, "El Shaddai" the guarding one, and "pachad Yitzhak," the fear of Isaac. This is another way of saying, each of these spiritual ancestors finds through a unique journey a personal and fresh language for encounters with the unaccountable. So as a lover of fresh language, I love these terse stories and read them as the deepest non-fiction-not only did they happen, but as the kabbalists tell us, they are happening in our own lives, if we would but make the felt connection.
But how are they happening and how can we make the connection deeper and stronger? Here the practice of writing non-fiction becomes a spiritual practice as well.