My favorite reading in Mishkan T’filah (the Reform prayerbook) consists of four lines:
Entrances to holiness are everywhere.
The possibility of ascent is all the time,
even at unlikely times and through unlikely places.
There is no place on earth without the Presence.
For me, this short passage expresses a great deal: that the sacred is not something far away or up above, but around and among us; that our daily lives are full of the potential for joy; and, most importantly, that we can find holiness whenever and wherever we take the time to pay attention to its presence (or Presence) all around us.
These words were written by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, whose work has introduced many American Jews to a contemporary understanding of Jewish mysticism. I had the privilege of learning from him, both formally and informally, while teaching at Congregation Beth El, outside of Boston, where he served for many years as the “rabbi and storyteller” (as he described it).
I’ve chosen an anthology of Kushner’s writings, Eyes Remade for Wonder, for next Sunday’s Rabbi’s Book Club, not only because I would like to share the work of someone who’s been an important teacher to me, but because I think his interpretation of Jewish mysticism opens the door to an understanding of God and Jewish spirituality that speaks to our contemporary situation. For many, if not most, Jews, images of God as a monarch in need of affirmation and obedience or a “sky wizard” no longer make sense. The mystical traditions Kushner translates into poetic English address us in other ways, in harmony with an understanding of spirituality as a practice of awareness and gratitude.
I hope that if you have an interest in Jewish mysticism or thinking about God in new ways, you’ll join our discussion next weekend. Part of our conversation will also address why spiritual insights such as Kushner’s are needed to sustain us in this moment of both isolation and activism.
If you aren’t able to read the book, excerpts will be available on the website beginning on Tuesday.
I look forward to learning with you.
Be well / Zei gesunt / Sano,
Rabbi Drorah Setel
PS I’d like to rephrase something I wrote in last week’s message. When I said “we are all racists” I did not intend it as name calling but as a description. I understand that it was hurtful to some people and that was not my intention. My purpose was to explain that we are all part of racist systems and institutions. Additionally, I wanted to emphasize that we should pay more attention to the question of whether we are anti-racist, a perspective I believe to be more helpful.