Rabbi's Message: May 2013
|Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz|
Bringing Spirituality to the Synagogue
I want to tell you something about my own spiritual journey, and what I've come to believe. I grew up in a family that belonged to an Orthodox congregation. While I was exposed to a great richness of Jewish tradition and practice there, ultimately I found myself questioning the rigid structures that, to me, got in the way of my desire for a genuine spiritual life. If you'd asked me in my teens, I'd probably have told you, like so many tell me today, that I was "spiritual but not religious." I think that "religious" is often code for the experience that many have of specific observances, set-aside holy days, and behavioral expectations being emphasized over and above the inner spiritual life. The former without the latter can appear to be an empty shell, devoid of a meaning beyond the maintaining of something that we have inherited that we have been asked to pass along to the next generation.
My exploration of the "spiritual" first happened in the context of Religious Studies classes at High School -- exploring comparative religion. Given the opportunity to study the ideas and not just the outer forms, I was drawn by my sense that the religious enterprise was the means by which we create time and space in our lives for meaningful reflection on who we are and how we live. Religious community can provide an essential piece to the practice -- how we live in relation to each other.
During my early adult years, I learned meditation practices, I gained level one Reiki training, I read extensively from writers who aimed to pull wisdom from across multiple faith traditions rather than just one -- people like Ken Wilber (founding thinker of "Integral Spirituality"), and scholars of comparative religion like Ninian Smart. I studied with Sufi teachers at interfaith conferences. And then a remarkable thing happened -- it all brought me back to Judaism. I found that the spiritual practices and tools that I'd been able to explore without any specific, religious framework enabled me to return to my cultural "home" and find the inner spiritual life that was there all along. Because the inner spiritual life comes from within. I realized that I had been looking to the outer, religious forms to foster this spiritual life when, in fact, it needed to happen the other way around.
First, I needed to take the time to find my own spiritual center, and, then, when I re-engaged with Jewish community, Jewish practices, and Jewish observances, they were imbued with a renewed sense of meaning that I brought to them from within.
Ever since I began my training as a Rabbi, it has been apparent to me that a central part of my work is to help others who are seeking opportunities to explore the inner spiritual life more deeply find a way to do that within the framework of Jewish community and synagogue life. To do so is to make our congregation a more spiritual place, and to enable us to engage each other in "big talk" (the opposite of "small talk"). To be able to reflect upon and share our individual journeys into the inner spiritual life with each other makes for powerful connections which support us as individuals and strengthen us as a community.
A group of congregants began these kinds of conversations together in my recent "Introduction to Jewish Mysticism" class on Sunday mornings. Mysticism, essentially, brings our attention to our own experiences as the gateway to exploring our spirituality. Rather than studying Jewish intellectual history and the philosophy of religion, we explore spiritual practices such as meditation, and our "study" consists of reflecting on our own lived experiences, paying attention to the truths they teach us about the source of happiness, centeredness, balance, our ability to nurture relationships, how we relate to our children and to our parents, and every other aspect of day-to-day living. It became clear to us that these conversations opened the doorway to a different way of exploring the inner spiritual life, embedded within the context of synagogue community and Jewish living, bringing greater meaning to both.
It is my desire and intention to continue to provide a forum for these explorations of personal spirituality here at B'nai Shalom. While I am always happy to meet individually for these conversations, I want to provide a place within our community where we can explore together. We will be meeting monthly to provide this opportunity, open to all. The first gathering for this Spiritual Journey Group will be Tuesday, May 21, 7–8:30 pm. I hope you will join us.