Thursday, July 19, 2012

Towards a Spiritual Judaism

I promise (as much to myself as to anyone) that I'm not going to say a lot about this one. But, Danny Cohen has a great article on Huff Post about the need for a more spiritual Judaism:

The 2008 National Survey on Spirituality by Synagogue 3000 says 50 percent or more of Jews want to know how spiritual exploration, meditation and sacred text can relate to their lives. Seventy-eight percent want their rabbis to talk about spiritual issues. People are yearning for a sense of context and groundedness for their lives. They want structure to build communities and relationships around intimate connection and caring for one another, having and celebrating joys, and also to have space to share and be supported in their struggles. 

I've mentioned before that I imagine that those on the “outside” must be pretty surprised when they hear calls for religion to be “more spiritual.” Aren't all religions supposed to be spiritual? Isn't this like asking the ocean to be more wet?

Would that it were so.

The reality is that the majority of people who are members of synagogues (and, as always, I suspect this is true in all religions) are not deeply engaged in spiritual matters. They're not spending much time or effort asking the core questions of a spiritual life:

Traditional theology asserts that God is everywhere, but today's listless spirituality needs more than the mere assertion of theological truths. Rather, we must provide people the tools and pathways to experience the transformative power of awakening to their own deep potential, to the presence of the Divine in all spaces, closer to me even than my thoughts. We must engage questions that are alive and do practices that make us more alive. How do I learn to see the miraculous in the mundane? How do I live close to my soul? How do I deal with anxiety, stress and depression? How do I connect to the confidence that is at my core, beyond failure and independent of accomplishment? How do I come to actually care about the other and feel our unity? What does humility mean? What is my purpose? How do I come to awe? How can I learn to be vulnerable and honest, and despite imperfection to live with the dignity that comes from honoring what is essentially human?

As is often the case, few have been talking about this more cogently or convincingly than Rabbi Larry Hoffman. Put simply (and he has a gift for saying important things simply), synagogues, like all institutions, will only survive if they can offer something that no one else can. Or, at the very least, offer it better, or cheaper, etc. Well, synagogues offer lots of things—community, entertainment, learning and more. But, each of those can be gotten elsewhere and, in most cases, can be had for less money, with less tzurris. What we can offer our people is authentic, meaningful, Jewish spirituality.

It doesn't mean that it's bad if we offer those other things, as well. It just means that if we aren't offering meaningful spirituality, then it's not clear why we're here at all. And we may not be here for much longer.

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