In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen recalls the healing work she did with a Holocaust survivor, whose response to the enormity of the spiritual pain he lived with was to close off feelings toward people and to be “cautious with this heart.” Dr. Remen relates that he joined her on retreat after he was diagnosed with cancer. Initially he was belligerent to strangers, but through inner stillness exercises and introspection he had a transformational experience. One day, while meditating, he sensed a deep pinkish light emanating from his chest. He felt enclosed by a beautiful rose. Troubled by the experience, he took a walk on the beach and began a silent dialogue with G-d. He asked the Creator whether it is all right to love strangers. G-d’s answer jolted him: “You make strangers, I don’t.” In that instant, the Holocaust survivor’s feelings of interpersonal distance began to melt. Strangers were no longer strangers. It was all right to love a stranger.
-Rabbi Laibl Wolf
“Tif’eret: Growing a Wise Heart” (pp 154-156)
Practical Kabbalah: A Guide to Jewish Wisdom for Everyday Life
I’ve been feeling off balance lately. Most of it has to do with how I choose to react to what I see, hear, and read about in the world around me, both in real life, and via the Internet. I’m not encouraged by what I see, but if you’ve been reading my “meditations” for the past week or so, you already know that. I found I needed to write this “extra meditation” to try and re-establish a bit of balance and to reduce my desire to wad up the whole world of religion like a piece of tissue paper contaminated with dripping bile, and toss it in the nearest toilet.
For Christians, this is a time of year (ideally) when they re-attach to the true meaning of loving and giving, by expressing the will of God with their lives in the community around them. If God was willing to send His “only begotten son” to suffer and die for us so that we could be reconciled to the Father, then why shouldn’t a Christian “pass it on”, so to speak, and offer grace, kindness, and mercy to the next fellow, regardless of who they happen to be? After all, Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God (Romans 5;10). Must we only show goodness to those people who look, act, and believe like we do? Why even “tax collectors” and “pagans” do that (Matthew 5:42-48). Nevertheless, the religious community, or some portions of it, confirm the belief in the secular world that we are all bigoted haters and want to force the whole world to be exactly like we are.
“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me, God.”
That’s part of the oath people used to take when swearing to tell the truth in court. They don’t make you say it anymore because someone was offended with God and we wouldn’t want to God to offend someone, would we (this is sarcasm)?
On the other hand, we shouldn’t go out of our way to be so dedicated to what we think of as “truth” that we automatically condemn, revile, disdain, and hate those people who apparently (perhaps by putting up a Christmas tree) don’t have “the truth”. After all, they must be evil and wrong and we have to stop them by telling them how lousy their cherished faith is, don’t we (that’s more sarcasm)?
OK, I’m still out of balance. Quickly, someone toss me one of those poles used by tightrope walkers, or better yet, another story from Rabbi Laibl’s book (pg 147):
Once upon a time a king had two close friends who rebelled against his kingdom. The king seemed to have no choice but to execute the law – the death penalty. But he could not bring himself to kill his friends. Instead, he erected a tightrope over the courtyard at a precarious height. Each prisoner was allowed to walk across the tightrope to freedom. The chances were slim, yet miraculously the first prisoner succeeded. The second prisoner called out to his friend for advice, and the freed man obliged. He called back, “Whenever I felt myself beginning to list to one side I didn’t wait until my weight was there but immediately compensated.
This Hassidic tale invokes many portions of the Bible, including how God sent His Son so that we might all have a chance to conquer the death penalty by “walking the straight and narrow”. Notice though, that in order to navigate the rope, you couldn’t be an extremist. If you went too far to the left or to the right, you would be killed. In fact, when you even thought you were starting to slip to one side, to survive, you had to immediately shift your weight in the opposite direction.
Also, notice that the freed man went out of his way to help his friend rather than taking his salvation and running away. Notice that even though the king (God) had every right to execute the rebels, because they were his friends and he had compassion, he tempered his justice with mercy. Justice was not thrown away, but he gave the rebels a chance, probably more of one than they deserved. Justice was balanced with mercy and grace.
We don’t do balance (or mercy and grace) very well in religion and yet, it’s all over our history. Moses Maimonidies (Rambam), as quoted in Rabbi Laibl’s book (pg 146) “counseled his disciples to take the middle path.” I know I talked on this exact same topic last week, but plenty of people still aren’t getting it (especially the majority who don’t read my blog, though they may not agree with me, even if they chose to read these “meditations”). It is one thing to say that you disagree with someone based on your convictions and your understanding of the Bible, but it’s another to condemn them and to believe God will destroy them. Some compare a Christian who celebrates Christmas to a husband to cheats on his wife (and there are plenty of marital metaphors in the Bible), but that metaphor breaks down at some point. A husband and wife are both human; both equals, while God is not human and we can not aspire to ever be His equal. A husband may come close to really understanding everything his wife is about, but we have absolutely no clue exactly what God is all about.
In the end, even if God chooses to condemn others and even if we were “right”, should we have treated those others negatively and with such extremist attitudes and even pride, or should we have balanced our approach to them as God did for us, tempering justice with mercy? Many religious people want to dump the justice onto others but covet the mercy all for themselves, not passing it along. Doing this, are we really God’s children?