Sunday, July 21, 2013

Excerpt from Jewish Currents Magazine Article: Jewish Activist Voices; Arthur Waskow, A Conversation with an Activist Soul Man

I have been fascinated with atheism and agnosticism for many years, ever since in my teenage years, when I came to the conclusion that I was an atheist, rejecting the juvenile notions of a Big Daddy God in the sky that had been inculcated in me by childhood religious training. And I was also fascinated with the notion that Judaism, this great originator and propagator of monotheism, could conceivable accommodate atheism. I first encountered that notion when I boldly, if not with some trepidation, announced to my Modern Orthodox rabbi that I was an atheist. His immediate response, without batting an eyelash, and which made my jaw drop, was that I could be an atheist and still be a good Jew. And he never gave up on me through the last day of his life, something that I grew to greatly appreciate over the ensuing years. Now that I have come sort of full circle (not in the traditional sense of ba’al t’shuva by any stretch of the imagination, but a believer in a God of my definition), I remain fascinated with atheists and agnostics who express a semblance of spirituality while questioning the existence of God. In my investigations over the years, I was surprised to encounter Jewish Secular Humanism and the growing “spiritual but not religious” movement. I have addressed Jewish Secular Humanism at length in my book, IVRI: The Essence of Hebrew Spirituality and atheism and agnosticism in that book and an article on the Yoga and Judaism blog, which was refined in the book, “For Atheists/Agnostics”. In short, Jewish Secular Humanists are a loosely organized group who are atheists, in that they reject traditional notions of monotheism, yet recognize spirituality nevertheless, and embrace a Jewish identity associated with left-of-center social activism and values that derive from Jewish teachings aside from monotheism. One vehicle for its expression is a periodical called Jewish Currents, whose editor is Lawrence Bush. In the summer 2013 edition of Jewish Currents, there is an article that is an interview/dialogue between Lawrence Bush and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a progressive rabbi and long-time social activist whose social and political viewpoints are often closely aligned with those of Jewish Secular Humanists, but who casts his worldview as derived from theological notions that can be gleaned from an inspired and creative renewal-type approach to traditional Jewish sources. I have long felt a kinship with the Secular Humanists and Waskow, and had the great privilege several years back, to spend some time in teaching sessions conducted by Waskow and his wife, Rabbi Phyllis Berman. One of the Jewish Yoga Meditation Practices I developed was inspired by their teachings about God/YHWH being the Breath of Life, similar to “prana” in the yoga tradition, which is touched upon in the discussion between Bush and Waskow. Below is an excerpt from that discussion that I wanted to share with you here:

LB: I find, as a secularist – which means basically that I always have to put quotation marks around the word “God” before I can proceed with the discussion – that your imagery and metaphors help me relate to Jewish teachings, and even Jewish theology, which I might otherwise ignore. For example, your teaching about the pronunciation of the biblical name of God – YHWH – that if we sound it out slowly, it sounds like a breath. God becomes defined as the breath of life, which even an atheist can recognize as important, and universal.

AW: Which is one reason I call global climate change, or global scorching, a crisis in the very name of God. The balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is the result of the interbreathing of animals and plants. What we breathe in is what the trees breath out; what the trees breathe in is what we breathe out. If you understand “YHWH” to mean the interbreathing of all life – ruach ha’kodesh, the Holy Breathing Spirit – then you’re seeing the climate crisis in sacred terms.

My theology always seeks to fuse religious wisdom with scientific knowledge. To me, the two are partners…

If we understand YHWH not as a Lord, a King, but as the reality of interbreathing that connects all life – which is literally, scientifically true – then we don’t really need your quotation marks. The truth of life is that none of us “owns” where we live or what we eat. We are part of the weave of life. Even inside our own guts are all these micro-organisms that keep us alive and vice versa.

These are scientific facts and spiritual truths. They speak to conscience; they have implications for us as human beings. We are called to behave toward each other with respect, concern, love – and a willingness to pay our taxes! – because truly, we cannot exist without each other. We are also called to recognize that “property,” namely, the  planet, is really shared not only among human beings but also with the soil, the seed, the rain, the rivers, the myriad animals and plants and microbes – with YHWH, the Breath that connects us all. That is the basic environmental commitment – to recognize that and to respond to it by developing a sustainable society.

I want secular Jews, even Jews who plug up their ears when they hear the word “God,” to bring their rich political experience and deep passion to the environmental movement, and to all of the political struggles I’m involved with. But I will use God-talk, because it brings me and others closer to reality, not further from it. The reality is that for about three hundred years, larger and larger, deeper and deeper parts of the Earth have been allowed no shabes [often transliterated as Shabbos or Shabbat, referring to the Sabbath, the day of rest every seventh day prescribed by the Ten Commandments]. Indeed, shabes itself has come to seem a waste of time. We have taken great pride in the achievements of industrial technology: cures for diseases, swift global communication, the production of so much food as to make possible the reproduction of seven billion humans. But – no shabes. No constant awareness of the Interbreathing of all life. That awareness is what is needed to discipline us to the imperatives of a sustainable economy and society. That, to me, is Judaism’s great gift to our modern day.

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Quote of the Week 381 - Heaven

Heaven is all round,

Translated to sound.

--Michael Hedges



Announcing Publication of New Book, DIMENSIONS: Navigation the Spiritual Spectrum

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, DIMENSIONS: Navigating the Spiritual Spectrum, now available at Amazon, in paperback print and Kindle versions. It is easily found by searching my name, or by searching the full title and subtitle. You can also click on the image of the book in the right hand column of this blog.

What a great way to start the New Year, cozying up to a fire, real or imagined, and reading a new spiritually inspiring book, sure to become a classic!

DIMENSIONS: Navigating the Spiritual Spectrum

Grounded in the traditions of Torah and Veda, Steven J. Gold takes us on an oceanic tour of the depth and breadth of spiritual consciousness. Sharing personal stories and insights into various traditional scriptures as examples, he urges us to adopt a spiritual worldview, to “ponder infinity, awake and arise,” to “find your inspiration and follow it.”

“The chapters…are records of what happens when Steve’s right mind, and heart, are given full freedom to wander where they wish. As discoveries and correlations are made, his well-trained left mind and sharp wit give his observations shape and form…” – Brother Shankara, Resident Minister, Vedanta Center of Atlanta

“Universal Ice Cream: Dive deep into Steve’s wonderful book to help find your favorite flavor on the Spiritual Spectrum.” – Rabbi Mitch Cohen, Spiritual Leader, Congregation Shalom B’Harim, Dahlonega, GA

“Steven J. Gold’s Dimensions is an exploration of spirituality from the inside out. If you are looking for a guide through the pathless land of truth, read this book.” – Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of The World Wisdom Bible

Interfaith/Inter-Spiritual Contemplative Groups

Please check out the following, which is an ongoing activity that may be of interest: