Sunday, December 13, 2009

Home and Chanukah

I'm home after a restful and renewing week at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.

It was a great opportunity to do some meditation, some writing, walking, teaching and learning. Above all, I focused on strengthening my prayer practice. It's always tempting--and too easy--to run through the liturgy without paying much attention on the kavvannah, the real spirit or intention of the prayers. Using Rabbi Jeff Roth's book, Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life, I created a kind of path through the morning shacharit service that was fruitful for me over the course of the retreat. My challenge now, of course, is to stick with this now that I am home.

Meanwhile, a happy Chanukah to all. May this season bring light in a time of darkness, and renewal and hope and peace.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Long Short Way

Short cuts are not always the best way to reach one’s destination. In the Talmud, Rabbi Yehoshua teaches: Once a child got the better of me. I was traveling, and I ran into a boy at a crossroads. I asked him, “Which way to the city?” and he answered: “This way is short and long, and this way is long and short.”

I took the 'short and long' way. I soon reached the city but found my approach obstructed by gardens and orchards. So I retraced my steps and said to the child: “My son, did you not tell me that this is the short way?”

He replied: “Did I not tell you that it is also long?"

Like Rabbi Yehoshua, we are frequently tempted to take the path that looks easy. We seek quick fixes to complex problems and chase after the illusion of effortless enlightenment. Self-help books and the purveyors of diet pills, among many others, are the beneficiaries of our craving for instant gratification.

But in the end, as our tradition notes, according to the labor, so is the reward. Everything that is truly worthwhile is the fruit of significant effort. And oftentimes, we find that the journey is more important than the destination. Torah ends before we make it to the Promised Land, which seems almost an afterthought. The primary point seems to be the lessons gleaned along the way.

In his very wise book, The Lord is My Shepherd, Rabbi Harold Kushner offers an alternative interpretation of a line from the twenty-third psalm that is usually translated as, “God leads me in straight paths for His name’s sake.” Rabbi Kushner notes that ma-aglei tzedek (“straight paths”) literally means roundabout ways that end up in the right direction. He adds: Maybe in plane geometry the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But in life the shortest distance to our goal may be an indirect, roundabout route. The straight line between us and our goal may have hidden traps or land mines, or it may be too easy and never challenge us to discover our strengths or give us time to let those strengths emerge.

As we continue to explore ways to transform our community and ourselves, we will inevitably embark upon some of those roundabout paths. Our challenge is to maintain the faith that they are taking us somewhere holy and filled with blessing