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Friday, 20 June 2014

019) Inventing Spirituality

Some people are enticed into religion by the promise of miracles and wonders. After all is that not what we read about in the scriptures? The problem though, is that in Biblical times ‘cause and effect’ played a more direct role than they do today. A ‘spiritual effect’ was often experienced soon after a ‘physical cause’. Not so today, as we venture further and further away from that period in history. Today we rarely, if ever, see a spiritual effect following closely on the heels of our mundane activities.

(The ancient Biblical disease of ‘leprosy’ – not to be confused with the modern disease – is one such case in point. Although the Torah speaks about it being immediately afflicted upon one who had spoken badly about another, it no longer exists today.)

The challenge of being religious in our times is to live in the great mystery of ‘cause’ not necessarily followed by ‘effect’. To seek too closely for the ‘effect’ is futile. To those who claim to find it, one wonders whether what they find is real or imagined. Again, the great challenge of being religious today, is grappling with ‘effects’ that seem to have absolutely no bearing on, or relationship to, our ‘causes’.

Understand this and you will save yourself much spiritual and emotional agony.

Here is an example of the realistic and pragmatic style of theology as practiced by the Rebbe of Kotzk:
Once, a chassid asked the Kotzker Rebbe for advice about a certain potential marriage partner. The rebbe didn’t give a clear answer. This just made the chassid even more distraught and clueless as to what to do. He further pressed the rebbe for a decision, but none was forthcoming. Eventually the Kotzker said; “Do you think that we rebbes go up to heaven every time people like you ask us questions? Do you think that we have access to special ledgers in which all answers are written? All we can do is follow the dictates of the Law and rely on common sense.
(Emet ve Emunah p 24, par 2)

This illustrates how the Kotzker Rebbe became so frustrated with people always seeking the supernatural.
Spirituality can be a bright light but it can also be a blinding light.

It would have been easy for the Kotzker to just placate people like this who came to him time and time again with similar questions  - but that would not have been truthful.

I came across another source where he warns about the temptation of people in search of religion, to ‘over-spiritualize’:
“In a place where there is too much ‘sod’ [or ‘secrets’, a term used to describe mysticism and spirituality], know that there will also be deceit.
(Kochav HaShachar p 33, par 2)

Pursuant to this, he says:
“If you need to hide and sustain something behind a veil of ‘sod’, know that you are doing something incorrectly.”
(Kochav HaShachar p 33, par 3)

These are fascinating teachings because how many times do we come across people who disparagingly tell others off, in the name of some or other holy thing-a-ma-bob, and neither they nor their new disciple have even the faintest idea about what’s going on. They wisely tell you; “Don't do this because it’s bad for the soul!” Or they tell you; “Don't place your hands like that because…” and they cannot furnish a reason.
Then they tell you; “Don't do certain activities (especially after sunset) because it attracts evil spirits.” And everybody nods sagely as if they understand.

Oh yes. Religion is about spirituality. But it’s about discovering spirituality, not inventing it. And until such discovery is made, it’s also about living in the mystery and angst of unanswered questions.


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