Wherever You Let God InPosted: August 1, 2011
On our journey to Jerusalem and Rome our group interviewed several deeply fascinating spiritual people. I want to share with you today our experience of two of those people, Rabbi Schlomo Riskin and Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon. Their insights into how people connect with the divine, can benefit all of us in our journeys in search of God.
Rabbi Riskin was originally from the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn a poor rough neighborhood in New York City. Rabbi Riskin’s family was the last non-African American family on his block. His grandmother was the daughter of an important Hassidic Rabbi, and he learned the practice of Judaism from her, because his mother and father were strictly secular.
In our interview with Rabbi Riskin I experienced a person of immense vitality who was in love with life and with God. He is also an excellent story teller, and I was so enthralled with his narrative, I forgot to ask him to pose with us for a picture.
We didn’t get around to asking Rabbi Riskin our most important question, “how do you experience the divine?” until a few minutes before he had to leave us.
He replied, “I have a powerful intuition of the Divine Presence, and I talk to him all the time. My latest book is entitled Listening to God. Where is God? Wherever you let God in.” As I looked through Rabbi Riskin’s book I ran across a story that illustrates what he means, wherever you let God in.
A young man seeking God consulted a great Rabbi asking how can I understand God? The Rabbi proceed to share with the young man a great learned text study on the passage in Exodus, where God reveals the divine name to Moses. When he was finished the Rabbi asked the young man, “now, do you understand?” Sadly the young man shook his head no.
So the great Rabbi next propounded to the young man the secrets of the Zohar opening to the young man the secrets of Kabala. And when he was finished the Rabbi asked the young man, “do you understand now?” Sadly the young man shook his head no.
It was Friday evening and the Rabbi’s disciples began gathering for the Sabbath Dinner. So the Rabbi invited the young man to stay for the meal. The young man ate with the Rabbi’s disciples. And then the company began to sing spiritual songs, and finally many of the Rabbi’s disciples began to dance in ecstatic joy, and the young man began to dance with them. And then the young man turned to the Rabbi and said, “Now I understand.” So often, we who pursue the religious life are so gloomy, and so many of us get stuck in our heads. We become all bound up with trying to be good, or trying to think our way to God, and we miss the simple joy of God’s presence. Where can we find God? Wherever we let God in.
The other person I want to share with you this morning is the first woman Rabbi in Israel Kinneret Shiryon. When we asked her how do you experience God, she shared with us her morning spiritual routine.
Kinneret swims and prays every morning. During the first 20 laps all of the daily noise is still rattling around in her head. But after that she starts to get into a rhythm, and then she begins to pour forth her morning blessings. She turns to God the feminine, the spring of life, the daughter of the divine voice. She clears her head and moves on to blessings for family, children, congregation, community, the world, then she listens! She listens for the feminine voice of God. It is a quiet voice. She becomes attentive and attuned to her feelings, and things begin to come to her – solutions to problems, sermons, new ways of seeing what is going on. Through the Shleenah, the daughter of the voice, she says, “every morning I have a conversation with God. It is the divine presence the source of life.”
Kinneret’s story reminds me of Robert Moore’s comments in his book Facing the Dragon about the importance of having an exercise routine as part of our spiritual life and our mental health : ” Another way to create a personal ritual to contain and channel grandiose energies is a regular exercise program three to five times a week. It is amazing how much craziness in a human personality can be controlled by the ritual of an exercise program.
“Think of regular exercise as part of your ritual practice, a conscious ritualization in your ongoing spiritual discipline. It is striking how easy it is to tell if you missed part of your healing ritualization, because your grandiosity will kick up on you. When you miss your exercise program, you become more compulsive in other ways. This is a rule you can follow. Take it to the bank. You will act out more destructively to the extent that you do not tend to your physical discipline.”
Wherever you let God in. God is with us all the time. The problem is not God being distant from us, the problem is us keeping God out. We close ourselves off to God by focusing our lives in anger, anxiety, fear, a sense of entitlement, ego and unforgiveness. Jesus was very clear, in the Sermon on the Mount: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Forgiveness is essential to letting God in, our forgiving others, and our being willing to receive forgiveness from others. You know how hard it is to accept forgiveness from someone you don’t like, because it means first admitting the need to be forgiven.
Anger can also keep God out. As Paul wrote, “be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger.” So often we allow anger to pool and we nurture it and feed it and pretend that it is righteous anger, like it is somehow a good thing. If you have been angry for more than an hour, let go of it. Be reconciled, and let God in. Even righteous anger can become a thing of evil, if we hold on to it for more than an hour. Let go of anger and let God in.
Anxiety and fear both block the presence of God in our lives. Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your life. For who among you by being anxious can add a cubit to your span of life. If you cannot do such a small thing as that, why worry about the rest?”
And remember what John wrote about fear: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” And I am so aware of how in a time of economic recession fear and anxiety especially about money can get a hold on us and shut out the God of generosity and giving.
So why does a sense of entitlement close us off from God, because an exaggerated sense of entitlement prevents us from experiencing gratitude. And one of the most important openings for letting God in is giving thanks. Thank you Lord – thank you, thank you, thank you. Start the day with, “thank you,” on your lips and the rest of the day will go so much better. Let God in at the break of day, and you will be blessed. Beginning the day with “thank you,” also helps us to focus on the joy of life. God intends for us to be joyful, but it is so easy for many of us to turn to the dark side. This isn’t right, and that didn’t go the way I planned, and life is really crumby. That’s the dark side, and we so easily fall into that shadowy gloomy space, where we shut God out. Focus on the joy. Enjoy life. As Solomon said, “I know that there is nothing better for human beings than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; also that it is God’s gift to all of us that we should eat and drink and take pleasure in all of our toil.” Focus now, in the present on the simple joys God gives to us, and we will know God’s blessings – thank you, thank you, thank you.
Now as Kinneret pointed out, in order to come into God’s presence, we have to get out of our heads, and get in touch with our feelings. And I ran across a marvelous illustration this week of the importance of getting out of our heads, and getting in touch with our feelings.
Terri Shows posted on Facebook this week a new painting that represents a departure from her usual style. I think it is a wonderful painting, and apparently so do a lot of other people. This painting attracted responses from many, many people. In my own inept way I tried to comment on the style of the painting, and several other people joined in to note that this painting represents Terri’s unique style. And then Terri posted the following comment: Thank you all for looking so carefully and responding. This is a different direction for me, although I was experimenting with it before I left Huntsville. The surface is different and I am paying less attention to subject, more to emotion.
By getting out of our heads and getting in touch with our feelings we can unlock beautiful and wonderful creativity as we let God in. Stop for a moment and ask, how can we let God in? What creativity might we be able unlock, if we could get out of our heads and respond from our hearts? What intuitive resources might become available if we could deflate our egos enough to allow God to animate our lives? What marvelous possibilities we might discover in our life together as a congregation, if we could stop trying to manipulate and control everything going on, and instead opened ourselves to let God in through prayer. “Letting God in” is the goal of the Unbinding Your Heart program, and it is my prayer that more people in the congregation will join us in this program of prayer and faith sharing.
Focus on the joy of life. Let go of anger, anxiety, fear, ego and unforgiveness. Embrace thanksgiving and blessing, and get out of our heads, so God might touch our hearts. Ask, seek, knock, for God is wherever we let God in.