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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When the Spiritual Journey Runs Smack Into Religious Ritual

Before I immersed myself in a more Jewish life, I was a practitioner and teacher of Raja Yoga meditation. The way I learned and practiced was a silent, open-eyed meditation. This is not a mindfulness practice, but one all about sublimating and elevating every human impulse into relationship with G*d, and I loved the space that the silence created for experiencing that relationship.

In that silence, I feel G*d's presence, love, and inspiration connect with me not in words or ideas, but between my own thoughts, between my own words and understanding. It is the silence itself that makes room for G*d.

I have just spent the last 25 hours or so immersed in the rituals of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. And I am struck by how many words we say. We use words in prayer and song and we recite them over and over in a variety of forms. There are literally hours worth of words to say, and hardly any silence in between. And along with words, lots of sitting down and standing up and bowing and bending and supplication, in remembrance of G*d and the Holy Temple where we used to offer sacrifices.

I want to feel meaning in those words, in those movements, in the tremendous spirit of  a community full of beautiful, warm, generous souls. I love this community, but I miss the silence, and all the words remind me of how much I miss it. I miss the feeling of sitting quietly with G*d, of opening my heart and mind to Divine presence, Divine love, Divine forgiveness. I miss feeling cherished in His presence, and feeling elevated in letting His love purify and empower me. Ironically, I think this is the same place Yom Kippur is designed to take us.

I just don't know how to get there through words. A dear friend told me that Judaism makes space for the silence too, and that my own way is also ok. But at the end of this very intense day, I am left wondering what to do with a spiritual practice of silent meditation in a religion that cherishes words.

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