“there is also no abyss”


[Sometimes] we experience ourselves in prayer as an “I” standing on the threshold of the abyss of purity and emptiness that is God, waiting to “receive something” from Him . . . .

From our side of the threshold this darkness, this emptiness, looks deep and vast — and exciting. There is nothing we can do about entering it. We cannot force our way over the edge, although there is no barrier.

But the reason is perhaps that there is also no abyss.

Thomas Merton, as quoted at p. 17 in Seeds (Shambhala 2002), selected and edited by Robert Inchausti.

And why, we might ask, would Merton — one of the spiritual giants of the 20th century — assert there is no abyss holding the emptiness and purity of G-d?

Because, Merton says, the abyss is an illusion . . . a mirage seen by every human when we approach G-d as an “I”… as an individual ego-personality with wants, needs, and desires (which Merton …and the Buddhist monks in the photo above… would also call illusions).

From that perspective, as the “I,” G-d appears to be a vast void that is simultaneously exciting and terrifying but is, ultimately, unreachable and personally unknowable.

So how, then, do we come to know G-d?

By retreating within ourselves to a place deeper than our needs and wants, to the place where we find the well of eternal and infinite Love that springs up within us, the place where our souls remember that we remain part of, and inseparable from, the One Infinite and Eternal G-d.

Whatever form your weekend prayer takes… be it meditation, chant, drumming, running, or traditional liturgy… may it lead you back to the Source, so that you may emerge feeling more whole and ready again to share Light and Love with others.

Shabbat shalom to all, jen

Shedding our masks


Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with G-d in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and [children] of G-d. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in [G-d’s] creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with G-d the work of creating the truth of our identity. 

 We can evade this responsibility by playing with masks, and this pleases us because it can appear at times to be a free and creative way of living. It is quite easy, it seems, to please everyone. But in the long run the cost and the sorrow come very high. 

Thomas Merton, as quoted at 115 in Seeds (Shambhala 2002), selected and edited by Robert Inchausti (italics in original).  

Shedding our masks and allowing others to see the truth of who we are . . . it can be scary!!  But as Rav Nachman taught, we must find a way to stand in that scary place and ignore our fear.  For living in our individual truth truly is the only way to live in peace with oneself and with others.  

praying we each find the strength to be a little more true to our individual selves, so we may assist G-d in “creating the truth of our identity,” jen

being, and becoming, holy


This week’s Torah portion is Kiddoshim, which begins at Leviticus 19:1. The first two verses of the portion are in the photograph above and, in them, we are commanded to be holy because G-d is holy. The pronunciation of the Hebrew words for “be holy” is “kiddoshim tihiyu,” with kiddoshim being the plural form of kadosh, which means holy.

Interestingly, the Hebrew verb tihiyu can have two meanings. First, it can be a command in the present tense, telling us to “be holy right now!” Second, it can be future tense, telling us that we “shall be” holy. Thus, our Torah portion simultaneously tells us to “be” and “become” holy.

Also this week, coincidentally (Baruch Hashem!), I happened to purchase and read Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (Crossroad Publishing 1992), by Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996), who was a Catholic priest. The book is written as a letter, because a secular Jewish friend of Nouwen asked Nouwen to explain what he believes it means to live a spiritual life.

Nouwen writes that living a spiritual life entails both:
(1) “Being the Beloved,” and
(2) “Becoming the Beloved.”

To “be” the Beloved, Nouwen explains, is to have heard the still, soft voice whispering from within us that we are loved, that we are G-d’s own, that wherever we go and whatever we face, G-d will be there with us.  It is, in essence, to accept one’s place as a child of G-d.

To Nouwen, “becoming the Beloved” means:

letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do. . . . What is required is to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life. Becoming the Beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am, in fact, thinking of, talking about, and doing from hour to hour.

Life of the Beloved at 45-46. 

I think Nouwen’s description provides a rather nice conceptualization of what this week’s Torah portion might mean when it tells us both to be and to become holy.  Nouwen’s book includes a few more short chapters about practical ways to develop and act on one’s Belovedness, and I recommend it for those who may be interested.  🙂

May the peace of this Shabbat provide moments of quiet in which each and every human might hear the still, small voice calling us to claim our birthright as Beloved children of the One, infinite and eternal, G-d…