Friday, March 21, 2014

Hallowing the everyday

"The Way of Man" is a series of talks given by Martin Buber on human spirituality seen through a Hasidic lens. It is short, beautifully written and compelling text. Kenneth Paul Kramer's book, "Martin Buber's Spirituality: Hasidic Wisdom for Everyday Life" is an illuminating commentary on this text drawing out its implications for our daily life.

Daily life is a critical phrase. For Buber because 'all real life is meeting' any genuine spirituality must take you more deeply into a relational participation in and with the world where everything and everyone that you encounter is seen as an end in themselves, however, legitimately, they may be too be a means used to achieve a particular end. A person's wholeness is revealed by how that attitude is constantly renewed in each new encounter. Life at its heart is about this 'hallowing' of the every day.

In Hasidism everything is waiting to be utilised aright within the pattern of redeeming.

This is visualised as releasing the sparks of divine light that are enfolded in every part of the created order, beginning at the point of its creation, which is now.

How would it be if we saw each person we meet, each thing we use as an invitation to release the world into its holiness?

It reminds me of the Shaker expression of a carpenter who declared that every chair he made was such that an angel would come and sit on it!

Buber identifies, and Kramer elaborates on the key movements towards living a life with this orientation. Each is illustrated by a teaching story from the rich lore of Hasidism and reflection on that by Buber extended by Kramer to include questions for oneself and exercises at the end of each chapter.

My favourite chapter in both books remains the first. Here Buber tells a story of a rabbi who reminds his jailer of God's first question to Adam which was, "Where are you?" meaning 'Where are you along in the track of your life?" and,"What do you hide? Why?"

It is an ever penetrating question.

I remember being on retreat (in the Osage hills outside Tulsa) at a Benedictine contemplative community and  being invited, in active imagination, to go for a walk through the forest with Jesus. I remember the resistance to this idea, revolving around, the fact that I would be seen. Everything about me would be known. I wanted to run but stuck with it, asking and reflecting on what I was hoping to hide and finding the result vulnerability and openness liberating. How much energy do we expend not being ourselves in their fullness?

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