God was in this place… Awareness

30 06 2008

The first chapter focuses on the teaching of Rabbi Shelomo ben Yitzhaki, known as “Rashi.” Rashi teaches that the story of Jacob is about awareness. …that when Jacob awoke from his dream and exclaimed, “Surely God was in this place and I, I did not know!” he was in essence saying, “If I had known that God would have been here, I wouldn’t have gone to sleep in such a holy place!”

A couple of examples…

Moses and the Burning Bush
When Moses encountered the burning bush, the real miracle wasn’t that the bush wasn’t consumed by the fire, but that Moses took the time to recognize that it wasn’t being consumed. He must have watched for several minutes before being able to come to that conclusion. Kushner notes, “The ‘burning bush’ was not a miracle. It was a test. God wanted to find out whether or not Moses could pay attention to something for more than a few minutes. When Moses did, God spoke. The trick is to pay attention to what is going on around you long enough to behold the miracle without falling asleep. There is another world, right here within this one, whenever we pay attention.”

Walking across the Red Sea
Jewish tradition believes the splitting of the Red Sea to be the greatest miracle ever… that the common servant beheld more than all the miracles beheld by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel combined. There is a midrash* that tells of two Israelites who had quite a different experience. As they stepped into what was previously the sea (but was now a muddy ground), one said, “What is this muck?”

The other replied, “There’s mud all over the place!”

“This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!”

“What’s the difference? Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same.”

And so the two of them grumbled their way across the bottom of the sea, not taking the time to look up and see the miracle all around them. They never understood why the people on the distant shore were singing songs of praise.

Finals thoughts (from Kushner)…
“The beginning of knowing about God is simply paying attention, being fully present where you are, or as Rashi suggests, waking up. We realize, like Jacob, that we have been asleep. We do not see what is happening all around us. For most of us, most of the time, the lights are on but nobody’s home.”

*Kushner describes a midrash as, “fiction concealed beneath the apparent text of the biblical narrative: what might have happened before and after, above and below the biblical story.”

A comment from the original post:
MLBeck: I started reading Brother Lawrence this morning. He believed we could always be in the presence of God no matter what we are doing, where we are, or who we are with because God is always present. “Practicing the presence of God” is learning to be aware of the God who is “above all, through all, and in all”.

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