Friday, April 18, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 4/18 Post

OK, so you weren’t as weird as I had hoped. No problem.

You took my “surfing chaos” idea further than I did. You are absolutely right: the very notion that we are to take charge and forge our own destiny is a clear example of the ego playing God.

This is no where more true than in the current fad of The Secret where we are promised absolute control over our lives—getting anything and everything we desire—by manipulating the universal “law” of attraction: like attracts like. Too bad the actual Law of Attraction states just the opposite.

I also agree with you about “private Sabbaths.” While the norm is to make the Sabbath a communal event, I prefer a day devoted to solitude and contemplative inquiry. My prayer life, in contrast to the official Jewish liturgy, contains a minimum of words. We talk too much during prayer, probably to avoid having to listen, question, or think.

And I couldn’t agree more that our culture makes no time for chaos surfing. That is what the Sabbath is for, which is why we are to make it holy.

The Hebrew word for “holy” is kadosh, “to set aside.” The Sabbath is a day set aside from the workweek to (borrowing from the Deuteronomy version of the Fourth Commandment) “observe” (that is participate in) the te, the way God or reality actually operates as opposed to the way we insist is should operate.

Why is this liberating? Because we work not only to sustain ourselves physically, but to earn the means to satisfy a never-ending list of desires. We become obsessed with work because we are obsessed with having more and more stuff. This is why the rabbis, when they clarified the kinds of work prohibited on the Sabbath (Mishnah Shabbat 7), focused on the 39 kinds of work associated with the building of the Tabernacle (sowing, plowing, reaping, weaving, spinning, erecting a building or demolishing one, and writing to name just a few) all of which, if done for secular reasons, would result in furthering one’s material wealth and the desire to have more. Material wealth is so central to human thinking that, as both Calvinism and the Prosperity Gospel inadvertently reveal, we mistake the achievement of wealth for a sign of God’s love. Shabbat is an antidote to this spiritual materialism.

This is why the Jewish Sabbath liturgy eliminates all petitionary prayer. On the Sabbath we don’t ask God to change anything, and instead practice loving what is. At the heart of this practice is not interfering with the natural flow of things and acting in a manner the Chinese Taoists call wei wu wei, noncoercive action. Acting with wei wu wei means living in accordance with te (the way of God, reality), i.e. cutting with the grain, swimming with the current, tacking with the wind, etc. Shabbat is the day on which we practice wei wu wei, or what I called previously, surfing the chaos.

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