Living & Breathing The Shema
Remember those moments of synchronicity I spoke about last week?
Well I had another string of "meaningful coincidences" I want to pay attention to and share. At the end of the class on the heart of Jewish spirituality at Congregation Ohabai Sholom, Rabbi Rami Shapiro was asked what practice he would suggest for all of us.
His answer was to enter more deeply into the "Sh-ma Yisrael," also known as the Shema, the prayerful recitation of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Remember, another Rabbi's answer was the same...Jesus told others to live into the Shema, calling it the greatest and most important commandment of all. Here is the Complete Jewish Bible's translation:
4 “Sh’ma, Yisra’el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, Isra’el! Adonai our God, Adonai is one]; 5 and you are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, all your being and all your resources. 6 These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; 7 and you are to teach them carefully to your children. You are to talk about them when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them on your hand as a sign, put them at the front of a headband around your forehead, 9 and write them on the door-frames of your house and on your gates.
Two ways of entering more deeply into the Shema that Rabbi Rami mentioned were the mezuzah and breath prayer.
While I plan on getting a mezuzah, I began that night to breathe in and out each word of the Shema. The next day my family ate at a local restaurant and two Jewish women came up to our table out of the blue to offer encouragement to me. Why? I have no idea. Curious. I joked with Russ that they could sense I had been praying the Shema!
Afterwards I went home, read a message from a friend who had asked me to recommend a Frederick Beuchner book. After recommending a few, I walked upstairs to my bookcase and spotted the first Beuchner book I had ever read, A Room Called Remember. The last time I read it had been well over a decade. Randomly I opened it up and what did I see? Staring back at me was Deuteronomy 6:4-7...the Shema! Under the Scripture, Buechner writes,
"'Hear, O Israel!' says the great text in Deuteronomy where Moses calls out to his people in the wilderness. Hear, O Israel! Hear! Listen! And not just O Israel, hear, but O World, O Everybody, O Thou, O every last man and woman of us because we are all of us called to become Israel by hearing..."
As I mentioned last week, synchronicity beckons us to pay attention! The word "Shema" means "Hear!" and this isn't just the gathering of sounds which can go in one ear and out the other. Watch the short animation below for a fantastic word study on "Shema" by The Bible Project. Given the meaning of the word and how it keeps coming up, clearly I'm to hear something! Perhaps there's something here for you, too.
You may have read Adonai translated as LORD, but it can also be translated as The NAME, or Ineffable. Why? Watch the second short animation for a great explanation of the word's background. In addition, not only was the Divine Name so sacred that it was not to be pronounced, but some Jewish scholars taught that YHWH was ineffable because it was not a pronounceable word at all...it was the sound of breathing! This would go along with the name's etymology, God's Name does not indicate a being but Being itself. And this is beyond words! You might muse over God's Name, breathing and existence for a little while...
Now for the breath prayer. If you've never heard the words of the Shema spoken in Hebrew, you can listen to them being read and sung here. Practice silently saying the words with a slow, relaxed inhale and exhale.
In breath- Shema (pronounced Sheh-MA)
Out breath- Yisrael (Yis-rah-EL)
In breath- Adonai (Ah-do-NAI)
Out breath- Eloheinu (Eh-lo-HEY-noo)
In breath- Adonai
Out breath- Echad (Eh-KHAD)
As we regularly breathe the prayer, the hope as Rabbi Rami points out is to help one's consciousness to shift so one sees God in, with, and as all reality and one's interactions with others are marked with compassion. May it be so.
Can you recall a moment of synchronicity?
"Meaningful coincidences" or moments connected by meaning and means not of your own making? When it happens (or at least when I notice), I cannot help but sense that Something is seeing me and something is being communicated. A word, image, or subject matter is repeatedly offered in a variety of ways (unexpected conversations, dreams, nature, ordinary events, extraordinary events, etc.). When synchronicity occurs, I take it as an invitation from God to pay attention. In my own life, it's often a call to grow (consciously) or a signal that growth is occurring (unconsciously).
I had a moment of synchronicity last week.
On Tuesday, I mentioned Fowler's Stages of Faith Development in relation to listening to the Holy Spirit, so it was fresh on my mind a day later when I headed to Congregation Ohabai Sholom with a friend for a 4-week class on The Heart of Jewish Meditation & Spirituality taught by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Although we had missed the first week, unbeknownst to me, the discussion for the second week was mystical Judaism's 5 Levels of Consciousness! These levels are based on the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and walk one through the deepening levels of relationship with/to God...the exact subject material of my latest blog!
Clearly I was to step further into the stages of spiritual growth! So I'm paying attention, perhaps you're beckoned to pay attention, too.
Just as I briefly shared about Fowler's stages, I'll briefly go over the Levels of Consciousness as I understood them in class.
The 5 (Ascending) Levels of Consciousness:
5. Yechida (Spirit) Singularity, pure Soul/God, no barriers between "I-Thou"
4. Chayah (Soul) "Spacious mind," connected to everyone/everything in the Universe, Truth is beyond ideology, more justice & humility expecting nothing in return, no self-seeking, Higher Self, non-dualism, "I and Thou"
3. Neshamah (Mind) "Narrow mind," ego, survival, intellectual comprehension, identity, spirituality reflects back ego/tribalism, "What's in it for me or my group?", dualism, "I-it"
2. Ruach (Heart) Emotions and "spirit" of person, personality
1. Nefesh (Body) Animal existence- breathing, eating, sleeping, walking around
Just as each of Fowler's stages of faith development are necessary, so too, are the 5 levels of consciousness. While the level of Nefesh or body-consciousness is the lowest level, that does not mean it is to be denigrated. After all, we need a body! Rabbi Rami asks us to consider, "Which [level] is calling right now?" If it's the body level, please tend to the body!
The point of the levels is to remind us that we're beckoned to grow beyond simple existence and emotions. At some point in time, we're also beckoned to grow beyond our own ego and tribe. In fact, authentic spiritual practice will always seek to move us from Neshamah to Chayah or from "narrow mind" to "spacious mind." Rabbi Rami describes narrow mind as "seeing the self as separate from and often in conflict with the world and God." And spacious mind he describes as "seeing the self and other as part of a greater wholeness we call God."
In my Christian experience, a lot of Christian reading, teaching and preaching tends to keep people in the Neshamah level or the realm of ego and tribal identity. This can be seen in viewing Christianity as the one right religion (or even narrower, one denomination as the truest or most orthodox) and celebrating being on the "winning side." It's the belief that Christian music is the only music a Christian should listen to. It can also be seen in people's image of God, often a masculine Being resembling the Greek god, Zeus. Remember, such concrete, dualistic thinking whether described by Neshamah or Fowler's "Mythic-Literal or "Conventional-Synthetic," is a necessary stage or level, but it's not the ending point.
Confused? Wondering what spiritual practices can help you shift from Neshamah to Chayah (or move from narrow mind to spacious mind)? Well, they will not look the same for everyone! This is why a spiritual director can be such a helpful companion on your journey. Plus our ego-minds are masters at using religious language to trap us in Neshamah when it's time for us to grow (we are not apt to see it on our own). This is why I have my own spiritual director!
By the way, Rabbi Rami says there are no ways or practices to move from Chayah to Yechida, it is simply pure grace. I'm not surprised, Chayah gets us out of our own way, preparing the way for Yechida, the highest level of consciousness characterized by non-dualism and Union with the Divine. This should resonate with those who practice Centering Prayer, the silent prayer of consent which prepares one for the gift of contemplative prayer or resting in God. If/when one ever gets to taste Yechida, can you guess what the earmark is? Pure Love. Of God and neighbor. Sound familiar?
Next week: More Synchronicity to Share & The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) as a Breath Prayer
Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit?! What does that even mean? And is it even necessary?
Read Jesus' words with me in John 14 when he is preparing his disciples for his departure:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can't receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you...I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you." John 14: 15-17, 25-26 (CEB translation).
Wow, it's going to be a leap in faith development for the followers of Jesus! With their leader about to leave, what will they do?? They've been following him, literally and figuratively, on this path of life. Wherever he goes, they go, even tracking him down when left alone! The good news he tells them is that while they can't go where he is going, they're not going to be left alone, either. When he leaves, it's not time to abandon the path, it's time to grow in their faith journey.
The Bible gives us a wonderful glimpse into the spiritual growth of individuals and faith communities, first Israel then the early church, beginning with their infancy. James Fowler gives us a good glimpse into the stages of faith development. Fowler was a theologian, a professor at Emory, and United Methodist pastor who described stages of faith development beginning with his first book in 1981, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. See the charts below or watch this video to get an overview of each stage. Remember that although age ranges are mentioned, anyone can be at any stage at any age.
In stage 3, Synthetic-Conventional, we see that following and conforming to the teachings of an authority figure, group, or institution is the earmark of a stage 3 person/group's faith and identity. This is not a bad thing, of course. Who or what we choose to follow can either be leading us down the path of life or death, blessings or curses, as the books of Deuteronomy and Proverbs remind us. Following a leader, doing what a leader tells you, and getting affirmation within the group is a healthy and necessary stage of faith development. However it is a stage, not the ending point. Too many people (and faith communities) stagnate at a particular level of development and never progress beyond stage 3. Knowing this, Jesus invites his disciples to venture where many choose not to go.
In the context of the disciples' story, the One who they listened to and learned from is about to leave and, unbeknownst to them at the time, MUST leave if their faith is to grow. It's the only way the seismic shift from perceiving truth from outside themselves (in the person and words of Jesus Christ) to perceiving truth from inside themselves (through the voice of the Spirit within) will take place. Jesus cannot always do the thinking for them!
It is their task to awaken to the reality of the Companion, Advocate, Counselor, who is with them and accessible wherever they go. They first got to know the ways and means of this Spirit in the presence and person of Jesus. Now in his absence, the presence of Jesus will be made known to them by this same Spirit dwelling in their innermost being, their truest self. They will learn that the very "mind of Christ" is accessible to them, willing to teach, remind, comfort and companion...if they are willing to stop, listen, remember and receive.
There comes a time, whether it happens slowly or abruptly, when we are beckoned to leave what we know and grow. It can be confusing and intimidating. But you'll know it's time. When that time comes, remember...
You are not alone. All you need to know for your next step is available to you.
Let a spiritual director companion you as you learn to listen to the Companion within, growing in wisdom as you follow the way of Christ, walking the path of Love.
The day after school ended, my kids and I headed out-of-state to visit friends and family. I was tired before this trip down memory lane began so I really needed to engage the Fruit of the Spirit (patience & gentleness don't come easily in such circumstances)!
I tried breathing in and out each fruit, dwelling on those especially needed. However, being out of my normal exercise routine, this didn't suffice...my whole body wanted to join in on the practice.
So I found myself revisiting the prayer postures that my daughter and her yoga teacher, spiritual director, and author of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit, Whitney Simpson, put together to remember and receive the Fruits of the Spirit. Together we wrote a blog series for Ministry Matters in 2014, found here.
With the celebration of the Holy Spirit's presence & power happening just two days ago on Pentecost Sunday, I thought I'd take another trip down memory lane by reminding us all of these prayer postures and the devotionals that go with them. Come taste and see...
Holy Trinity, as we allow ourselves to feast on the fruit of You in our lives, may we become what we eat. May we embody love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, and truly become the Body of Christ in this world. Amen.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.