The Moment that Defined Spirituality
Founder and President of Mayyim Hayyim: Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center in Newton, Massachusetts, and author of The Red Tent (Picador)
The moment comes on Friday nights, when I light two candles that usher in the Sabbath.
The moment comes when I walk my dog near the river and stand on the bridge and take the deepest breath of the day.
The moment comes when I am ambushed by the Mary Oliver poem "Praying": "...the doorway / into thanks, and a silence in which / another voice may speak."
The moment comes beneath the surface of the water, when all boundaries dissolve.
The moment comes when I permit myself to begin again.
Author of Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun (Norton)
Every time I act without knowing the outcome, with the risk of failure looming before me, I try to see that as a spiritual moment. Every time I transcend my limitations or touch something larger than myself: one step closer.
Author of The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story (Norton)
Growing up in Illinois, I played outside each day and found nature a limitless source of surprises and wonder. That's where I first felt a sense of belonging to its pervasive mystery, of being finite in the face of the infinite and surrounded by powerful and unseen forces. A deity wasn't required; I rejoiced in a sort of eco-spirituality. I still think of myself as an Earth Ecstatic. The tenets of this personal religion are few: I believe in the sanctity of life and the ability of people to improve their behavior toward others. As basic as that stance is, for me it is also tonic, deeply spiritual, and complete—it glorifies the lowliest life-forms and embraces the most distant stars.
Minister and author of Here If You Need Me (Little, Brown)
When he was a little boy, my son Peter spent hours filling sheets of paper with detailed drawings of human conflict. His soldiers carried fearsome weapons. They were borne into battle clinging to the gun turrets of enormous tanks while flocks of fighter planes wheeled across a Magic Marker sky.
The ordnance in these drawings were neatly labeled in accordance with Peter's understanding of human good and human evil: An American flag fluttered proudly above the good guys, and, in case the point was missed, Peter would write "U.S." across the flanks of their fighter jets and tanks. The bad guys fought under red flags inscribed with swastikas. Peter labeled their tanks and airplanes, too. They were the "NOT-SEES." It was so perfect, I couldn't bring myself to correct his spelling.
Vision as a metaphor for human spiritual insight has a history so broad, deep, and obvious that it doesn't require much elucidation. "I was blind, but now I see" is just one familiar variation on the theme of an opened eye meeting light for the first time.
As a 6- or 7-year-old, Peter named evil as a failure of vision. I believe he coined the term "Not-See" not only because the phonetics worked but also because it made sense to him spiritually. The Nazis refused to see the human reality of their victims, and those who might have helped the Jews refused even to bear them witness. The Holocaust began with a denial of human commonality, a rejection of that human "us." This, Peter sensed, is the prerequisite for all violence, all enslavement and bigotry, all genocide, and for all the small and crummy cruelties we human beings busily and blindly inflict on one another.
Mine is a simple spirituality: I am called to love my neighbor. Sometimes, despite an extensive and expensive theological education and few obvious hardships or dangers to distract me, I fail to do this very simple thing. I am brusque with a salesclerk or scowl at another driver in the parking lot, or I might just lose my temper and scream at my beloved son.
Oh yes, I have screamed at Peter. Why? Well, sometimes because, let's face it, the kid was bad. But mostly it was because I was tired, or afraid, or pissed off at the world or at myself. I am not so melodramatic as to compare myself with Hitler when remembering these failures (though Peter, now a teen, might do so), but I wince. So it becomes part of my spiritual practice to confess it: Forgive me, God, for I have at times been the Not-See, squinting, blinkered, foolishly resisting the light of love as it stubbornly, by grace, keeps shining.