THE QUESTION as a Liminal Space ~ Cindy Elliott

The Gift

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.

~ Denise Levertov, Sands of the Well

 In studying “master questioners,” Hall Gregersen inquired about their childhoods and found that most had “at least one adult in their lives who encouraged them to ask provocative questions.”

The Nobel laureate scientist Isidor Isaac Rabi was one such child; when he came home from school, “while other mother’s asked their kids ‘Did you learn anything today?’ [my mother] would say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’” [1]

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Matthew 7:7

A question can form a realm of creativity, a becoming, an “always in the midst of being formed,” a changing… a liminal space. Rabbi Sacks comments that “…to be without questions is not a sign of faith, but a lack of depth…questioning … so deep as to represent a sui generis -a religious phenomenon.”

We see the asking of questions modeled in our heroes of faith. Abraham asked, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Moses asked, “What am I to do with these people?” Jeremiah asked, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” There are Job, Isaiah, King David… and Messiah Yeshua, who could be called the Greatest Questioner of all time, who in the Hebraic tradition, often answered questions with questions. Even G-d Himself has filled Scriptures with questions, inviting each one of us to join in the never ending dialogue between ourselves and our Creator.

Questions inspire, inform, stimulate, challenge… and when we ask a question ‘for the sake of Heaven’ [2] these questions lead to Truth. As Rabbi Sacks also has said, “Every question asked in reverence is the start of a journey towards G-d.”

But what has happened to the art of asking a question?

The tragedy with growing up
is not that we lose childishness
in it’s simplicity,
but that we lose childlikeness
in it’s sublimity.
~ Ravi Zacharias

As a homeschool mom I look back on my daughter’s endless asking of “what?” and “what if?” and I rejoice at her “holy curiosity.” [3]  It was my desire that my daughter would never outgrow her thirst for mysteries and the adventure of discovery; that unexpected conclusions and the delight of spontaneous learning would continue to be something fundamental to her perpetual learning as an adult. Sadly, that isn’t always the norm in our society. Too often we are rewarded for having the answer, not the question, and many of us lose that passionate wonder and curiosity of early childhood. Albert Einstein understood the need to encourage curiosity in the hearts of every age, “Curiosity is a delicate little plant which, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.” And that freedom of curiosity is often expressed as a question. Yet, too often in our society the one with too many questions is sometimes considered a nuisance.

What if I rode a beam of light across the universe?
~ Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein asked countless questions as a child and it has been said that his teachers chastised him for a being a disturbance in the classroom. His own parents – though they loved him – worried that he wasn’t quite normal. Indeed beyond normal, Albert Einstein had an unquestionable thirst for the mysteries of the universe.

Socrates who believed more in asking questions than merely conveying knowledge, was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and sentenced to death.

In my own personal Western-influenced experience, it took me time to truly flourish in the liminal space of a question. It meant letting go of my carefully formulated dogma, my preconceptions, of having to be right or wrong, of understanding true humility; because, inherent in a question is the fact that I do not have the answer. The challenge arises to move beyond fear, and to accept that my question would undoubtably usher in new questions. Over the years, G-d has fanned the flame of curiosity and wonder in my heart and every day I am excited by new “whys” and “what ifs” of my own and to the discovery that often my questions tell me more than the answer ever will.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells us: “It’s not that questions lead to answers, it’s what they do to the mind and soul [that’s important].” In Genesis G-d asked Adam, “Where are you?” G-d didn’t ask this question because he didn’t know where Adam was. He asked it to awaken something in Adam.

Something I learned long ago in the liminal space of a question was that some questions have no answer – especially those that stem from deep suffering and pain. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner shares in Honey From The Rock:

The first mystery is simply that there is a Mystery. A Mystery that can never be explained or understood. Only encountered from time to time. Nothing is obvious. Everything conceals something else.

The Torah doesn’t answer every question. The Rabbis understood this from the first word of Scripture – B’reishit – In the Beginning. The Rabbis asked the question, “Why was the world created with the letter bet (ב)? [One answer they gave is…] Just as the bet is closed on all sides but open at its front we don’t know what existed before Creation nor do we know what is above or what is below.” [4] Our quest for knowledge and understanding, therefore, should be focussed on what is before and ahead of us.

There will be a time when G-d will wipe away every tear, fill every void, and answer every question. Until that time may we each have a holy curiosity that springs forth from the heart of G-d and is rooted in Truth. May each question we voice be for the sake of Heaven and may our souls throb with the wonder and awe of G-d, His Word, and His Creation.

1. Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, p. 67
2. Taken from an Rabbinic teaching “arguments for the sake of Heaven” or rather for the sake of G-d’s Name and Kingdom. See Pirkei Avot 5:20
3. “Never lose a holy curiosity.” ~ Albert Einstein
4. Genesis Rabbah 1:10

* photo credits
1. Copyright: andreykuzmin, 123RF Stock Photo
2. Copyright: famveldman, 123RF Stock Photo

The Liminal Space of BIRD WATCHING ~ Cindy Elliott

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When we do not believe that G-d renews the work of creation every day, then our religious practice becomes old and routine and boring.
As it say in the Psalms, “Do not cast me off when I am old.”
That is, do not let my world become old.
– Martin Buber [1]

Human beings must cherish the world, said the Baal Shem. To deprecate, to deride it was presumption. Creation, all of creation, was pervaded with dignity and purpose and embodied G-d’s meaning.
– Abraham Joshua Heschel [2]

Always an avid birdwatcher, it struck me this morning that many birds seem to make their home in liminal space. Living near the Texas shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, I see birds who live their lives on the water’s edge. Others move between water and air. In my backyard, birds live in the air, on the ground, or where the bushes meet the trees.

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This family of wrens made their home in my bicycle helmet, blending the boundaries between humans and birds.

It also struck me that my daily habit of sitting in my den watching and listening to the birds is an every-day liminal space in time. Somehow my big overstuffed chair becomes a vessel of liminality. Every morning I sit down and when I get up – I am changed.

320954_2432363493115_2144506497_nSometimes it is the cooing of the mourning-dove that calms my thoughts and helps me rest. Other times when a painted bunting, a little ruby-throated hummingbird, a male cardinal in all his glory, or a number of other feathered friends with their bursts of color visit our feeders, I am reminded of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is G-d’s handwriting – a sacrament.

And I praise our Abba for allowing me to be a part of something so marvelous – to feel as Abraham Heschel said, “…in the rush of passing the stillness of the eternal.”

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Others times as the cooper hawk takes flight and transcends the earth to be caught up in the winds, I feel the rekindling of hopes and dreams I have pushed aside, forgotten, or given up on. Always the sweet niggun of the birds stirs a song in my own spirit. And, without exception, every day I am challenged and every day I am surprised.

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The sparrow has also found her home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young – Your altars, Lord of Host, my King and my G-d.
Psalm 84:4

Today it was a little immigrant [3] – the house sparrow – that G-d used to move me to a place of changing. As the chatter of the little sparrow blended with my prayers, an article came to mind about the Singing Stones of the Kotel [4] where the songs of the nesting birds mix with the prayers of the people. It seems swallows, house sparrows, and the common swift all consider the stones of the Western Wall the perfect place to build a home. There is a midrash drawn from Psalm 84:4 telling how the humble birds are aware of the holiness of the Temple and yearn to build their nests there. [5] And if a little bird can have such awareness – such a sensitivity to holiness – how much more should I?

How lovely are Your dwelling places,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living G-d.
The sparrow also has found her home,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my G-d.
How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You.
Psalm 84:1-4

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~ Cindy Elliott

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy Niggun of The Birds

1. Martin Buber as recorded in This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew
2. Abraham Joshua Herschel, Passion For Truth, p. 24
3. The house sparrow was first introduced from Europe. Considered by many a pest, the little songbird is one of my favorites.
4. Chabad.org
5. Rabbi natan Slifkin, Perek Shirah Natures Song, p. 229
photo credit – copyright: Ekaterina Lin, 123rf.com, sparrow on the Western Wall

The Liminal Space of PRAYER – Raynna Myers

“We can only pray the way prayer is supposed to be when we recognize that in fact the soul is always praying.
 Without stop, the soul soars and yearns for its Beloved. It is at the time of outward prayer, that the perpetual prayer of the soul reveals itself in the realm of action.
 This is prayer’s pleasure and joy, its glory and beauty. It is like a rose, opening its elegant petals towards the dew, facing the rays of the sun as they shine over it with the sun’s light.”* 

—Rabbi Abraham Issac HaKohen Kook

Wouldn’t it be a marvel to rest in this as true? How would our life look different to live like we believe this, to live as though we are part of a harmony, weaving in and out for our part, with our voice and our silence…our voice and our silence. Our rising and walking, our kneeling and washing, our cooking and cleaning, our stopping and pausing, our life and our breath—a prayer. I hunger for this.

 The liminal space of prayer is with us everywhere we go, the adventure is to become more and more aware of it. The joy is to become more and more unified with the Spirit of God in us and in this adoring world.

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He is adored. The trees praise Him, the sea roars His name, the flowers reach toward Him with earnest, the wind obeys His command. Then there is us, His crowning creation, His children frolicking or flailing in this wonderland He has given us, we, His image in the earth, breathing His gift of life—sometimes knowing it, oftentimes not.

 Sometimes, when we do know it, in moments of realization we get so excited, like Peter when Yeshua transfigured before him,

“His (Yeshua’s) face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light…then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Yeshua.”

— Matthew 17: 2,3

 How awesome it must have been and good, like Peter said,

“…Lord, it is good for us to be here…” (verse 4)

 Can you imagine? This was a wow, wow, wow moment and Peter wanted to honor it, so he offered to build. He gets corrected and instructed to stop talking and listen. Peter fell to the ground face down afraid, but Yeshua came and touched them, saying,

“Rise and have no fear.” (verse 7)

“Listen…”

“Get up and don’t be afraid.”

 We too offer to build when we should behold, we speak when it’s better to listen. It’s OK, “Don’t be afraid!”

 “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he himself knows our frame; he is mindful that we are but dust.”

— Psalm 103:13-14

Such comfort offered us here. Such a space created for us, an invitation graciously proposed to us, to come, to rest, to be still and know, to:

 “Cease striving and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold.    Selah.

— Psalm 46:10-11

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A story is told about an innkeeper named Aharon Shlomo who was the simplest sort of Jew, able only to pray with great difficulty, without even knowing the meaning of the Hebrew words he would pray. He was, however, very devout and had a custom of continually uttering in every situation and circumstance: “Blessed is He forever and ever!” His wife, Zlateh Rivkah, also had this habit, continually saying: “Blessed be His holy name!”. Although their hands were at work, they placed their hearts toward God by repeating these sentences.

 One day a young rabbi stayed at their inn. His name was Israel and he had been given opportunity to learn complex prayers from great rabbis. Israel, went outside, devoting himself to praying these complex meditations he had been taught when he was visited again with a word from heaven, “You are struggling with such effort…but Aharon the innkeeper and Zlateh his wife know nothing about (these kinds of prayers)…yet, their simple utterances make all the worlds tremble.”

 This experience transformed the young, and one day to be great, rabbi’s attitude toward prayer. He came to the understanding and taught that simple, childlike devotion is the key to entering the presence of one’s Father in Heaven.**

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Today, may we come like little children, may we work with our hands and put our hearts toward God through the quieting of our hearts, the choosing to be unafraid, lifting our eyes to behold and our ears to listen.

 May we know that the liminal space, the threshold, of prayer is always welcome to us, is always the realest reality, the truest true. Prayer is a continual feast before us, and a place to become clean again. May we know that we live in a world that adores Him, and join the song…with our voice and our silence. 

This is how to pray continually. Amen.

 Praising His faithfulness and Seeking Him with you today friends,

Raynna

 * Rabbi Abraham Issac HaKohen Kook, Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p.11

**Story paraphrased from The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov by Yitzhak Buxbaum, pages 27-29

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Raynna Myers is a writer, photographer, homeschooling mom of six and wife. Her first book, Pray, Like a Woman in Labor was published last year with a foreword by Keren Hannah Pryor. She writes at www.RaynnaMyers.com from the trenches to link arms with physical and spiritual mothers and anyone hungry to let Mercy lead.

The Liminal Space of DREAMS ~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Martin Luther King Jr. declared “I have a dream!” Theodore Herzl said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” The famed pop group Abba sang, “I have a dream, a song to sing.”

Dreams exist on many levels. As our brain processes the experiences of the day while we sleep we may have related dreams. Prophetic dreams, however, are God-inspired visions. The dreams of poets are conscious flights of imagination. Visionaries have idealistic dreams of a better world. Through His people Israel, God offers the world dreams of Redemption. Psalm 126:1 reads, “When God returns the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers.” This is a dream we are seeing fulfilled in our time.

Dreams and visions are woven throughout the Bible. What is the first biblical dream that comes to your mind? Maybe the dreams of young Joseph that caused his brothers to sell him as a slave? Then his being summoned from prison to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, which caused him to become the most powerful man in the then world, second only to Pharaoh himself. We see that the ruler attributed Joseph’s talent of interpretation to a Divine source for he says, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God? …Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as wise and discerning as you” (Genesis 41:38-39).

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We can remember, too, the earlier and significant dream/vision had by Joseph’s father Jacob after fleeing from his brother Esau. He encountered a place and when he slept, with a stone for his pillow, he saw a glorious ladder reaching from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending. God stood above it and proclaimed to Jacob that He was giving him the Land, that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth, and that He would be with him and watch over him wherever he went and would bring him back to the Land. When he awoke, Jacob could only declare, “This is none other than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven!”

Kohelet tells us that God …”makes everything beautiful in its time. He also has set eternity in the hearts of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). That is the hope and the promise while we walk through our day to day journey in this world and dream our dreams. In the final accounting, all in His Kingdom, including ourselves, will be restored to its intended beauty through His grace and mercy; praise God. We anticipate and long for olam habah – the world to come; however, while we are in this world – olam hazeh, we need to face and deal with the imprefections and the often bitter hardships of the present reality. The means God has given to strengthen us, as we walk through the daily challenges we inevitably face, are His promises and the hope we derive from the “dreams and visions” of His prophets.

The wisdom of Proverbs tells us the oft quoted first half of the verse: “Where there is no vision the people perish” (KJV 29:18). This is rendered in the ESV, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint” and the second half of the verse reads: “but blessed is he who keeps the law/Torah”. Blessing and vision cannot be separated from the  Word – the teaching/Torah – of God.

What does a life wthout this vision, without dreams, look like? 

The life of a “realist,” of one who insists on only taking into account the practical reality he sees before him, becomes immersed solely in materialism. Life, with its expansive vision of further horizons, of greater depths of meaning, of dreams of beauty and glory, evades him and he becomes like a bird caged in the iron bars of grim “reality.” The shackled soul cannot soar and find the heights for which it was created.

The power of dreams and of vision sets us free from the limitations of physicality. Instead of a partial and fragmented view of life, our dreams reveal to us the wider and more accurate truth of the eternal perspective of the God-created universe.

What about “bad dreams”?

As we know, not every dream can be catagorized as “an inspired vision from God.”  The prophet Zechariah stresses, “Diviners …tell false dreams.” (10:12) How do we know if a dream is prophetic or pointless? The more our minds are focussed on God and His purposes the more our imaginations become godly and can relate to the reality of eternal life. Our dreams are then more likely to reflect the truth of the spiritual dimension of reality. When a person is solely preoccupied with personal and materialistic concerns his or her dreams cannot rise above a self-centered view of reality.

Rabbi A.I. Kook refers to an allegory of the Sages that says, “Angels bring prophetic dreams anad demons bring false dreams” (Berachot 55b).** Angels are messengers of God who work to perfect the world in accord with the will of God. True dreams will be in harmony with this purpose. Demons are unholy and operate against God’s purposes of truth and order.  False dreams will therefore reflect selfish and ungodly fantasies.

Chalom – חלום

The Hebrew word for dream is chalom. The initial letter chet – ח has the numerical value of 8 which indicates a new beginning. It’s a letter that represents life, Chai – חי, the full expression of which is love. It also begins the word for ‘stork’ chasidah. Which is maybe where the myth began that it is the stork that delivers a baby, the fruit of life and love, to its parents.

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It’s shape represents a fence, a door or a gateway. A threshold to a new area or dimension. At this liminal space of a dream or vision from the Father, we can receive clear insight into the place we have arrived at on our journey and of the path set before us in His perfect plan for our life in His service. We gain greater clarity, as explained in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, as we “Know from whence you came and to where you are going.” The place where you will give a final accounting and where the glory of eternal life in God’s Presence awaits.

Just as God did with Jacob, He promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you!” In our loving Shepherd’s grace and guidance we can trust our vision and press forward to our eternal destination with joyful anticipation. 

 

 

* Photo credit  “500 Years Away” #02  by Adam Ferriss.
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** Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Sapphire from the Land of Israel.

The Liminal Space of WORSHIP – Cindy Elliott

This world is full of fragile loves – love that abandons, love that fades, love that divorces, love that is self-seeking.
But the unquenchable worshipper is different. From a heart so amazed by G-d and His wonders burns a love that will not be extinguished. It survives any situation and lives through any circumstance.
It will not allow itself to be quenched, for that would heap insult on the love it lives to respond to. [1]

 

Kleyn*

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. [2]

The other night I was on our patio dancing under the banner of our Abba’s love when I heard the door of our neighbor’s home open and close. There I was twirling, arms raised toward the stars, smiling into the heavens. Although I could hear the music that stirred my spirit and moved my feet, my neighbor who couldn’t probably thought I’d gone quite mad.

There are many expressions of worship (prayer, dance, song, tears, study, work, play, quiet…), but the Hebrew word for worship – שָׁחה (Shin, Chet, Heyshachah) – means “to prostrate oneself.” Worship is an attitude of the heart that has the connotation of complete surrender to one who is superior. Dr. John Garr tells us:

The Greek word for worship (proskuneo) is even more graphic, implying a level of submission to G-d that is parallel with that of a dog licking its master’s hand. [3]

We are given a potent visual of porskuneo in John 12:3 when Mary anoints Yeshua’s feet with perfume and wipes His feet with her hair.

The Hebrew word שָׁחה – Shachah (Shin, Chet, Hey) has a telling pictograph:

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שׁ Shin – to consume, to destroy
ח Chet – fence, wall, to separate 
ה Hey
– to reveal

Worship is the place where walls are destroyed and we find G-d revealing Himself to us face to face.

When we realize that worship is a life that is in complete surrender to G-d, we can then see that worship isn’t confined to a moment of time, but is rather a way of living. It’s something that is woven into every thought we think, every word we speak, and every action we take. True worship consists of focusing on G-d, declaring His truths, proclaiming His deeds, celebrating His goodness, and waiting on and responding to His presence. To put it simply, worship is when one’s heart and life are bowed down to our Creator in humility and adoration. Such a life is also a life of continual transformation. Liminal space in the realm of worship is filled with G-d’s transforming presence and is one of His great gifts to us.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory [4] of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,
just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  (2 Corinthians 3:18)

 However, as with other liminal spaces, this space of transformation is not always comfortable. There are times we may feel stretched to a breaking point, fragmented and forgotten. This is a time we can look to the Psalms to help us. The Psalms of laments are expressions of worship. They are honest cries from the depths of the human heart, yet they are cries that are filled with a confidence that G-d is a compassionate G-d who hears His peoples’ cries and is intimately concerned with their lives.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my G-d;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13)

Know that the chapters of Psalms shatter all barriers, they ascend higher and still higher with no interference; they prostrate themselves in supplication before the Master of all worlds, and they effect and accomplish with kindness and compassion. [5]

There is a midrash that says David compiled the Psalms for every circumstance and not only compiled them for himself, but also for all generations. I have found this to be true in my own life. The Psalms have often voiced the words I felt churning inside but couldn’t speak. In addition, the Psalms have been a further tool of worship in my life by taking me out of the depths of my own heart and up into the heart of G-d.

And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet G-d, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. (b’tachtit hahar) (Exodus 19:17)

Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our G-d and with those who are not with us here today … (Deuteronomy 29:14-15)

The phrase b’tachtit hahar is generally translated as “at the foot of the mountain.” However, the Sages understood this phrase to literally mean “underneath the mountain.” There is a beautiful midrash that comes from this understanding. The midrash brings to mind a picture: G-d holding the mountain over the peoples’ heads as a magnificent chuppah (wedding canopy) for the wedding ceremony between Himself and His people. Based on Deuteronomy 29:14-15, the Sages teach that we were also there. Today, we live in a world that forgets G-d. However, the people whose heart of worship is focused on G-d, who proclaim His works and celebrate His goodness, remember.
In such remembering, the beauty of the past under G-d’s chuppah is simultaneously made a present reality and a future hope.

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It is important to note that worship is not an easy thing. It is a conscious decision – a definite choice – that must be made again and again. The cares of this world can overwhelm us at times. During such times, it is easy for us to become more focused on ourselves and our troubles than on our Beloved. It is at such times that we are faced with the choice to either focus on our troubles or to consciously decide to step back into the liminal space of worship where the beauty and goodness of G-d overwhelms our troubles. However, this doesn’t mean that by living in the liminal space of worship, we will have no troubles whatsoever.

It is true and beautiful that G-d is moved by our worship and will at times only move in the midst of our praise. [6] However, even when our circumstances remain the same – despite living in the liminal space of worship – we can be sure that our heart is being transformed. We will see the world and our circumstances in a holy reality, in the only reality. When we give G-d His proper place in the midst of our circumstances by living in the liminal space of worship, we protect ourselves from making our circumstances an idol in our lives, from taking the place that G-d rightfully deserves.

For the believer, worship and daily living are not two separate realms. We can live every moment in the presence of our Abba. However, I offer this warning: living a life of worship may mean that others will think you are quite crazy when they don’t hear the music to which you dance.

עזי וזמרת יה ויהי-לי לישועה
Ozi ve’zimrat Ya vayehi-li le’yeshua.

The Lord is my strength and my song; and He has become my salvation.
(Psalm 118:14)

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* IIse Kleyn, oil painting – YHVH Nissi – The Lord is My Banner

1. Matt Redman, The Unquenchable Worshipper: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship, pg.18
2. This quote has been credited to Friedrich Nietzsche
3. John D. Garr, Family Worship: Making Your Home a House of G-d, pg. 91
4. The revelation of G-d is called “the glory of G-d.” To “glorify G-d” means to accurately reveal G-d’s true person. For example, Moses said to G-d, “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). He meant, “Show me who you really are. Reveal yourself to me.” When we receive an insight about G-d or see an accurate depiction of G-d’s person, we perceive a little bit of His glory. – from First Fruits of Zion
5. The Third Lubavitcher Rebbe
6. Without a doubt, there are times that in the midst of our praise, our Abba goes forth before us and does battle. Acts 16, 2 Chronicles 20, Psalm 50, Psalm 146, Psalm 149, etc.

The Liminal Space of FORGIVENESS – Amy Martin

 

Forgive

 

Sometimes I struggle with forgiveness.

I don’t mean struggle in the sense that I feel I’m owed something, that I want to hold a grievance over someone’s head.  I struggle with the what of forgiveness.  I struggle with the how.  What is forgiveness?  Is it forgetting? Reconciliation? Letting go?

Recently I’ve been reading a lot by the philosopher John Caputo.  I love his “Poetics of the Kingdom”, and resonate with his “weak theology”.  This theology of weakness is in contrast to the strong forces of the world that are driven by power and control.
Weak theology is the evocative call of the impossibly good, impossibly beautiful things –
the power of powerlessness, the gift of grace, of love, of mercy.
It’s the quiet, whispered call into the good.
It’s the same loving, persistent good, good, very good that was proclaimed when the beautiful was taken and formed from the deep.
It pulls us, calls us, asks us to be in this world – but not of it.

I think this is my struggle with forgiveness.

The strong forces of the world would have me think that forgiveness is something that belongs to the order of the world and the strong forces within me would like to buy into it.  In the world’s ways, everything is conditional upon being earned or owed and forgiveness in practice very often equates with reconciliation.

This is good and this makes sense.  It’s ideal in a world where everything is earned or owed and is certainly better than retaliation or vengeance.
But we live in a paradoxical reality. The strong forces of earning and owing can wind themselves like tares on the wheat of the weak forces – of those things that are unconditional gifts, those things that can’t be earned.

And I’m sure that forgiveness is an unconditional gift.

It’s an impossibly good and beautiful event that does not belong to the natural order of this world.
I’m told that forgiveness is of God’s kingdom, like grace is of His kingdom.
I’ve prayed, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
And I know that you can’t both forgive and expect to reconcile debts.

Maybe the impossibility of this unconditional gift is my struggle with forgiveness.

How do I, with one hand, reach for the eternal call of good, good, very good while holding such brokenness in the other?
How do I retain the past – an unreconciled past – affirm it, and let it go? 

Can I separate my desire for the good economy of reconciliation from the gift of forgiveness? This is what I ultimately want to do. Forgive debts.
Not repress or deny the hurt of the past but retain it as if it were crossed out, erased – there, but not anymore. 

I want to live into the call of the impossibly good things; lepers that are healed, blind that see –
debts that are forgiven, as I have forgiven my debtors.
I want to let the impossible beauty of the unconditional gifts breathe meaning into the hurt,
healing into the brokenness
and life into where I am and
where I am called to be.
I want to give away the debts owed to me, even as the debts I owe are released – and live into the eternal proclamation of good, good, very good that takes and forms the beautiful from the deep.

God help me do the impossible.

 

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Amy Martin

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The Threshold of the Holy Struggle – Amy Martin

I want to tell you that your struggle is holy.

There are times when the things we know with our hearts and minds are at odds with our experience of the world. Nothing aligns in the neatly-aligned ways our rational mind believes it should; nothing harmonizes in the perfectly harmonized way our intuition for the whole sees that it could. We become caught, confused, tangled in the knots tied between our mind and our heart, lost somewhere between this world and the next. We’re left wondering where we are, and who we are, and why we are. We’re left by ourselves and in the dark, alone with our struggle.

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”

All through the day and deep into the night we wrestle, trying desperately to pin something down. Attempting to untie the muddled and confusing things about ourselves, about others, about the world. Why doesn’t this make sense? Why is this so difficult? If only we could answer these questions we could put things back together; we could make sense of them; we could make things whole again.

If only we could use our available but limited power to make sense of our powerlessness.

So we fumble with ourselves and what we know and what we don’t know. We wrestle with the dissonance until we finally come to the place where there are no more answers and we can’t remember the questions. We finally come to the place where our power meets our powerlessness.

“When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”

And it hurts. The dissonance hurts. All we want is to end the confusion and conflict, yet sometimes all we find in our honest struggle for truth is more struggle. So we wrestle, all through the day and deep into the night. We struggle, tumbling, helpless and alone toward; and when we get there, we find ourselves wounded.

Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But then light comes, because the dark and the night and the struggle are only part of the experience. We open our hands and unclench our fists as the grace of day breaks into this night, just as it does every night, captivating and comforting us with the beauty and warmth of its rising light. As the day fills the darkness, gratitude fills our tired, emptied body, and we know our life was spared. We’re relieved; we’re released.

“The sun rose above him as he passed the place. He saw God’s face, and he was limping because of his hip.”

The light comes, the sun rises, but the memory of the struggle lingers. We meet this day, and every day after, standing in this tragic gap. We hold forever a piece of the dark night in the open, vulnerable place where our power first met our powerlessness. We carry a sacred reminder in the form of a holy limp.

It is a holy limp. I want to tell you that your struggle is beautiful.

It’s holy and beautiful like the very light that releases us from it;
holy and beautiful like the intersection of night and day,
of struggle and lightness of being.
It marks the places we see the very face of God.

 

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Amy Martin

Amy lives near the 45th parallel with her husband Matt, and her children; two middle schoolers, and a grade schooler. They all live with an English Shepherd and a leopard gecko. Her favorite activities include making things with her kids, building databases (really), as well as swimming in the summer, then walking on that same water in the winter, because that’s just what one does living 1/2 way between the Equator and the North Pole.

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The Liminal Space of the MEZUZAH ~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Jewish people have this custom of affixing a small box to our doorframes and entrance gates. It usually is a slim, oblong container that can be made from various materials such as plastic, wood, ceramics or metal, including pure silver or gold. I also have one carved from beautiful Jerusalem stone. They can be very simple or elaborate and decorative. Although the word mezuzah (pronounced mah-zooz-ah) originally denoted the doorpost itself, the name  now is ascribed to this container. The etymology of the word is unclear. Interestingly,  the emphasized central syllable zuz is the Hebrew word meaning move. Indeed, the mezuzah marks the place of a threshold, indicating movement from one place to another; which renders it a perfect symbol for a liminal space!

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As are most Jewish customs, that of attaching a mezuzah to the doorposts of one’s home (except the bathroom), arose from response to, and in fulfillment of, a commandment of God given in His Torah [teaching or instruction, as recorded in the first five books of the Bible].

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. …You shall write them on the doorposts [mezuzot] of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4,9)

These words are included in the verses that comprise the Shemah (Deut. 6:4-9), which, together with verses 11-21 from chapter 11, are meticulously handwritten by a professional scribe on a small parchment scroll, called a klaf, which is housed inside the mezuzah. If the klaf can be seen, e.g., through a glass or clear plastic mezuzah, the scribe writes the letters  ש-ד-י (shindaletyod) on the outside of the rolled up scroll. The letters form the word Shaddai, a name for God; they also are an acronym for Shomer Dlatot Yisrael – Guardian of the Doors of Israel. On ceramic or metal mezuzot, just the letter shin suffices as a reminder of Who is guarding one’s door!

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Being affixed in these strategic positions, the mezuzot are the most prominent religious objects in the home and those most often seen by all the family. This applies publically as well for those of us blessed to live in the Jewish homeland of Israel. Situated at thresholds, the mezuzah is there as a quiet reminder, when one moves, often briskly, from one space to another, that life itself is a “limen” – a transition from one place to the next – from Olam HaZeh (this world) to Olam HaBa (the World to Come). In order to help us remember it is there and the truth it conveys, people often pause, however fleetingly, and touch the mezuzah with a kiss of the fingertips. This helps, in the hectic pace of our days, to constantly keep the reality in mind that we simply are passing through this life and should not lose sight of the eternal perspective and the deeper meaning of our journey.

The pause, thus, is a remembrance of the necessary connection of the physical and spiritual aspects of life. In our physical existence on earth we are bound by the limitations of space and time. We can become so focussed on our bodily, physical needs and demands that we forget the reality that we, essentially, are spiritual beings encased in physical bodies. Our spirits also need feeding and nurture in order to grow and flourish. Our spiritual food is the Word of God, the bread from Heaven our Father provided for this very purpose. The mezuzah perfectly pictures this in its form as an outer container housing  precious words of God.

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The kiss on one’s fingertips is to acknowledge, in love, the One whose idea it was to place His Word at every threshold and thereby to reassure us of His Presence. As we leave the sanctuary of our homes and go out into the uncertain world, we can trust that He is there constantly watching and is with us. We therefore pause, gratefully, to acknowledge His faithfulness with a touch and a kiss.

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A final point to ponder. The mezuzah also is a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelite  families who were for God, and were ready to obey His will, followed the detailed commands given to Moses. They were to take a lamb into their home for four days and, on the prescribed day, when they needed to be packed and dressed for the journey, they were to slaughter the lamb and daub its blood on their doorposts. Then they were to roast the lamb, enjoy a meal together, and be ready to leave when the signal was given. The blood of the lamb on the doorframe was the sign of their obedience to God. On seeing this, the Angel of Death would pass over them. Then, at a given signal, in a mighty deliverance of God, they would all go forth across the threshold, the great liminal space, from slavery into freedom. They would cross over from the cruelty and crippling physical demands of Pharaoh to the free open space of service to their Creator. They would be free to worship their loving Redeemer, in whose image they were made.

Today, the times we  live in often are dangerous. The evidence of cruelty and evil we are witness to is heartbreaking. Now, more than ever, we need sure and constant reminders that affirm and strengthen our knowledge of who we are as beloved children of the Almighty God. We need to know that,  in our going, as we “live and move and have our being in Him,”* we can “pause” and bring blessing, including into any situation of pain and injustice. We can do this with “a touch and a kiss” in the spirit of chesed – the fiery power of our Father’s love expressed in tender, compassionate action.

 

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~Keren Hannah Pryor

  • Acts 17:28

The Liminal Space of G-D’S SILENCE ~ Cindy Elliott

For time is but a little lower than eternity, and history is a drama in which both man and G-d have a stake. In its happenings we hear the voice as well as the silence of G-d.*

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As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, – Listen and do not hear – the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak…. I want you to pray for me – that I let Him have free hand.

These words could have come off the pages of the Psalms – but they didn’t. They came from the personal journals of Mother Teresa. We know from her personal writings she knew well the agony of the liminal space of G-d’s silence. Some have seen her words as a crisis of faith. In truth, if any Scripture more profoundly affirms a loving and beloved G-d, they would be the Psalms; yet, the Psalms also express an intense and great anguish at G-d’s seeming silence and inactivity in connection with human suffering.

Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul has sunk down into the dust;
Our body cleaves to the earth.
Rise up, be our help,
And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.
Psalm 44:24-26

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Psalm 13:1-2

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow And my years with sighing;
My strength has failed because of my iniquity,
And my body has wasted away.
Psalm 31:9-10

We know the embrace of G-ds Love, the warmth of His Light, the gentleness of His Compassion,the  wholeness of His Shalom… So how do we make sense of the silence of a G-d who loves in view of all the suffering and evil in the world? The liminal space of G-d’s silence in the place of suffering is one of the most tortured spaces for people of faith. It is a space that can feel not only like a horrible estrangement with our Beloved, but a betrayal by Him also.

One of our gravest mistakes is to take G-d’s silence as passivity. G-d’s silence is, as Rav Kook tells us, that place “in which entire worlds are built.” G-d’s silence is often the speaking that is louder than words. It is the place where we wrestle and, as with Jacob, grab hold and say, “Abba, I will not let You go until you bless me.” Without a doubt it is the place in which we have the deepest and most intense connection with and love for G-d. It is the place we encounter G-d and we come out changed.

Another mistake is to attribute the suffering and evil of the world as caused by the silence of a G-d who says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Evil is not caused by G-d’s silence but by men who do not listen.

But why doesn’t G-d intervene? We read in the Psalms of a loving G-d who could step in but at times doesn’t. As we know and we know and we know, G-d is compassionate, loving, good… So, “Why not?” is a puzzle.

On this side of eternity there are unanswerable questions, unanswerable evils, unanswerable pains, and unanswerable sufferings. Scripture does not provide a final resolution to these questions; we face an unsolvable mystery.

However, Rabbi Abraham Heschel tells us, “…there is meaning beyond mystery. That holiness conquers absurdity. And without holiness, we will sink into absurdity.”

G-d, and not imponderable evil [or unanswerable pain and suffering], must have the last word.** And His Word to us is promise and hope:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
Revelation 21:4

Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.
Isaiah 60:20

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There will be a time of total revelation but for now – at times – there is no miraculous healing, no being pulled from the storm, no being plucked from the fire. Sometimes G-d’s answer to us is ‘a voice of thin silence’*** – but in that silence, we find G-d, and He has never been so close.

Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.
Deuteronomy 31:6

 

Trust G-d with His silence, for out of His eternal silence has come immeasurable richness!

Out of his eternal silence G-d spoke the Word, and through this Word created… the world. In the beginning G-d spoke the land, the sea, and the sky. He spoke the sun, the moon, and the stars. He spoke plants, birds, fish, animals wild and tame. Finally, he spoke man and woman. Then, in the fullness of time, G-d’s Word, through whom all had been created, became flesh and gave power to all who believe to become the children of G-d. In all this, the Word of G-d does not break the silence of G-d, but rather unfolds the immeasurable richness of his silence. ****

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~ Cindy Elliott

Footnotes:

* Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, pg 16

** Marvin Wilson, Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage

*** In 1 Kings 19:12 we read about G-d speaking to Elijah not in the strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire but in the qol demamah daqah – the still thin voice. Qol is voice, demamah can be translated still or silent, daqah can be translated small or thin.

**** Henry Nouwen and Robert Durback, Seeds of Hope: a Henry Nouwen Reader

Photo Credits:

Top – rgbstock.com

MIddle – alphacoders.com

The Liminal Space of SEA AND SAND ~ Keren Hannah Pryor

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I grew up near the sea. Though far from it now, my mind sometimes wanders to the sandy beaches and the rockpools of my younger days. The ocean offers a rich retreat when you can take it, whether physically or on a flight of imagination.

Daily life in the modern world seems to have spun out of control with its endless choices and demands. The flood of entertainment and instant communication bombards us with constant distractions. All this can be left behind when you visit the ocean. The seashore has a beauty and character of its own. It reflects both simplicity and splendor.

The strong rhythm of the waves draws one into the primeval harmony of Creation – the dawn of time. The external harmony induces an inner peaceful rhythm in one’s soul. A gentle mantle of grace enfolds as you begin to settle into the simplicity of the ocean’s moods and mysteries.

Such is the peace of sea and sand. Sunlit waves sparkle and gently lap the shore. Scurrying crabs leave delicate patterns on the smooth, wave-swept sand.  Seagulls swoop and squawk. Children run and splash and laugh. Soft sand replaces hard pavement. Time slows down. Solitude envelops. The material, driving, masculine tempo of life yields and gives way to the feminine flow of beauty, spirit and heart.

In this space one can take time to be still; to feed the soul. Embraced by the beauty and splendor of God’s creativity, one can be more inwardly attentive and allow one’s natural gifts, however humble, to have creative expression. Sketching, writing, carving, photography, poetry, prayer, music!  Quietly, you can find and give voice to your own unique, inner song.

Here at the threshold, the limen, of sea and sand, of solid earth and fluidity, with all its beauty and hidden dangers, we find reflections of our lives. The peace and stillness when the moon bestows its silver light on the water’s surface; the glowing beauty of sunrise and sunset, all serve to draw the soul to deeper places of contemplation.

Then there are days, seasons, of tempestuousness. Wild, crashing waves. The salt-sprayed wind bites and brings tears to your eyes. Bundled up against its buffeting, you trudge the sand. Yet, your soul soars as you wonder at the wildness – the power and majesty of the ocean.

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With care, we are able to explore and delight in the ocean’s wonders but we cannot live for long in the depths of this water-world. We can, however, gratefully receive the sea-borne gifts washed up to our feet by the waves. The unbidden treasures of uniquely designed shells, sunbaked driftwood, glass worn smooth; each with a story and mystery of its own.

So, too, is the world of the spirit – the spiritual realm. We can explore and contemplate its depths and beauty, and receive its gifts, yet we remain grounded on the shore with its practical solidity, and with its sometimes shifting sands. We learn the designs of our Creator from the rhythms of the spirit – the need for Shabbat and His appointed times,  times of respite to draw apart from the routine demands of the ordinary and material and to turn our focus more fully upon Him and the mysteries and wonder of His Creation.

We need set apart time to be still and to meditate upon the value and blessings of the precious gifts of life He gives. And so we must do, until the day a gentle wave gathers us up and carries us into the glorious and timeless expanse of eternity – of which we now have only a glimpse.

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~Keren Hannah


* Photo credits:
Top and center: Taryn Daley Miller, Siesta Key, Sarasota, Florida.
Bottom: Karen Barenschi, Cape Town, South Africa


Jacob’s Encounters in Liminal Space ~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Considering liminal space as a threshold, that place where one is neither here nor there – the space between a starting point and a destination, it is of interest to study the liminal spaces in the lives of the Patriarchs – the fathers of our faith.

Liminal space, usually, is a place of great vulnerability; as we see when God called our father Abraham to set out from his home “…to a land you know not.” He had a starting point but not a destination. That was the risk and challenge he faced – the not knowing. However, he knew the voice of God and that provided him with courage and the faith he needed to endure the journey into the unknown.

Jacob, too, undertook an unexpected journey from his home in BeerSheva, in the Land promised to his father, Isaac, when he was forced to flee from the murderous wrath of his brother Esau. Although he knew his destination – Padan Aram, where others of Abraham’s family were settled – Jacob had little idea of what awaited him there or the dangers he might face on the way. As we know, he reached his destination safely, married his beloved wife Rachel, and her sister Leah, and worked for their father, the scheming Laban, for twenty years until God released him to return to his homeland. The challenge, on his return journey, was the need to once again face his brother Esau.

Traversing the liminal spaces of both journeys, at his most vulnerable moments, he has his greatest visions and experiences dramatic encounters with God. On his first journey we read, “Hu yifgah ba’makom. – He came upon a place” (Gen. 10:11). The Hebrew word yifgah carries a much stronger meaning: He collided with a place!  It’s a forceful encounter that stops him in his tracks. The sun is setting and he decides to rest there for the night and sleeps with a stone as his pillow.

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Here he has his dream – a glorious vision of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven and angels of God ascending and descending upon it. The Lord appears above the ladder and confirms His promises to Abraham and Isaac, saying: “The land upon which you lie, I will give to your descendants.” And, “…in your seed all the families of earth will be blessed.”  He also promises Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this Land.”

When he awakens, Jacob realizes the place is of profound importance and proclaims: “How awesome is this place – HaMakom! This is none other than the House of God; this is the gate of Heaven(Gen. 28:12-17). He names the place Bethel – house of God. It was situated on the mount of Moriah, meaning ‘God is my teacher,’ which later would be called Har Ha’Bayit, the Mount of the House (of God); the Temple Mount. Jacob now trusts that God will preserve him, provide for his needs, and would return him to his homeland.

What of his second journey – the journey home? He indeed has prospered and built for himself a large family and is the owner of many cattle and sheep. His fear, now, is the inevitable encounter with his fiery brother Esau. Is his life still in danger from Esau’s hatred and revenge? Before crossing the border, Jacob prays to God, positions his family and takes necessary precautions. The night before the meeting he has another lone encounter when “…an unknown Man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Gen. 32:24). Jacob prevails and the man says, “Let me go for the day breaks!” Jacob demands a blessing and, before he disappears, the Man proclaims,

Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with man, and have prevailed.

Jacob, again, is struck with awe and names the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.” (32:30)

He now can go forward with courage and also with a great humility that defuses any anger that may remain in his brother. Esau embraces him lovingly and they weep together. Jacob then returns safely to the land of his fathers and buys land near the town of Shechem (where the bones of his precious son, Joseph, eventually would be buried). He erects an altar there and calls it, El Elohei Yisrael, God is the God of Israel.

Jacob’s encounters, in the lonely liminal spaces of his life, have bequeathed to the generations following, and to all the world, great foundational truths of God. Firstly, the place of His House, where He has chosen to place His Name and will dwell among man forever. And, secondly, the knowledge that He is the God of Israel – the God Who will work out His plan of Redemption for all mankind through the children of Israel, who have and will survive and prevail and see God’s promise to Jacob fulfilled, that “…in you and in your Seed (the Messiah) all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

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Our individual spiritual journeys and growth can only be made alone. It is a personal quest no-one else can undertake for us. We have to go it alone! From Jacob we learn, however, that when we are alone, in the darkness of a challenging situation, we can encounter the glorious reality and the profound promises of God. Knowing and trusting His Presence with us, we can be strengthened as Jacob was. We can rise up and go forward in confidence, with humble faith that we will survive and, ultimately, will overcome and prevail.

In this context, of Jacob and Israel and our spiritual journey through life, a meaningful application can be made of words spoken in 1910 by Theodore Roosevelt, during a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris.

It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;

who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions;

who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timd souls who neither know victory nor defeat. *

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~Keren Hannah

* Quoted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book, Lessons in Leadership, 34

The Liminal Space of BLESSING ~ Keren Hannah Pryor

The threshold between living in a state of blessedness and one of curse is the place of awareness and choice. When we become caught up in the rushed tempo of modern life, it becomes extremely difficult to take the time to pause, to be aware, to listen attentively in order to make the right choices and gratefully to receive the blessings offered us. We need to become present and attentive enough, moment by moment, to recognize the blessings that constantly surround us.

Generally, we do recognize and celebrate the great, clear blessings, such as the birth of a baby, the wedding of loved ones, personal achievements or the success of an undertaking. These are peaks of blessing, as it were, but they do not carry us through the valleys of our daily existence. Here, we must choose to live and walk in grace and blessing or under the curse of anger and resentment. In making the choice for blessing, we awaken our capacity to receive blessing and, in turn, to bless others.

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The word ‘blessing’ in Latin is benedicere meaning, literally, good or well (bene) speaking (dictio) – speaking well or saying good things. Saying good things to, or of, someone is the most significant affirmation we can offer them. A true blessing, however, is more than a word of praise or admiration of their talents. It goes deeper; to the very heart of a person. It affirms their being beloved – they are Beloved of God and beloved in your sight. Henri Nouwen describes this blessing well:

The blessings that we gve to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity. It is the deepest affirmation of our true self.

It is not enough to be chosen. We also need the ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone, but will remind us always that we are guided by love on every step of our lives.*

In that liminal space experienced by Yeshua, of the emergence from the mikveh of the waters of the Jordan River, representing the state of death – dying to the past and birthing into the new, He burst through into light and life and heard the voice of the Father proclaim His blessing from Heaven: “You are my Beloved Son, on you My favor rests!”

There are, essentially, only two voices speaking as we traverse our days in this world – that of Love and Truth, the voice of God, and that of Hatred and Lies, the voice of the enemy of God. We choose to hear the Father of Love or the father of Lies – the voice of blessings or the voice of curses. The latter is loud, noisy, clamoring for attention and, in its forceful persistence, its lies may be easy to believe. However, it calls forth only darkness, destruction and death. The voice of blessing never forces itself and yet it constantly is there, true and deep, calling forth light and life. We are surrounded with gentle reminders of :

“…that beautiful, strong, but hidden, voice of the One who calls us by name and speaks good things about us.”**

Knowing you are chosen and a “blessed one” in the eyes of God, enables you to walk through this world and offer blessing to others. As His blessing heals our own brokenness, we can allow it to flow naturally to the brokenness in others who yearn for a reminder that they too are uniquely created, of great value, and beloved by God.

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The Hebrew word for blessing is bracha  – ברכה. The Scriptures are as filled with brachot as a pomegranate is filled to bursting with its glowing seeds. One of the most powerful blessings is spoken to this day over the people of Israel by the kohanim (priests)  –  the Aaronic Benediction (Numbers 6:24-26):

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you
and give you peace.

Saying a blessing in recognition of the many blessings of God [YHWH – HaShem] is a deeply ingrained Jewish practice. Every Shabbat evening a husband speaks blessing over his wife and parents over their children. A hundred times a day Orthodox Jews proclaim blessing of the Holy One, blessed be He. God is blessed, for example, for His provision of bread, wine, food, fruit, for the first blossoms of Spring, for the new day, on seeing the ocean, and even, the most difficult to say, on hearing the tragic news of a death. Baruch Dayan ha’Emet. “Blessed be the True Judge.” *** The conversations of Jewish people, whether secular or religious, are peppered with, Baruch HaShem!  “Praise God!” or, literally, “Bless the Name!”

Another Hebrew word from the same root as bracha is livroch – to kneel or bend the knee. Kneeling is a form of submission, e.g., in honor of royalty. Knights of old knelt before the king or queen to receive the status of knighthood – of service to the monarch. We too need to be in a position of yielding to our King in order to receive the blessing He desires to bestow. Kneeling also requires a cessation of movement, of walking. We need to pause in stillness, as in prayer, to receive a blessing.

Our world today is dark with the curses of war, violence, hatred and misery. It longs to hear the voice of blessing and truth. When spoken, it can bring down fortresses of falsity. We must not choose negativity, helplessness or indifference. These betray our true identity as chosen and beloved of God. Every word of truth, hope and encouragement is a blessing spoken. It has an effect and carries the possibility of healing and transformation.

Please, let us always remember the voice of the One who says, “You are My beloved.”
May we receive the tenderness and power conveyed in the love these words hold. Then, as we go forward, may we be attentively present at the threshold of every moment in order to receive its blessing and to pass on blessing to others.

 

th-12 (1)

~Keren Hannah

Footnotes:  

  • Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Life of the Beloved, 59
  • Ibid.; 66
  • Lewis Glinert, The Joys of Hebrew, 28