The Seeker of Peace

Seeing Spirituality
May 28, 2009, 11:51 am
Filed under: spirituality | Tags: , , ,

Rather than the do the traditional Memorial Day barbecue, I spent Monday in Los Angeles attending my father’s ordination as a rabbi. There were roughly sixteen people being ordained that day, split between rabbis and cantors (clergy members who specialize in religious music).

I’ve written before about the difference between spirituality and religion. The ordination service was a perfect example to me of the dichotomy. As part of the service, each ordainee spent a few minutes talking. I heard many deeply spiritual things, as people discussed finding god in all things, building a life of love, and similar themes.

The proceedings included a full Jewish afternoon service, with the traditional liturgy. The liturgy is far from spiritual. It beseeches the Jewish god to “vanquish our enemies” and otherwise provide blessings to his “chosen people.” (Please note that I’m not criticizing the Jewish liturgy compared to any others – most traditional liturgies have content such as this.) The only mitigating characteristic of the Jewish liturgy is that it’s in Hebrew, meaning that many people don’t understand what it says.

How does an ordainee reconcile a spiritual journey with traditions that are rigidly religious? From hearing them speak, I think the answer is to see the traditions as merely that: a cultural heritage. Many of these newly minted clergy didn’t sound religious at all, instead expressing heartfelt personal experiences.

This reinforced what I wrote in my earlier post: that for spiritual people, their religion turns to cultural tradition as they gain spiritual experience. The ordination service also taught me something new: that there are schools training a whole generation of spiritual clergy. Perhaps this provides some hope for religion after all.


The Scapegoat of Yom Kippur
October 9, 2008, 11:16 am
Filed under: Forgiveness | Tags: , ,

Last night was the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I haven’t celebrated Yom Kippur since I moved out of my parents’ house many years ago. Normally, I let it pass without much thought. However, this year is different.

In a bit of synchronicity, yesterday I was on Lesson 39 of Workbook of A Course in Miracles. A major theme of the lesson is “If guilt is hell, what is its opposite?” This thought made me look at Yom Kippur in a new light.

As a child, I found the most memorable part of the Yom Kippur service to be the scapegoat. The idea is that you touch the goat, and pass your sins of the past year to the goat. The goat is then sacrificed or released into the wild to meet its doom. (Traditionally, that is – I assume my synagogue simply returned the goat to wherever they borrowed it from.)

To my cynical mind, this seemed much like a Monopoly “get out jail free” card. But the ACIM lesson gave me new insight. The tradition is not to enable bad behavior, but rather to free us to take right action in the future. Whoever started the scapegoat tradition realized that guilt forms a barrier between God and us.

It was a particularly timely lesson for me. My job is to manage people’s investment portfolios. Despite my prudence and care, the worldwide financial panic has hit my clients’ investments along with most people’s. I have felt tremendous guilt over the outcome, even though my actions were well-considered.

I realized yesterday that my guilt serves no purpose. It won’t improve my actions in the future; on the contrary, it could paralyze me. Most importantly, it keeps me from doing the real work of spreading love and joy.

I wish I could say that this realization suddenly transformed me. Alas, I’ve tried to let go of guilt before, with only sporadic success. I think being raised Jewish implanted in my ego the stereotypical “Jewish guilt.” Guilt seems to be a favorite technique of my ego for reasserting itself.

The good news is that I understand better than ever before the importance of moving past guilt. Right now, my clients need love and peace of mind, and as Lesson 39 says, “You cannot give what you do not have.” It’s obvious to me now where I should focus my efforts.