Monday, May 1, 2017

Growing in silence and finding questions in the Haggadah

When I was young, I had a sense of direction that could only be explained as drifting. Events appeared on my horizon and as I watched they disappeared into other people's lives. I wasn't involved as much as perplexed and had few moral anchors to help me make sense of my travels. But, God had his hand on me and I had a peace that I was taken care of. That's what growing up in farm country can do for you where everything changes season to season but always stays the same.


The country world is mostly silent. And I know that God is reflected in his world. So, I believe that God is OK with not answering all my questions when I'm perplexed and instead, showing off his handiwork. He took care of the land, and he took care of me. The modern urban world, though, is orchestrated with noise. I know man is reflected in that world, full of amplification, alarms, music, video, and large engines. We have to flee to silence to find the right answers and not turn to another distracting program, a YouTube video, or a pop group song. Those types of media usually ask good questions but don't engage me with any useful answers.
And I, don't want to die
I want to see the flowers bloom
Don't wanna go capoot ka-boom
And I, don't wanna cry
I wanna have a lot of fun
Just sitting in the sun
(Teapacks - Push The Button)
So, as a result of drifting around spiritually, I ended up in places that didn't make much sense. It seemed like an awful lot of wasted time. Maybe, it was just a time of growth without fruit. You can't tell peach trees they're wasting their time growing branches and leaves, and not creating peaches. If God's world makes sense, then the time I spent, made sense in preparation for what was to come based on what I had given to me.

It was a time of waiting and listening, even though there wasn't much to listen to. Silence is an awkward companion for many. For me, it was an expectation. The world God made, full of majesty and color, is mostly silent. But as you listen, the soothing ripple of the wind passing by, the distant birds and insects create a background to give you a sense of security. Loud noises were just danger signs. I was waiting for those meaningful threads that whispered to me from my world. Television was a loud noise that didn't fit in.


Part of living with silence is knowing how to start a conversation. You have to make a statement or ask a question. It's easy to state the obvious. It's hot, it's dry, my dog is tired. But questions go from basic to refined. You ask why it gets so hot or why animals are different than humans. Why does it take so much work to make a living? Why isn't everything as easy as it looks on TV? Why do people not like each other? So many questions don't have good answers and take living a while to get a glimmer of understanding. Silence becomes an answer until the question can be answered by a wiser person.

A question is a creative seed. It start a process of meditation, of sorting out ideas that don't fit, and keeping those that do fit. It creates tests that can be used to prove the value of the question. Too many possibilities that don't matter and the question is thrown out. A few that lead to life or death and the question is pursued. Once the seed starts growing, it becomes a rich concept and then eventually it produces fruit. The fruit are the answers that we use to take action, knowing with assurance that we have probed the mind of God and have come away with the best we can carry.

After asking the basic questions, I turned towards spiritual things and asked questions that were worth more to pursue. Who is the creator of the universe? How can I get closer to God? How will the creator of everything speak to me? Will I have a life after I die? These basic questions are met with silence but at least I've started the process of creation of my fruit which starts with asking. I know I'll find those answers because I've heard some remarkable answers already.

Doing good

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. (Eccl 3:12-13)
I remember planting a seed in myself by meditating on a verse about doing good. I asked why it was that some people don't do good when they can and have a choice. That became personal. I was working out an answer and found I had an inclination to not do good. So, I tried to change that and I asked myself how to do good when I had the choice. Today, I still am asking that question. There's still silence for the answer, but in the doing of the good deed, the assurance of the truth of that verse becomes strong.

The creation of that good inspires me to keep asking. Maybe words aren't necessary because God needs no more words in the commandments he's already left us with. Too many words would just confuse us more. And then we'd think to understand the words better, we could just read more books about them. The words are left somewhat sparse so that we can live out the commandment in our life and harvest the benefit of faith in knowing God has given us the right amount of direction. Each one of the 613 commandments are just touch points of our Lord God's way. And as we ask how to understand and live out our lives, we prove his righteousness in every one.

Finding righteousness before the answer

It's in asking for God to change us, sometimes to remake us, so that we can follow his ways and find the righteousness that is the way out of this world that seems like it is drifting by. The righteousness we find will bring meaning and light to our world with answers that can be trusted to keep us.
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger. (Zeph 2:3)
The silence between asking and finding answers is a time of strengthening. The strength we find is the confidence we gain as we trust in God's commands. It's not about getting the answer and the righteousness at the same time. The growing period after asking the question is the time of preparing the fruit that has its roots in the righteousness of the good deeds of the commandments.

The words of God's commandments, having been spoken once, need no more sound except that of our repeating them to each other for encouragement and training. The silence in between is for reinforcement and meditation. Now, it is up to us to apply his words. Action is the way to communicate what we know of our answers now.
God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill? (Num 23:19)
Silence lets us make our actions a permanent part of us. It creates a space in us where actions are internalized. It's not an external presentation or a music festival where we go away with good feeling for the moment. No, God's commandments persist in our heads much longer than a snappy performance because we know them like we know how to sing a song, always remembered in the background until the music starts.

It was this Pesach that I learned that the Haggadah is designed to incite questions. And questions come from a teachable person. A teachable person is one who knows correction and finds favor in the Lord. So, the Pesach is also about teaching questions to one who loves the Lord.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but whoever hates correction is stupid. (Prov 12:1)
After the Pesach, we have silence for 49 days in which to think about our questions and let the seed grow like planted barley fields maturing to a harvest. During that growing season, the fruit is being prepared. And, so, in a few days we can celebrate the first fruits of that harvest and how God gave answers to Moses, through questions about life that made asking questions worth asking.

Let us ask questions without knowing where an answer will come from so that you, Lord God, can delight us with your response. And may we thank you in praises and thanksgiving, with offerings as we can manage, to put action behind the words that we find. Your world is magnificent in its glory and in the quiet appreciation of it, we ask that you bring us wisdom through obedience with your commandments and correction as we humble ourselves for not knowing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sharing thoughts of faith: God's social media addiction solution #3

As I mentioned in my introductory post on social media addiction inspired by an article on Breslev Israel's site by Lori Steiner, I believe our individual identity is firmly rooted in our relationship with God. Her article identified the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth stemming from being part of the wrong social crowd and its confirmed influence towards a general state of unhappiness. Ms. Steiner recommended three Judaic solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these disaffected souls including sharing thoughts of faith in God.

Finding a relationship

I'm pretty sure that at one time I was one of those disaffected souls of an unhappy demeanor mentioned above. Instead of checking my Facebook account, I was more likely semi-lifelessly staring at other people's lives from a dedicated TV sofa or scouting out my next important film to watch. My disconnection to life was a goal since it wasn't fulfilling the need. If there was still one more thing to watch, I felt I had more goals. The internet feeds that. It always has one more thing to read for those news junkies, or one more game to play for the gamers.

But it's an emptiness that is like coming off vacation. The goal always is achieved in quarter-hour segments unless you have cable. That drug called escape keeps you up in a fantasy for a limited time but when you come home you have to deal with the part of you that wants to be in that other place.

The escape feelings can be with other things than TV. I'll spend hours walking in the virtual reality of Google Maps. I was at the Hippodrome in Caesarea today with a tour group. Then my wife called and I came back to my house. Then I decided to visit the Levinsky market area in Tel Aviv but I came back again because had to check on the pot on my stove. And because it was the last day of Hanukkah, I wanted to see a panorama of the Tel Hadid Maccabean fortress site just outside Tel Aviv which is off in the distance over the coastal plain.
But Simon pitched his tents at Adida, over against the plain. (1 Maccabees 13:13)
I could spend hours walking around in Google Maps street view and it would be just the same without the sounds, smells, and tastes, had I visited there and never met anyone. Google has taken all the photos I'll ever need for my vacation, so it spoils the hunting instinct I have for photography that used to give me something to do while I ignored the tourists.

Instead of that never-ending viewing, I needed to find out about God and develop a real relationship with him. And people that knew about God were the people I needed to talk to. Not just asking the enterprising people that made a living off of us people who ask questions and then handing over some cash to them. I had to get educated and that meant studying Torah and the prophets.

It means putting together the pieces of a God-driven life instead of a Google-driven one full of technological distractions which are bad actions. The results of doing that, make me take action -- good actions that are found in the other two solutions of this series (see below). I can expect changes and less anxiety about life in general when I do those more commandment driven behaviors.

But it doesn't mean a divestment of integrated chip run devices, but more of a sanity check on making sure the digital version doesn't become your reality. So you also are called to be introspective for that constant checking. Some might want to call it doubt, but not when it comes to disputing things about God's character that have not been wrong for thousands of years. It's only the people who lack living that life that are able to doubt. I don't doubt myself, but I've had some interesting conversations before I've agreed with me.

Knowing about God creates a need to share him

So start walking. What are the commandments that you know you are not following? Those are the first things to change. God will start changing things around you. You'll start understanding his character as you open up to let our Lord God back into a relationship with you. Sure it takes time. It was at least 40 years of marriage and earning a living by tending sheep for Moses before the Exodus. And then it was another 40 wandering in the desert.

It may not be the right time to start sharing if you haven't felt comfortable about it. Maybe that's because there's not enough knowledge about God in your soul. Let him teach you. Study. Go help others and see what you discover in the mitzvah. Encourage one another and find out how the God of Israel is holding people together both here and in Israel where there's more reason to abandon hope than anywhere else Jews live.

Once you know about God and there's a place in your heart that holds on tight to that, the knowledge will want to spread. Tell a person what God did for you recently. It could be a very positive thing or a correction that set you back on a better path. Offer a tidbit of insight from your weekly readings. Start a blog and write about it. The love of God through knowing him will make you learn to love what he loves. He loves those who love him and keep his commandments.
You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exod 20:5-6) (Deut 5:9-10)
And there you have the reason that I write. I don't write to please others or to compete with other better bloggers on sites that have so much better content. I don't even write knowing Torah as well as I'd like and use as many tools as I can find. I only write because I feel that need to share because I've found an awesome God and found my identity in him.

Our awesome and holy God, let us reflect every day to make sure that we can please you by our obedience and be humbled by how much we fall short of the mark. Give us that next chance and a lesson to learn or some encouragement from another so that we can grow strong in your righteousness. We seek to love you more and the people you love so that our love will help reveal your glory to all the earth.
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