Yearning and revelation
June 10, 2016
Torah comes in many forms. There's written Torah and oral Torah and the Torah of lived human experience.
Revelation comes in many forms, too. Maybe, like the poet Rainier Maria Rilke, you see a piece of art and realize what fades and what endures, and you come away certain that you must change your life. Maybe you're out for a jog when you realize that the pastime you've been enjoying, the one that makes you happy outside of your job, is actually the thing you feel called to be doing as your paying work. Maybe you hear a piece of music and it moves you, and then the melody reverberates in your heart, opening up depths of feeling you hadn't known you were missing.
Revelation isn't just the things we learn, or realize, or recognize. It's how we allow those things to change us.
The Sinai moment is our people's quintessential experience of revelation. Some say that God's own self was revealed to the people on that day. And midrash (Exodus Rabbah) teaches that God's voice divided itself into 70 human languages so that everyone might understand it. Everyone who was there, regardless of age or social station, heard God's voice in a way that they could understand. So can we.
The thing is, revelation doesn't just flow on Shavuot. On Shavuot perhaps the cosmos is aligned in a way that might make it easier for us to receive. Everything we do on that day is designed to open us more deeply to what's coming through. But the divine broadcast is ongoing even when it isn't Shavuot.
Revelation happens in the body. A friend of mine who's a massage therapist likes to say "the body is our God" -- by which I think she means something like, our bodies can be conduits for revelation. Is there something happening at your workplace that ties your stomach in knots? Is there someone in your life who makes your whole being feel bubbly like champagne? Our bodies speak, if we listen.
Revelation happens in the heart. Think of the person you love most in the world, and imagine that they're right here in front of you. That upwelling in your heart is a kind of revelation. Feelings of joy can be a revelation -- especially after long periods of grief. Gratitude can be a revelation.
Revelation happens in the mind. The idea that sets your mind on fire, consuming your waking hours and maybe your sleeping ones too. The flash of insight or new understanding. The book you read that opens your horizons and changes your life. Sparking across the synaptic connections of the brain, there can be revelation.
And revelation happens in spirit. Not just in the experience of prayer that transports you, though I am always grateful for such davenen. When we open ourselves to divine flow in our lives: that's revelation. When we seek the Presence of Havayah, the One Who Accompanies, in all things: that's revelation.
Reb Zalman, of blessed memory, used to say that God broadcasts on all channels and we receive where we are attuned.
I'm not very good at receiving revelation in my body -- I have to remind myself to pay attention to the messages my body is conveying -- but I've made a practice of opening myself to revelation through my heart. You will know which channels are most open for you.
If revelation can flow at any time, what can we do to cultivate receptivity, to attune our psycho-spiritual antennas to that broadcast? The best tool I know for cultivating receptiveness to revelation is opening myself to yearning.
Most of the time I go through life focused on my to-do lists. As do we all. We have jobs and obligations, parents to care for or children to raise, volunteer work and board service, not to mention the laundry, the groceries, and the bills. But each Shabbat, and each festival, invites us to set all of that aside for a time. When I set weekday and workday aside, what I feel is yearning.
In many classic musicals, early in the first act there's the "I Want" song. The protagonist opens up to the audience and sings out the deepest yearning of their heart. That's what sets the plot in motion. That's what sparks their changes and allows them by the end of the show to get what they were looking for. What's your "I Want" song? What do you yearn for?
I yearn for a life more whole and more complete. I yearn for connection with the Holy One of Blessing. I yearn for divine flow into and through my life. I yearn to be seen and to be known fully, by God and by human beings. I yearn for justice. I yearn for healing. I yearn to be able to make a difference. I yearn for a world redeemed.
When I open myself to my yearning, I'm letting down the armor that protects me from disappointment. Most of the time I need that armor, at least a little bit. But I need to be willing to be vulnerable in order to talk to God. And more than that: I need to be willing to be vulnerable, to open myself to my yearning, to hear God speaking back to me.
When I open myself to my yearning, that's when my poems come through. Like this one (another in my Texts to the Holy series):
Orange daylilies stand,
their crowd of upturned faces
gazing at the sun.
My heart knows that yearning.
Every cell in my body
calls out for you.
Night falls: my petals close.
I hug myself, bereft.
I count the hours until dawn.
I am most beautiful
when your radiance
draws forth mine.
What draws forth your radiance? What makes you shine, as Moshe shone when he came down from the mountain?
What might your yearning reveal to you about the world as you most dream it could be? And are you willing to allow yourself to be changed: by opening up to your deepest yearnings, and by letting yourself hope that they might come true?
The festival of Shavuot will begin as the coming Shabbat ends, tomorrow night at sundown. Shabbat shalom and chag sameach / a joyous festival to all who celebrate.