A mother and a mystic -- during school vacation
December 29, 2018
I am reading the second essay in Cynthia Bourgeault's The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice. She is talking about the difference between the nondual, in Eastern thinking, and the unitive in Christian thinking.
I am thinking about Jewish parallels to the Christian theology of mystical union to which she alludes. Remembering Reb Zalman z"l saying that we can relate intellectually to the transcendent, but the heart needs a God with Whom the heart can be in relationship. I'm thinking about my own spiritual life and how frequently my awareness of holiness is in yetzirah, the realm of the heart.
"Mom! Mom! Mom!" My nine-year-old wants my attention. He is building a LEGO set and wants to show me something cool about how it works.
As I set down the book and try to listen whole-heartedly to his explanation of this LEGO Minecraft set and how the lever works to raise and lower the Iron Golem, my mind offers me the core question of spiritual direction as I have learned to practice it: where is God in this?
My answer, of course, arises in synchronicity with the passage I was just reading about the unitive and the relational. God is in relationship -- or can be, anyway. The challenge of the divorced-parent mystic during winter vacation is precisely finding God "in this" -- in baking and decorating cookies, in reading Harry Potter aloud. The work is finding the God-presence, the holiness, in the laundry and the LEGOs -- or more specifically, in the relationship with my kid that lies behind the laundry and the LEGOs.
It's not the "union with the divine beloved" that Bourgeault describes. (And it's surely not the transcendence of the binary between lover and beloved, between us and God, to which she alludes -- I can't even see there from here.) But I resonate with her suggestion that there can be a "rewriting of the 'operating system'" that can allow one to see "from oneness." That has to be one of the deep purposes of spiritual practice, to rewrite the operating system of the mind and heart.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg's Nurture the Wow makes the point that our received spiritual traditions were largely codified and written down by men who had wives whose job it was to care for the children and the household. They didn't have the experience of trying to enter into a theological text while also listening with one ear to a cartoon, or putting the book down to admire creations built out of plastic bricks.
But I feel like my work right now is embracing that tension, bringing the theology into the parenting and vice versa, glimpsing the unitive from this place of relationship. Torah instructs me to love God "with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my being." Surely one of the ways I fulfill the mitzvah of loving God is through being in relationship with reflections of the Infinite right here.