What I’m about to describe is a learning experience that I believe is different from typical analytical study but also different from using the text in the service of my own agenda. It has something to do with hearing the text speak to me personally, in the same sense that logotherapy posits that reality is speaking to us personally – challenging us, evoking our will to meaning, eliciting our strengths and calling us out of hiding to become who we are meant to be. Similarly the text is one such reality. Study is an intimate encounter.
In fact for a Jewish person reading Jewish texts God’s personal call should come through even more strongly than the call coming through the reality of life. By being so intent on analyzing the text I believe we are missing that call! This is why it’s so important to me to formulate this process.
Here’s what one such learning experience was like:
A new book has just come out titled Stages of Spiritual Growth: Resolving the Tension Between Self-expression and Submission to Divine Will, by Batya Gallant. Although I know I always say this about every book, I feel this book is particularly suited to chevruta (study partner) study.
One day I was reading and contemplating the chapter on gevurah (to predominate/prevail) with a friend. The author describes the spiritual process towards a healthy relationship towards authority and how our preconceived ideas about submitting to authority can make us feel diminished and disempowered…
As we studied the book we went through a process of feeling what the various ideas meant to us experimentally. I suggested that this quality is about stepping back to make space for the other. This reminded my friend of something she notices about herself at her workplace. Being more knowledgeable than others in a certain area she often catches herself rushing in to explain that she knows better and this is the way to do things.
One time she noticed these feelings of condescension starting to well up in her and she decided to be silent. She would pull back and let them sort it out for themselves. And then a wonderful thing happened. A good dynamic got underway, leading to some very good, creative ideas they came up with on their own.
She describes that movement of pulling back in two different ways. “One was the physical/inner sensation of ‘zooming out’ in my mind – a humbling feeling of contracting – not making smaller, but rather a intensely-focusing on what’s really important: which is to make space for the ‘whole’ rather than letting the self predominate. The self is far more limited in the face of something bigger, more complete.”
Her other thought – and this is very related to logotherapy – was the shift in consciousness – the awareness that meaning itself is collective and part of the whole. It lies beyond the self and is reachable in that space beyond. We are not a self-contained, closed system. Meaning always comes alive in the dynamic outside ourselves.
Something deeper and more important becomes real when we make space, step back, in the face of togetherness, seeing beyond self, and then a deeper much richer reality is able to surface, through the act of making space. She added: “The point is, gevurah is not about reducing the self, becoming smaller. – The idea is to become bigger, more than what we think we are. We become bigger than the self when we are able to connect with and feel a part of. However it happens is immaterial, but usually it is an act of giving or giving over (or forgiving!) that helps us to be a part of the whole. This is gevurah and it’s actually an act of expansion, not contraction.”
The image of making space can be applied to a variety of different types of experience. I can make space for the author and what he had in mind or I can make space for the Author of my life and what He had in mind for me. I can step back and leave space for the other to grow, or I can step back and leave space for my own deeper wisdom to emerge. Isn’t this in fact what God did in the act of creating the world?