Each week it is the tradition in Jewish practice to read from Torah and allow its story to live at the center of our lives. We talk about it, explore its meanings and try to live by its principles. We also add a reading from the prophets each week to complement that Torah reading.
Just over a year ago I received a message (from a reliable source) that if we wanted to put Love at the center, then we must return The Song of Songs, our core mystical text about love, to the center of our attention. That must be the central text that calls us to awareness. I was instructed to divide the Song into 52 segments, each corresponding to one of the Torah readings recited each week, and let that text come into the center of our practice. Rabbi Akiva said that “Had the Torah not been given, we could live our lives by the Song of Songs.” Living it is so much different than just learning it.
So, just like we would treat a Torah portion, we lifted up the Song of Songs with reverence, and began to recite, sing, explore it, learn its history of commentary, and most importantly ask, How do I live by this? By internalizing our core mystical text about love, we hoped to change the inner landscape, and let love call us to the center of Being, where God would meet us as Beloved.
This was meant as an experiment, and the inquiry continues now into the 2nd cycle of spiraling onto the path of love. My friends and students who have stepped onto this path with me have found their lives transformed. The “Song” is working on us, guiding us, healing us, reminding us of our true priorities that often get lost into the busyness of life. Each week we have been living with a question that is derived from our immersion in the holy text. By staying with the same question for a whole week, that inquiry reverberates within and forms a lens through which we receive the light of this world. Our journey becomes one of loving curiosity.
Here are some of the questions that we’ve held this past year:
Can I receive the Divine kiss in the color of the sky? In this breath? With this step? Can I open to the gift that God is giving me in “this”?
What is calling me? What is my resistance to that calling?
Can I open to the Divine Presence that is speaking to me through this world? Can I respond with my life?
Can I let the beauty that I see open my heart? Can my loving heart open my eyes to beauty?
How can I treat every relationship as an opportunity for us to call each other into the realization of my full potential? (This includes my relationships with the non-human world of rocks, trees, blossoms, birds, clouds and so forth.)
Can I catch the foxes (doubts, fears, cynicism, distrust, or worry that run wild through the mind) before they do too much damage? Can I redirect my attention towards the blessings in my life?
Can I find my fierce love and wield the sword of truth in protection of all that I cherish?
Can I touch the most vulnerable and broken place within me with tenderness, and fill those spaces with love and compassion? Can I do this work in the light of friendship with my companions on the path?
Can I come down from the pretense of having it all together, and enter into the vulnerability of the heart in all its fragility?
Can I let myself feel the places in me that have been bruised and beaten by life? Can I express my grief and then turn towards the faith that I am held? Can I lean into that Divine embrace and be transformed by those hardships?
Can I connect with others who are on this path of love, reveal my own challenges and vulnerabilities and ask for their support? Can I offer my support to them?
Can I fall in love with “THIS” (this moment in all its amazing complexity)? Can I simply befriend this moment?
Can I meet my impatience for the unfolding of love, with compassion?
Can I let go of some of my old patterns of defense, trusting that the path of love is leading me towards the possibility of open-hearted presence?
What is it that I know yet tend to forget? How can I live in a way that is more aligned with that inner knowing?
This past year, the Song of Songs has planted these questions in me as dynamic forces that stir me, open me, send me from my settled complacency into a vast landscape of emerging possibility.
In addition to contemplating the question of the week, chanting the words from the weekly verses so they can reside in my body, and learning the complex and beautiful meanings that unfold… I have been challenging myself each day with this question: Can I bring love to everything I do? Bringing love to everything that I do requires a careful and devoted awareness of the quality of my presence as I move through my day. When I am not able to bring love to a particular situation, task or relationship, then I am bringing self-compassion, because it’s painful to be disconnected from my love.
Judaism looks and feels different with Love at its Center. It feels supremely relevant. I am living this Judaism from moment to moment as a path of Love. I am using the sacred text to become my best self. I am living the story of the Lover, who in her vulnerability is touched by beauty and longing; who has had her heart broken, yet rises from that tragedy into fuller aliveness and compassion; who is connected to and inspired by the rhythms of the Earth and her creatures.
Each week as I lift up the lesson and theme of the Song, I also look for other sacred texts that illuminate and amplify the teachings. I find them in Torah, in the Psalms, in the writings of the Prophets. I call in this wisdom and place all of it in the service of Love. When Rabbi Akiva called the Song of Songs “The Holy of Holies,” he was calling us to put love at the center. The Holy of Holies, the place where we meet the Divine Presence, occupied the center of the Mishkan in the wilderness and the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. When the Temple was destroyed, prayer took the place of sacrifice, and the Holy of Holies was rediscovered again and again within us and between us, by Mystics throughout the ages.
The poet/mystic Rumi said, “Start a huge foolish project, like Noah … it makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.”
Putting Love at the Center is certainly a huge, foolish project.
Currently there are over 700 people who have joined me on this journey of Love at the Center. (for some the Song has become supplementary and complementary to their reading of Torah; for others, it has become central, transforming what it means to walk a Jewish Path of Love.)
For more info go to: http://www.rabbishefagold.com/love-at-the-center/
To sign up to receive a weekly email: https://lp.constantcontactpages.com/su/s4NtSop
In Love and appreciation,