July 15, 2011

And I, I Did Not Know

Filed under: Lectionary,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:44 am

This week’s reading, taken as a whole with the Jacob’s two additional dream encounters, is one of my very favorites. It was first brought to life for me by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, who showed me how they offer us a model for finding self, spirituality, and ultimate meaning.

Through his dreams, though they occur years, even decades, apart, Jacob discovers that he is in God and God is in him, that his hands at work in the world are God’s hands at work in the world, that when he wrestles within himself he wrestles with God. Jacob reacts with the characteristic zeal of one who has had a God-moment: He makes a grand declaration, setting the spot aside as a sacred space and committing himself to the tithe, “…and of all that thou givest me I will give the tenth to thee.”

At about the same time that I was absorbing Rabbi Kushner’s writings on this passage, a seminary student asked me to reflect on what it meant to be a cancer survivor. How had I been changed through that encounter—with God, with community, with self, and with ultimate meaning? Where had the wrestling left me?

The encounter with God part was easy: If there are no atheists in foxholes, there are just as few in oncology wards (or cardiology, neonatology, or trauma, for that matter). And community wasn’t far behind: My maddeningly self-sufficient nature learned to receive as generously as I was accustomed to giving. I learned that community transforms degrees of separation; that when a friend of a friend mentions me to her mother, who belongs to a phone tree, I am enfolded in a tightly woven safety net of constant prayer.

The hard part, of course, was the internal work. After his second dream, Jacob is left with a bum hip, a constant reminder of his oneness and his resolve. He is also left with a new name and a new perspective on how he is called to live in God’s word. That’s the part of Jacob’s story that speaks to each of us, whether we come to it from a large life event, a major turning point in health or fortune, or an awakening in day to day living. The question that Jacob’s dreams leave in us, regardless of how we get there, is simply: How do we go forward from this place?

For me, going forward meant looking beyond 10%, moving into a relationship with God that encompassed all that I do, with all that I have. God cares just as much about the decisions I make with the other 90% as he does with the 10% I return unto him. More importantly, I learned to embrace a spiritual wholeness that extends to God’s intangible gifts as well—the gifts of attitude, outlook, and perspective. The ability to be a peacemaker or advocate, the eyes of the heart, the openness to seeing Christ in others are no different than the money I put in the plate on Sunday. They are gifts from God that I am called to return unto God. And God wants them offered just as freely, just as joyfully.

Rabbi Kushner writes, “Each person has a Torah, unique to that person, his or her innermost teaching. Some seem to know their Torahs very early in life and speak and sing them in a myriad of ways. Others spend their whole lives stammering, shaping, and rehearsing them. Some are long, some short. Some are intricate and poetic, others are only a few words, and still others can only be spoken through gesture and example. But every soul has a Torah.”

And that is where the answer to my friend’s question truly lies. Every person has a Torah. Every person has a Gospel. Every person’s name is part of God’s name. Every one of us is entrusted as a steward, entrusted by God with self, with community, with spirituality, and with ultimate meaning.

Thanks be to God.

Kushner, Lawrence. God was in this Place  & I, i did not know. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994. p. 177.


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