spirituality

Time To Find Your God?

By Rabbi Richard Address –

Eric Weiner, a former National Public Radio reporter, has just published a fascinating book entitled “Man Seeks God.” I mention it to you because it raises some interesting questions about our relationship (or lack thereof) with God. Questions posed by young and old alike.

The genesis of his book was a discussion Weiner had with a health care professional in a hospital. He was there thinking he was extremely ill. This health care worker, thinking the tests were going to be bad news, asked Weiner, “Have found your God yet?”

That simple question set Mr. Weiner off on a whirlwind exploration of various religions. Eric was trying to understand what each religion’s God was, and if he could adopt it for himself.

The book is quite relevant to many of us who are, in some ways, dissatisfied with the God that we were raised with. So many people are searching for some sort of meaningful faith that Weiner’s journey, in many ways, symbolizes the journey for many of us. We may not have the means to travel the world and spend weeks in various communities; but we are searching. That is the point, I think, of the book. I like the phrase, “have you found your God?” Our generation of baby boomers has pioneered the ability to create personal religious responses and, in many ways, hybrid definitions of God. This spiritual dynamism marks a clear reality across the religious landscape. It represents some real creativity on the one hand, and sadly, for some, a way to just do “religion lite.”

The search for our own God is a serious undertaking. It asks us to confront our own sense of self, our relationship with life and death and our own view of what we see as our legacy. In the New Year now beginning, I suggest that it is a perfect time to consider undertaking your own search. Looking for your God, unencumbered by “oughts” and “shoulds” may be a liberating and energizing experience. An experience you can start today and not left until you are older.

Shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min

Learn more about Rabbi Address on his bio page. Find more articles by Rabbi Address in Spirituality & Life section of our library.

Rabbi Address is author of the book “Seekers of Meaning: Judaism, Baby Boomers and the search for Healthy Aging”. You can learn more about Rabbi Address and his books at www.jewishsacredaging.com

Discussing Spirituality Your Elders

by Marion Somers, PhD -

If you are a caregiver, an elder under your care may want to discuss spirituality with you. I have found that this is especially common when one is nearing the end of his or her life. By all means, encourage your elders to explore their spiritual thoughts and feelings. Many seniors (and people, in general) believe there are forces at work in the universe, and many of them have tapped into some form of spirituality. It’s just not possible to understand everything that happens, and spirituality can help explain things. Even if spirituality is not discussed, it does exist in most people’s conscious lives. The connectedness to a spiritual life helps people deal with hardships, face fears, and can ultimately give hope. Most of my clients get a great deal out of their religious activities. It helps them feel that their life has a meaning and a purpose.

Nearly every one of my clients experiences an inner awareness or a quiet peace before they pass on. Even if fishing is their “religion,” they know where they need to go to find that quiet space for reflection, to recharge, and gain perspective. This process helps our elders find a way to let go of emotions and worldly trappings, and become ready to travel free. Not everyone acknowledges or feels the need to have a spiritual life, and I respect that too. We all have a right to make the decision on our own.

But for those who embrace a spiritual life, it can provide a source of strength above and beyond a person’s own humanity. I’m not just talking about spirituality in terms of the regular routine and/or regimentation of going to a house of worship. It doesn’t need to be confined by four walls, icons, meeting times, and rituals. Spirituality is the path each of us takes to find the quiet within ourselves. Some people do like the routine though. Going to a house of worship often provides a sense of community and companionship. Spirituality can really be whatever a person wants it to be. The crucial part is to have a quiet knowing that there’s something beyond yourself that can help give meaning to the peaks and valleys of life. Religion and spirituality can be a way to center oneself and find internal and external comfort.

A version of this blog appeared on Dr. Marion’s Web Site.

Happiness is…in the Richness of Relationships

In this trying time, we can find meaning through our closeness to others

By Rabbi Richard F. Address D.Min

In the January 11 edition of the Christian Century, the magazine reviewed a few books that dealt with attempts to scientifically measure happiness.

Some interesting findings were attributed to Derek Bok’s “The Politics of Happiness”. He noted that despite rising incomes, the level of happiness is not keeping pace.

It seems, according to research, that, just as our parents told us, material wealth does not guarantee emotional and spiritual wealth. In looking at Bok’s studies, the reviewer noted that: “People who sustain lasting marriages, contribute to charities, engage in community service, maintain close friendships and participate in organized religion are all, on average, considerably happier than those who do not.”

The article goes on to note the fact that moral decency is a pretty good indicator of happiness in a human being.

I find it fascinating that people spend time doing research on what, to many, may appear to be common sense. Then again, the research is valuable for it does validate the fact that relationships and community are the vehicles through which we find meaning, purpose and thus a sense of fulfillment and happiness.

It does not make much difference if you are driving that fancy car or moving into that fantastic new home if you are alone and without a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Again, the most precious currency we have is the relationships we have with others and the love that we find as a result of those relationships; be it family or friends.
I mention this review and this reflection as we are, once again, in the midst of a trying time in our society. The events in Arizona and the resulting human reactions have reinforced the primacy of being with people and in finding richness, on so many levels, in the closeness we feel when we are with them.

This truth is why our religious communities are so vital and important to all of us. It is not theology which binds us. Rather, it is relationships, friendships and love. Many of us crafted resolutions and wishes as 2011 dawned. I would suggest that the most powerful of these should be the determination to find truth and meaning for each of us in our community and in the love of family and friends. In doing so, we become wealthy and so very wise.

Shalom.

How Much Are We Worth?

Life’s Value Rests in How We Choose to Live

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min

A recent article in the New York Times looked at the value of a human life. Various government agencies in Washington, D.C., in attempting to examine how much spending equates to a life, arrived at a variety of figures.

It seems that our price is going up, how much depending on which agency does the figuring. EPA set the value of a human life at $9.1 million. The FDA decided on $7.9 million and, according to the article, “The Transportation Department has used values of around $6 million to justify recent decisions to impose regulations that the Bush administration had rejected as too expensive, like requiring roofs on cars.” (NYT. 2/17/11. “A Life’s Value? It May Depend on the Agency”. p.1)

How very American that the government will look at a cost analyses on what they feel is the worth of a human life. Is the teacher’s life worth more than the politician? The surgeon’s life than the bus driver? Interesting for a discussion on ethics or resource allocation. Yet, how sad that some think that way. For much of religious life, that value is priceless. Yes, I know that we live in the “real” world and that we cannot get what we want all the time or have access to unlimited resources just because we wish it. Still, the religious person, I use the term without limiting it to being a member of a community or even believing in a deity, knows that life’s value extends far beyond any attempt to place on it a monetary value.

Many of us right now are actively engaged in the new life stage called care-giver. We tend to and care for a loved one and rarely do we contemplate any monetary equation. We know that the “value” of this life extends far beyond the temporary or fiscal. What is the “value”: of a memory? An embrace? A love? A life of devotion? In many ways, for many of us, we begin to “re-pay” our loved one as we care for them, not with money, but with time well spent with them. Indeed, the Talmud, in a detailed discussion on the Commandment to honor and respect a parent, speaks to this exact question. The rabbis ask who pays for the caring of a parent and one of the answers states clearly that it is the child who pays, not via money, but through time.

Time, for many of us in this society, has become more precious than money. It is easier for some to write that check than to spare an hour or two. It is easier to “contract” out tasks than to do them ourselves. Care giving is no different. Time is more precious than riches; it enhances our relationship with one being cared for. Let the government agencies worry and study about how much my life or your life is worth monetarily. We know that our life really has no monetary value; its value rests in how we choose to live our life and how we choose to honor the relationships we have developed.

In this month that sees Christianity and Judaism celebrating a season of re-birth, of new life and freedom, let us have the courage to celebrate our own lives, to honor them and the lives of our loved ones. The cost of not doing so may be even dearer than any study could image.

Shalom.

The Power of Presence

Finding Strength and Community Being Present with Loved Ones

By Rabbi Richard F. Address

I remember being an undergraduate student at university and having a class on religion taught by two very famous theologians. I knew I desired to become a rabbi and was eagerly soaking up the class, and the wisdom, of these two scholars.

One class was devoted to theological issues surrounding the end of life. Discussions naturally evolved to helping families with close to death crises. I recall the question that helped shape the year. Someone asked what to say or what are the best words to use to give comfort in times of great loss and grief. The professor just looked back at the student asking the question and smiled…

Waiting a second or two, he just leaned forward and said, “Sometimes the best thing is to say nothing, sometimes, the best thing for you to do is just to be there.”

There are moments in all of our lives when we are confronted with unspeakable loss. We rush to someone’s side, and we wish to do “something”, say “something.” Something that will comfort more often equally for us as for the people experiencing the grief. Yet, more often than not, as that professor said, the most powerful thing you can do is just to “be there.”

There is something healing in presence, something strong in community. The Jewish mourning ritual of Shiva (the seven day period of mourning that follows a funeral) is just such a rite. It allows a mourner to do “grief work” surrounded by family, friends and community. It makes the struggle to understand loss easier to bear, in a way, when supported by community.

Sadly, the last year, I have had the experience to see the power of community more times than I wished. Too many times I have had to be part of a community that was forced to deal with a sudden death. Each time, I was taken by the power of presence. I know the mourners had no idea of the sheer numbers of people who came to the funeral or to the Shiva. And that really does not matter. Equally meaningful to those in mourning is the power of the community for those who attend. Nothing shakes us more than the harsh reality of a sudden death, no matter at what age the death happens.

The unexpected loss triggers our own fears of our mortality and we naturally wish not to be alone. So presence cuts both ways; support for those in need and a real sense of psycho-spiritual healing for those who support. It is the power of presence, of your touch, of your hug, most often remembered more than the words. It is in the strength of community that relationships take root and support grows those who are fallen. The strength that allows them to rise again.

Shalom.

Sacred Space…Wherever that May Be?

Facing a common dilemma.

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

In recent years, I have found myself facing a dilemma that I was unprepared for. Yet, as I travel the country for my work, I have found that it’s an increasingly common experience.

Despite being a rabbi and working my whole life in congregations, I find myself feeling lost and spiritually homeless. I have plenty of congregations in which to worship, but none really feels like “home.” Is it me? Or is it something else at work amongst our generation? How can we find a place to pray that means something to us?

There has been, interestingly enough, a rise in what are being called independent minyanim (i.e., prayer groups) within the Jewish community. More often than not, they are mainly composed of baby boomers who, for a variety of reasons, feel more comfortable in a smaller, more intimate prayer setting than in the traditional synagogue. Many remain members of their congregations, yet find themselves drawn to having the Sabbath observance with their friends, praying in a more relaxed atmosphere and studying as a community. In many cases, there is no rabbi; rather, the lay people themselves take turns leading the experience.

I think this highlights something that speaks to the rise in these groups. Boomers are, for the most part, educated and aware. They have no problem identifying issues in their lives and seeking answers to those issues in an adult and meaningful way. Too often, traditional congregations “dumb down” the powerful spiritual messages of the tradition, leaving many wanting more. Thus, they seek the experience of like-minded people.

These small group experiences (first studied by Robert Bellah) seem to resonate with more and more people. We want to be able to explore these experiences, from the foundation of our own religious tradition, in serious and challenging and meaningful ways. We do not need to attend a service to be entertained; we seek avenues that show how our religious traditions can be relevant to the course of our lives.

These experiences also point out something we have touched on previously in this space: the power and importance of personal relationships in our lives. I believe that the reason most people remain within a community is based on the relationships created within that community. If we are in an environment in which we feel validated, loved, cared for, and secure, we will stay. That is really, I believe, THE major challenge of religious institutions in the coming decades. The need to create relationship-based communities trumps the program, a building, and even, at times, the clergy as the key ingredient in belonging.

I think that this desire for relationships is also one of the motivating factors in so many boomers seeking so many new forms of religious experience. Over a decade ago, Professor Wade Clark Roof coined the phrase generation of seekers to describe the baby boom generation. His research, and that of others, has validated boomers’ ease in creating new ritual and worship experiences. We are searching for something. Our lives have become so complicated and so driven and defined by logistics and outside forces, that we all too often feel that we have lost our own self and soul.

I welcome your comments on this search for new worship experiences and solicit your comments and stories.

Shalom.

A Time for New Beginnings

Leaving “pediatric” religion behind

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

The Jewish calendar cycle is a fascinating one. It leaves little time for relaxation. The community has just finished the powerful High Holiday experience, and a mere five days after Yom Kippur, we are focused on a week-long festival of Sukkot, which points us to our relationship with nature and reminds us, as we dwell in temporary “booths,” of the fragility of life itself. The festival ends with a celebration of the Torah and is marked by the fact that we begin to read the scroll again.

Every year we do this. We end Deuteronomy and immediately begin with the story of creation in Genesis.

There is great symbolism in this for our generation. This ritual tells us, quite literally, that we grow every year. We are never the same person from one year to the next, and the possibility to learn or experience something new is always present. In fact, to be fully engaged as human beings, we must be open to the experience of the new. We read the same stories every year, but more often than not, we look at them a little differently. No doubt something has happened in the past year that has changed us. We are, in a sense, recreated, and see with different eyes. It is empowering to consider that an entire religious tradition gives us permission to recreate ourselves every year and encourages us to change and grow and search.

This idea of searching for the new seems to be growing more powerful. In recent years, as I have been doing workshops and programs for my work, I have encountered increasing numbers of baby boomers who seem to be unsettled in their own spiritual skin. They are seeking some sense of purpose, some redefinition of what it means to be a member of a religious community. They wonder, increasingly, what all of that means. Of course, “the search” is a classic religious motif. That makes it all the more important when we realize that this idea of, at a certain age, a growing need to explore new ideas and new types of religious expression is characteristic of so many classic figures. Indeed, one can make the argument that from doubt can spring a new type of spiritual strength, a more adult or mature spirituality that speaks to the needs and contingencies of modern life. There is a time to put “pediatric” religion aside. That time, it seems, is now.

And what, in this season of renewed creation, are we searching for? A good insight into that can be gleaned from a wonderful essay by Rabbi Jack Bemporad in a collection of articles drawn from the journal Parabola. Rabbi Bemporad edited this collection in a book called The Inner Journey. In the essay, Bemporad notes that people are in search of reassurance that life will be secure and recognition that our life has meaning and a sense of connectedness, not only to other people, but also to some transcendent mystery.

Reassurance, recognition, and connectedness seem to be three good points to focus our own sense of search.

The temporal and fragile nature of all of this is also symbolized by the sukkah. These symbols remind us that our search for redefinition or change or growth may not be easy and may have to encounter storms of doubt and winds of uncertainty. Yet, do we really have a choice? Nothing stays the same; everything does change.

One of the great messages of this season for the Jewish community (a message often ignored, by the way) is that we are all part of a continuous, ever-changing cycle. To not change is to die, and that is a grievous sin. The death of one’s spirit or soul is a tragic thing to behold. We are given the gift of growth and the freedom to search for our own definition of the sacred in our life. This is very exciting and empowering on the one hand—and frightening and challenging on the other. I hope to continue to explore some of this tension in upcoming articles.

In the meantime, shalom.

Where Were You?

The impact of memory

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

I was trolling through the music department of Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago and finally gave in to a long-held desire. I walked out with The Essential Johnny Mathis. Okay, do not laugh. I slipped the disk into the CD player at home and for more than an hour was transported back to junior high school and high school.

Why did I do this? Why do we all do this? Maybe it was because I had just heard on the local all-news radio show some commentator reminding me of the significance of July 2009. You see, 40 years ago this month, men walked on the moon. Forty years! And you ask why I bought a Mathis CD? (I almost wrote album.) And to make things even more interesting, that same commentator remarked that it was the same 40 years since Woodstock. Forty years! No wonder that person in the mirror in the morning looks so strange. Where did he come from?

So, where were you when Armstrong jumped on the moon? July 1969? I was in England. I had just arrived to serve as an interim rabbi in a congregation that decided to use a student from the USA to bridge a year between full-time clergy. By luck, my desire to go arrived the same time as their letter looking for someone to serve. Off I went, all of 24 years and a few months. How strange it was to be in England and listen to BBC explain the moon landing. These were the days way before CNN and the Internet. So, it was BBC, the International Herald-Tribune, and lots of calls to the States. I seem to recall British TV taking the Walter Cronkite feed for a while, but for the most part, I was subject to the reporting of the British press and their take on this historic event. “Jolly good” seemed to be the most offered reaction.

Forty years. A lifetime. A generation and more. I remember the world seemed riveted to the flight and the landing and the return. How strange, 40 years later, that we seem to take it all for granted. Most of us were captivated. We could still remember when we were in grade school and heard of something called “sputnik” and then the excitement a while later, when John Glenn orbited. Remember those black-and-white TV pictures of his silver flight suit? The Twilight Zone was real!

I am sure there will be several speeches and tributes to the Apollo program this month. Rightfully so. We will remember the excitement, the pride of what we were seeing, and thinking that in some small way we were all on Apollo 11. Memory is a powerful tool. We’ll hear Armstrong’s words and think back to where we were and what we were doing. Our generation had so many of those moments, from November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was shot, to the day in 1975 when Viet Nam fell. Assassinations and protests, political upheaval, and a sound track of music that still reverberates in our minds (and many re-issues) today.

I will leave the deep meaning of these events for others. For now, I would only like to reflect on the power of those times and the impact of memory. It is a spiritual thing, for these events really do mark the great passageways in our lives. As powerful as our own personal stories are and will continue to be, it is a strange and wonderful thing to hear or be reminded of an event and see how quickly we stop and think of where we were when we saw this event or heard this news. In that instant, we become that person and just as quickly, we overview our life and wonder, as people have for centuries, where has that time gone? Chances are that many of those memories will be wonderful, wonderful.

But then, it’s not for me to say. While you’re at it, put another few 45s on the record player!

There is Something About Dad

My long-distance dad was always there

By Rabbi Richard F. Admin, DMin

Father’s Day has come and gone. President Obama energized the call for the power of fatherhood, and memories returned for many of us. I hope you were lucky enough to be able to share the day with your dad. Mine died several years ago. It is a curious and wonderful reality that in many ways, he is still very present in my life.

I was one of those people growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s whose parents were divorced. In fact, I went through a series of stepparents as I grew up, as both my mom and dad remarried. I needed to travel from Philly to Baltimore to spend time with my dad. It was a trip I got used to taking every other weekend, for years, via the old Pennsylvania Railroad (the pre-Amtrak days!). The great event, in those times, was the ability, once I was a teenager, to drive my own car. What freedom!

It is strange to remember the relationship we had with fathers. My father, from the time I was five years old, was absent physically from my daily life. Yet, in some ways, he was always present. Even now, so many years later, I cannot fully explain it. He graduated Central High in Philadelphia in 1929, but the Depression compelled him to enter the work force rather than college. Different times called for different choices. He worked very hard. Ten- or twelve-hour days were not unknown; indeed, I remember they were the norm. I still recall some of those visits to Baltimore, where he settled, as he was starting his company. I would spend the bulk of the weekend riding along with him as he answered service calls to clients. You can learn a lot by hanging out with your dad as he works.

In fact, those experiences helped him form his philosophy of life, which he passed on to me several times. It was simple: “There is no substitute for hard work,” he would say. The message was repeated over and over in different ways, but the core remained the same. Do not be afraid of hard work, and if you work hard, good things will happen. Our father-son “bonding” consisted of us either sitting in his car (or later, a service truck), talking about the next service call or glorious (and memorable) Sunday afternoons at Memorial Stadium watching the late and blessed Baltimore Colts.

The business grew over time, and he let me help out some as I got older. Eventually, he had enough help and success that he was able to delegate some of the harder work. He sold the business and tried to retire. He failed at that, and I am convinced that his “retirement” helped lead to his death. He had no retirement plan, no sense of a next stage of life. He worked. That was his life.

And I think of him often. He was not remotely a spiritual person. He was a bottom-line guy. He could not understand why I chose the rabbinate over his company. Yet, in a very real way, he was always there for me. He was always available to help navigate choices, to give an honest opinion devoid of drama. My dad played it straight down the middle. Was he without blemish or foible? No way! But, in the grand scheme of things, did it matter? Not in the least. He was a long-distance dad who was always there. Strange how life is and how powerful dads are. Enjoy yours. I always remember mine with love and gratitude and wish he were here now.

A New Stage of Life

By Rabbi Richard F. Address

Life is about transition

I am currently involved in one of our generation’s new life-stage adventures: accompanying a parent into an assisted living facility. We went back this morning to look again at my mom’s new apartment. We were there to take some measurements, trying again to see what she can bring and what must be sold or given away or stored.

Information overload took its toll about 45 minutes into the experience. I could see this independent lioness becoming overwhelmed by the stress of decisions. At lunch, we sat at the local deli, and she reflected on how difficult it is to part with decades of memories, items, and tangible manifestations of life.

Many of us are experiencing this stage of life, or we will at some point. Fraught with emotional traps and challenges, it can be terrifying for all involved. We love to write and read of the powerful spiritual moments that can arise during this time. Often, this is true. Often, parents and children become closer, drawing strength from one another.

Yet, sometimes, the challenges become exceedingly stressful on so many levels. For, as our parents come to understand the finality of the move and what the move means on so many levels, we too are reminded, in not so subtle ways, that we are also aging. And we walk the halls of the facility, wondering if this too shall be our last place of residence.

I raise this all-too-real scenario to suggest that you encourage your religious institution—be it church, synagogue, mosque, or gathering—to devote serious time to allow for discussions that focus on the psycho-spiritual aspect of these transitions. They are profound for everyone in a family, for nothing in a family happens in a vacuum. If we are blessed, we will be granted years of life.

For many, and we do not know who they shall be, these types of moves will become a necessity and a blessing in themselves. But, despite the need, they are never easy. These are moments that require strength of soul and purpose and the vision that such a move will enhance a loved one’s quality of life, and perhaps ours as well.

These discussions are important as well, for they touch on this concept of moving on, transition, and letting go. For the Christian and Jewish communities, this is a season to examine these themes through the focus of Lent, Easter, and Passover. They represent, each in their own ways, these ideas of transition. Once you move away from the historical ties and themes, the real message of these festivals is that of personal transition and change. It is a reminder that, no matter what stage of
life we are in, we are always changing, moving on, and letting go.

Sometimes in small ways, and others, in major, life-changing ways.

I am off in a bit to return to my mom’s apartment to help sort out what stays, what goes, and what is to be sold. With every glass or dish or picture, there is a story. It is her story and, in a way, mine as well.

Transitions are tough. Moving on can be a challenge. It is not, like in the movies, filled with high drama and stirring music. Rather, it is quiet, a part of life—and in this we may find its true essence. Life is about transition and having the faith to deal with all that these
transitions bring.

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