There's a great quote often attributed (with no evidence he ever said it) to Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”
Even if the relatively great scientist (see what I did there?) never said that, Rabbi Michael Zedek (pictured below) shows in his new book that he's in the camp of those who find miracles almost everywhere. (The publication date for Taking Miracles Seriously: A Journey to Everyday Spirituality is Sept. 26, but it can be ordered now.)
The book is Zedek's attempt to wake us up. The tendency of many of us, myself included, is to wander through life not being astonished and awe-struck by a rose or a cloud or the rising of the moon. I think of such things as God's art. In fact, one of my favorite writers, the late Stanley Elkin, in his book The Living End, has God finally explain that the whole reason for the creation was and is art. The sadness in God's heart, according to Elkin, is that God never found an audience.
Well, Michael Zedek is one who understands that we are surrounded by divine art that we should consider daily miracles.
"Were we open to miracles of the ordinary," he writes, "we also would discover that we are part of a sacred dimension that, even as it calls us to action, is always present, always around and in us."
I first met Zedek when he was rabbi at Congregation B'nai Jehudah, which at the time was located in Kansas City, though it has since moved to the suburbs. I've always found him to be thoughtful, bright and even funny when humor was an appropriate response. You may be used to his voice from his years on the radio show (now a podcast) "Religion on the Line."
These days he is "Rabbi in Residence" at St. Paul School of Theology in the KC area.
His new book is, yes, about how to think about miracles, but it's more than that. As he writes, "I hope to demonstrate that there is no place where the sacred is absent." But, of course, like the imago dei, or image of God, in each of us, sometimes human actions and thoughts seem to blot out the sacred's presence. Zedek, to put it plainly, wants us to stop doing that. He wants us to recognize the truth of one of my favorite sayings from a Jewish prayer book: "Days pass. Years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles."
I confess that one reason I like Zedek's new book so much is that it's quite in harmony with one I wrote a few years ago, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. In fact, one of Zedek's chapters is called "The Danger of Not Doubting." Neither of us argues that we should doubt everything, everywhere, all the time. Rather, we both see doubt as a path toward a healthy faith commitment that can sustain us in good times and in bad.
Zedek, in this new book, is also careful to note the limits of language when we talk about divine matters. Yes, language can enlighten us and help us see what is sacred in some ways, but, in fact, he writes, "language is not up to the task." That's hard for a writer to hear, but it's true. And it helps to remember that all words -- even those in scripture -- are metaphors that point beyond themselves to some reality.
Well, there are other worthy insights and gems in what Zedek has written, and I don't want to give away all of them. But I agree with him that "our life task is to bring a sacred dimension into our lives and, then, to share that presence and its consequence with others."
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NAMING SOME CRITICS OF POPE FRANCIS
Pope Francis recently complained about his American critics, suggesting that some of them have replaced faith for "ideology," by which he seemed to mean partisan politics. He didn't name those challengers to his now 10-plus-year-old pontificate, but this Religion News Service story suggests several people whom the pope might have had in mind. In some ways, this is all inside-baseball for Catholics, but it's also a reminder that there are divisions -- sometimes serious ones -- within every religion and even within every congregation that is part of that religion. The question is whether people of faith who disagree with others within their community can find ways to respect each other, thus living up to the teachings of the faith. Yeah, well, wouldn't that be nice?
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P.S.: The Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University has a couple of fascinating free webinars coming up:
At 11 a.m. CDT on Sunday, Oct. 15:
- John Pawlikowski “Removing the Shadow on the Cross: Rooting Out Antisemitism from Christian Teaching”
- Here's the link to register.
At 11 a.m. CDT on Sunday, Oct. 22:
- Chris Leighton “Contending with Christian Supersessionism: When Best Intentions Falter”
- Here's the link to register.
They will be recorded for later viewing if you can't watch live. But to get that link, register.
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ANOTHER P.S.: I've written a column for this Sunday's Kansas City Star and for McClatchy News Service about why plea agreements are a good way finally to resolve the cases against the five terrorists who planned the 9/11 attacks 22 years ago and who remain imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. When the column posts Sunday morning, you can find it here. If you check before then you'll get an error message.
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FAREWELL TO THE REV. SCOTT MYERS
Many of us gathered Friday evening at Westport Presbyterian Church for a memorial service in honor of the Rev. Scott Myers, who was pastor there for 29 years. I knew him for most of that time and rarely have known a man so dedicated to living the loving, generous way he believed Jesus called him to live. R.I.P., friend.