Seeing Our Way to Love
When have you felt seen, really seen? When have you really seen another (vs. an Other)? This deep seeing begins with the idea, the faith, that this level of attentiveness is even possible, to be able to call it in, or in the case of our (Jewish) ancestors to call out.
So begins our exodus story, with deep seeing and relationship.
Aviva Zornberg points out that the parasha of Shemot (for my non-Jewish friends, the portion of the Torah we just read, which begins the book of Exodus) is very much about seeing and noticing. Of course, Moses sees G!d in the burning bush. Notice that Moses has to turn to look at the bush. The text is explicit. Moses turns to look at the bush. There’s a stopping or at least a slowing involved. Pharoh’s daughter sees the baby Moses in his little box. G!d sees the Israelites and feels their pain (no, Clinton was not G!d).
The words used for noticing and seeing are more intimate than just observing. G!d says to Moses, “I have surely watched over (or attended to) you.” G!d hears our cry, remembers us, sees and then knows us. I say us, because our tradition says we were there too, or we should act as if we were.
What does G!d know? Zornberg suggests G!d knows our redeemability. Midrash says that Moses doesn’t believe we were worthy of redemption and argues this with G!d, but G!d pursues this whole project of liberation anyway.
So G!d, consciousness itself, knows us better than we know ourselves.
According to the 18th century Hasidic rabbi, Rabbi Nahum Twersky, not only were our bodies in exile in Egypt, but awareness itself was in exile, that is, awareness of the Divine. One can say this includes the Divine in ourselves too. Our crying out is the expression of possibility beyond the narrowness of Egypt, and it’s the beginning of a relationship that sees our own possibility and divinity.
We’ve all been in places of narrowed perspective in our lives. Yet how often have we also been blessed with relationships that provide awareness of our possibility, of our goodness, or even greatness; that help us to express our own divine nature? You know, that greatness and divinity that we sometimes just can’t accept ourselves.
Perhaps more important than receiving greater awareness of ourselves, in relationship we also reveal the vastness in others. It’s the give and take I’ve mentioned before. We receive love so we can give love.
And through this dynamic, relationship focuses our attention on being truly alive. Stephen Levine says, “The necessity to be present in relationship…requires us to be aware in order to survive. Focuses us on the living moment and produces the same “great aliveness” which so many bungee jumpers, hang gliders and rock climbers acknowledge is their near addiction to sports.”
But wait, there’s more! The I-Thou is even beyond that. It is ineffable, not a collection of attributes or even experiences, but all encompassing, timeless and spaceless. “What then do we experience of Thou? Just nothing. For we do not experience it. What then do we know of Thou? Just everything. For we know nothing isolated about it anymore,” says Buber.
According to our mystical tradition G!d created the world out of love, because G!d wanted relationship. Of course this is an anthropomorphism, but we exist in an infinite network of relationship. Our teacher Reb Zalman gave us the term the G!d-field, and we are part of a field of relationship, a love field.
This presence is always there, of course. Like Moses, we have to turn and look. Or allow our heart to wake to hear the knocking, as the Song of Songs says, “I am asleep, but my heart wakes. The sound of my beloved knocking: ‘Open for me!’“
Rabbi Art Green sounds like the G!d-drunk Sufi mystics when he says:
The pounding of my own heart
The sound of Torah
The voice of my Beloved —
Help me to learn again that they are all one voice!
Our escape from narrowness is a new awareness of relationship, of the beloved. As Levine says, “To all who seek their own true self…the Beloved is our ever-experienceable vastness of our true heart, our original nature. And for all, it is the possibility of freedom, the divine capacity to transform our pool of tears into the Ocean of Compassion.”
That’s what happens when we stop and look and really see. We transform our cry into an ocean of compassion.