Contemplative Prayer- Encountering Freedom (April 2010)

 On Shabbos Pesach we read the Torah account of Moses in the Cleft of the Rock. (from Ki Tissa- Leviticus Chapters 33 and 34).

Way back in March 2007 I wrote a comment on this text and am re-publishing it here as we approach the end of the Passover holiday: 

“Moses was not to see God’s Face (His Self) but was granted a “view” of His Back (God’s action viewed in retrospect). But for even a “back” view to be granted, the text describes how God Himself placed Moses in a “cleft in the rock” for his own protection. Moses didn’t choose to hide there. God put him there.

The closer we get to God the more we realise how little we understand what or who “He” is. The closer we try to get, the deeper our awe. Describing even a “back” view is futile.

In our attempts to “connect” with God in contemplative prayer we experience a need to withdraw to a protective enclosure….a “cleft in the rock” away from the bustle of work or crowds, a metaphysical “cave” in which to focus our attention, or a large prayer-shawl under which we can feel God’s protective embrace.

Whether we sense God’s presence in our prayer,
or whether we sense God’s presence in His activity through people or in nature,
What we see is always a mere interpretation or reflection of His “Presence”.

But that didn’t stop Moses from wanting to pierce the fog

and it doesn’t stop contemplatives from feeling the same ache either.

Perhaps the contemplative lesson of the “cleft in the rock incident” is that we should wait for God to place us there if He should so choose, always accepting that He may very well NOT choose to do so.

God is “Ha Makom”..THE place, the place of the world.
(meaning:There is nothing "outside" of God. All creation exists "inside" God.)

God Himself is the Rock in which Moses was hidden and it was God’s own “Hand” which protectively sealed the opening of the cleft during the revelation described in Ki Tissa.

In our contemplative “cleft in the rock” we may often feel that we have “seen” nothing or “met” nothing.

But we will have been in that “Place”
Ha Makom

That is more than enough.”

(from "The Cleft in the Rock" March 2007)

During Passover, we celebrate our release from Mitzrayim. ( Mitzrayim is the biblical name for Egypt but it is also a word which refers to any narrow confined space, situation, or attitude.) If we try to pin God down we will fail. He cannot be confined or delineated. If we are attentive to "Him" and don't expect too much we can begin to experience God in our heart expansively. This is perhaps what is meant in Psalm 118 where we read:

"From a narrow place I called to God
He answered me by giving me wide-open freedom"

(In the Talmud-Pesachim 117a renders the phrase "merchav-Yah" as one word..."Divine-breadth-of- freedom")

One who has chosen a dedicated life of prayer or who lives a life of temporary or long-term retreat is not necessarily "confined" or "limited". The contemplative paradox is that whereas we may look inward as we follow Moses into the Cleft in the Rock, and whereas we appear to withdraw into a narrow space - what we find there is a hint of the most expansive perspective there is: Merchav-Yah.

April 4 2010