Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Coming into the Presence: Gurus, Rebbes, and Lamas, Oh My! —Elul 17

What about the metaphor of standing in the presence of a great spiritual leader? Can that help us understand coming into the Presence? If you had a chance to meet the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, the Pope, Rabbi Schneerson, or any great guru, how would you prepare? What would that encounter be like?

I remember during the Watergate hearings on TV I by accident saw a late-night interview with Abraham Joshua Heschel. I don’t remember now his words, whether he was talking about marching for civil rights or Judaism or social justice or something else. What I remember is this: being overwhelming affected by this person’s presence, even across the strange, artificial medium of television. All these decades later, I can still recall it. Heschel’s presence was deep, rich, full, encompassing joy, love, forgiveness, wisdom, power, hope, truth, righteousness. And the effect of his presence on me was to make me want to become a human being like that. Not to be him, but to be the deepest, richest, fullest human being I could be. In that moment of standing in Heschel’s presence—even across the TV waves—I realized how much was possible for a life and my desire to strive for that was kindled.

This is one of the reasons villagers in the 18th century flocked to the houses of the great rebbes, The Baal Shem Tov and many others. Why in the last and current centuries they flock to the study of Reb Schneerson and other rebbes. Why they travel across the world to stand in the loving presence of gurus like Mata Amritanandamayi, known as Amma, Mother. Because to stand in the presence of another human being who has been graced with great love, to absorb the atmosphere such a person radiates, such a spirit tuned to the infinite, to the beyond that is ever near, is to be changed. By standing in the presence of such a person it is as if our spirits are tuned to that beyond that is ever near, and called to become something larger than we were or imagined before.

We may fall out of tune once we leave the presence of such a tuning fork, but the desire to be in tune may remain, and we will go on seeking it for ourselves.

This, too, may teach us something about coming in the Presence during the days of Elul, the Days of Awe, and every day.

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