Pentecost +6 - Year C
Here is a process of engaging the Psalms that shifts our relationship with them. Our tendency is to read them as individuals and to apply them individually. This experiment from Godwrestling—Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths by Arthur Waskow might open up a new insight for a community.
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A more complex and subtle way of facing God through the Psalms has been explored by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, an extraordinary davvener who is also one of the most creative choreographers of new forms of davvening. Schachter-Shalomi brought his own profound mystical sensibilities first into a deep learning with the Lubavitcher Hassidim, and then into the much wider world of Sufi dancers, Zen sitters, Buddhist meditators, feminist seekers, and transpersonal psychologists. Convinced that for a new era of Jews God must be sensed as directly present, he saw that since the Psalms are addressed directly to God, they offer an important opportunity to embody God in the community of davveners. Rabbi Jeff Roth brought to this insight his own work with Martin Buber’s call for dialogue, and what emerged was what Roth and Schachter-Shalomi called “dialogical davvening” with the Psalms.
This meant that pairs of people read a psalm in dialogue within the Minyan: One person reads the first verse of the psalm silently, absorbs it, and decides how to express something close to this thought in her or his own words. Then s/he will face the “spark of God” in the other partner to say the new thought to the God Who lives in the partner’s face. The second partner pays full attention to what the first one says, and then turns back to the printed page to absorb the second verse of the psalm and do the same work of midrashic transmutation—taking into account both what s/he has already heard, and what the text says. They continue to go back and forth, speaking to God in each other until the psalm is completed.
Becoming God and facing God in this way brings the psalm alive. The movement of thought and feeling that is characteristic of most psalms becomes far more intelligible that what emerges from a more-or-less rote reading. In addition, by addressing a human partner as God and being addressed as God, many participants find themselves spiritually moved in new ways.
What is the secret behind the power of such practices? We are taking what seem to be poetic metaphors about the face, and turning them into physical reality. The process is a kind of three-dimensional midrash, turning words into action.