This semester, I am teaching a course called “Midrash and the Rabbinic Imagination” at the University of British Columbia.
Yesterday, students turned in the first formal paper, during a very busy midterm week.
So, we relaxed with a little Bibliodrama: improvisational theatre exploring what takes place “between the lines” of the Hebrew Bible.
We explored the space between Genesis 1:26 and 1:27. In verse 26, God says, “Let us make a human in our image…” and then suddenly in verse 27 the narrator says, “So, God created a human in His image.” In one verse, God speaks with a group; in the next verse, God acts alone. What happened to make God move forward alone?
Student actors came forward to play characters of their choosing: God, a lion, a raccoon, a plant, an angel, and the Torah. In their drama, God anxiously asks each character for their suggestions, and then rejects each suggestion with a rational argument.
As we debriefed, we discussed the nature of this characterization of God. Students suggested: God wants analysis and reflection, even if it doesn’t change an outcome.
Then, just for fun, we looked in on the relationships between people, animals, and plants in the Garden of Eden before The Troubles began.
As our students played it:
The tree, swaying with innocent graceful beauty, drips with plump, fragrant apples. Eve and Adam can’t resist eating. They notice their nakedness. The tree, still naive and helpful, offers them some leaves. They wrap themselves, and take shelter behind the tree.
When God comes looking for Adam and Eve, they shout from their hiding place, “We’re naked!”
God, played by a student with a delightful Parisian accent, says, “But I like to see you naked!”
His fellow students giggled wildly. Fearing what might happen next, the actors decided to step down.
During the debrief, I said, “Of course, you meant it as a spiritual metaphor: God likes to see your true self, without guile…”
In the moment, I was joking.
But not really.
Because one of my favorite kinds of prayer is an examination of consciousness — especially when I don’t want anyone to see what is in there.
Sometimes, I don’t like what is in my consciousness. I may be defensive because someone sent me a thoughtlessly critical email; nervous because someone I don’t know how to help wants my help anyway; ashamed because I forgot to call my mother; frightened because my chronic heath problem continues to go undiagnosed; or simply so tired that my usual mental gates are sagging and I’m revisiting old, long atoned-for hurts in my family of origin.
Like anyone, I have techniques of controlling my thoughts, diverting my mind, redirecting my attention.
But sometimes they don’t work, and I can’t make any of the negativity go away.
So I pray.
For a moment, I stop wherever I am standing. Quietly, I invoke God in three ways: by name, by the bodily feeling of a complete pause, and by the image of light or energy. At rest in the light, my attention gathered, I turn my awareness towards each negative idea in turn. For a moment, I name the emotion and the circumstance that triggers it.
And I pray, “God, help me hold this.”
And sometimes I add, “I cannot make this go away, so please help me be present to my tasks at hand, even while so many other layers of consciousness are present.”
A moment of reflection is helpful, even if its aim is not to change an outcome.
At this moment of reflection, an “us” is present. Afterwards, it’s just “me” who has to move forward, with the benefit of one shared moment.
At this moment, I experience God as a level of consciousness that can witness and hold everything. Because I have to call on the Witness, it seems separate from me. We are two; me and another; an “us.” But once I invoke the presence of the Witness, and reveal myself to it, there is no separation. We are one.
We are one extended moment in the ongoing creation of a human life. In this moment my consciousness expands. While the expansive consciousness stays with me, I feel that I carry within me an image of God.
The moment does not last forever, and so I repeat this kind of prayer often.
This moment of naked prayer suits me. (Was a pun intended?) Given my life experience, it is a benevolent moment for me. For some, it may not be the right first step into personal prayer. Please, if it intrigues you, check with your spiritual director, your counselor, and your soul before baring it.
And, if you choose to, consider finding guidance in the very deep book about personal prayer, Primary Speech by Ann and Barry Ulanov.