A day off. Wow. Did I even dare to pray for it? It’s a rare treat in the religion business!
What to do? Where to go? My beloved and I chose Mt. Seymour, a provincial park just 30 minutes outside our city. Mountains, woods, rushing rivers. No cell phone service. No internet access. A different rhythm.
We parked at a high elevation, and hiked down to the river gorge. The trail led us into dense, damp woods. Spanish moss, mushrooms, black slugs, nurse logs – under towering old growth pine and cedar trees. Deep quiet, woodsy smells, soft dark ground.
Our thoughts and feelings, too, became quiet and soft. As we hit the trail, we fantasized about breaking free of our frenetic life. We would create the family business of our dreams. But, under the spell of the woods, we gradually forgot all details of our everyday life. We talked only about what was before us. Leaf. Root. Rock. Creek.
Down in the gorge, the river ran fast and loud. We had no need to talk, and couldn’t hear one another if we did. At a pebble beach, we sat on boulders. We looked, we listened, we felt, we thought.
From my pack, I took out a book of poetry by Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1058). We have no words, I thought, but surely this lover of infinity does. And he had the perfect words, translated by Raymond P. Scheindlin.
Three things there are, together in my eye
that keep the thought of You forever nigh.
I think about Your Great and Holy Name
whenever I look up and see the sky.
My thoughts are roused to know how I was made,
seeing the earth’s expanse where I abide.
The musings of my mind, when I look inside –
at all times, “O my soul, bless Adonai.”
Here we were, amid those three things. Sky peeking through trees and opening up over the river. Earth so green and damp and fragrant. Thoughts so calm, flowing with the river. We weren’t thinking of God, but we didn’t need to. We had merged with the spirit of the place, feeling ourselves in the One world-soul, blessing Adonai by simply being.
We were praying, ibn Gabirol would say. But not with prayers found in a prayer book. Written prayers only offer concepts about God. Our prayer was deeper. More direct. We broke our mundane patterns of thought. We contemplated creation. We felt the spirit that pulses through it.
On our day off from the religion business, we encountered spirit.
Read about ibn Gabirol’s masterpiece Adon Olam, the hymn that closes almost every Jewish prayer service.
An earlier version of this post appeared at Rabbis Without Borders. Photo credit: Charles Kaplan.