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Reanim8/Invigor8: Night 4 of illumin8 – “Push through the crust and rediscover the fire within.”

This Chanukkah R’ Sharon Brous of IKAR (LA) and Amichai Lau-Lavie of Lab/Shul (NY) collaborate to create a virtual ritual upgrade toolkit getting us to shine our light with more purpose and intention.  For 8 nights, illlumin8 will instigate conversations as the candles burn, so we can elaborate, recalibrate and celebrate!

Reanim8/Invigor8: Night 4 

One of my favorite teachers, a Benedictine Monk named David Steindl-Rast, says that religion is like an erupting volcano: it gushes forth, the magma flowing down the sides of the mountain – fiery, powerful, dangerous.  But that magma quickly cools off.  A couple hundred years pass, and what was once alive is now dead rock, devoid of all traces of life.  “Doctrine becomes doctrinaire. Morals become moralistic. Ritual becomes ritualistic.”  Sound familiar?  So much of religious life in this country, in this time, has become rote, perfunctory, banal.  And the numbers bear out the dissatisfaction: a steep demographic drop-off among young people, unprecedented disaffection and defection and a general and overriding sense of disinterest.  Boredom.  There’s nothing for me here, in this religion of hard, dead rock. What can be done?  “Push through the crust,” says Steindl-Rast, “and rediscover the fire within.”

It’s time to get back to the heart of the matter.  Time to reawaken ourselves to the idea that a community, a people, can join forces to take its painful past and turn it into a mandate to work to alleviate the pain of others.  To the idea that we are called to stand on the margins of society and cry out against injustice, fight for the most vulnerable.  To the centrality of great dreams – the foundation of our world, to the belief that despair is antithetical to the Jewish experience and that our story, though it starts in narrowness, leads to expansive possibility.  To the extraordinary capacity of the human heart to hold immense beauty and great pain at once.  To the dignity of every human being, created in God’s image with a unique voice and distinct purpose.  To the potential of holy texts to elicit holy tears.

Push through the crust and rediscover the fire within.  That just about captures the sacred task of those endeavoring to bring wonder, purpose and surprise back into religion.

But religion is not the only site of hard dead rock in our lives.  Our work, our marriages, our relationships, all of these will die if we don’t rediscover the fire, the sacred surprise at the heart of the matter.  Hamehadesh b’khol yom tamid ma’aseh v’reishit – every single day, we can tap back into the old as if it’s completely new, but only with real effort and intention.

The light of Hanukkah reminds us of the miracles – not only of long ago but also of right here, right now.  The miracle of light.  Of healing.  Of new love and old.  Of forgiveness.  Of the power we all have to recreate ourselves and our world – manifest with every act of compassion, grace and moral courage.  For all of these miracles, we give thanks.  Tonight, as you light the fire, find your fire.

R’ Sharon