Tuesday, August 18, 2009

August 18, 2009 - The Breadth of God

Rabbi David Wolpe recalls how, when he was laid low by chemotherapy, a verse from the Psalms kept coming to his mind:

“From out of the depths I called unto God;
He answered me and set me free.”
(Psalm 118:5)

“Out of the depths” is a classic expression of lament. Wolpe brings added perspective as a scholar of the original Hebrew:

“But ‘the depths’ can be translated as ‘narrowness’ and ‘free’ as ‘expansively.’ A literal translation is – ‘from my narrowness I called to God and I was answered by breadth, O God.’ My world grew through pain and the increasing recognition of the ways in which it both opened my heart and helped me draw closer to others in pain. A single verse opened a world and a way of seeing that gave me strength and the breadth promised by the verse itself.

My spirit opened to an infinitely larger Spirit. When in pain, we tighten up like a fist. It is easy to push others away – after all, they are not feeling the pain – and to turn increasingly inward. Only I matter; only my pain is real. The Psalm urged me to expand, allowing me to embrace others, to understand that pain need not always be private, unshared. Open up, the Psalmist taught; both in heaven and on earth you are not alone.”

- Why Faith Matters (HarperOne, 2008), pp. 159-160.

Paradoxically, the experience of serious illness can deepen the life of the spirit. That was Rabbi Wolpe’s experience, and in the long run, it's been mine as well.

There were no epiphanies – no memorable, soul-stirring moments of encounter with God. Just a broadening of life, at a time when all the wisdom of the world could predict nothing but a narrowing.

I’m not sure how often this is true of people who approach an experience like cancer without the resources of faith to draw upon. I’d be curious to hear some personal testimony from atheists or agnostics on that subject. It seems to me that, without faith, cancer therapy can only be a narrowing experience. So many limitations, so many life-changes, arise in the form of side-effects. Fatigue alone – probably the most common and pervasive of side-effects – is a significant narrowing experience.

The gift many people of faith are fortunate enough to receive, out of cancer treatment, is an unexpected experience of spiritual breadth.

It’s the breadth of God.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, God, breathe on me.

Terry Finley