Where can we find holiness?
Sometimes I feel like I am in a grand hide-and-seek game with the Creator. Just when I think I’ve found the deepest of the deep, He escapes me. Just when I’ve found the perfect light, the right sound, the special spot for a spiritual experience, a hiccup or sneeze ruins the instant.
Then again, moments in life occasionally arrange themselves to create spontaneous experiences that become life-long memories with deep teachings that touch the soul. They sneak up on you like the first warm smell of Spring that subtly tickles your nose. You have to stop to make sure they really happened. To miss these moments would be to miss the juiciest slices of life.
In 1994, I had just moved from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Arizona. The Northridge earthquake shook up more than the foundations of my West L.A. town home. I was shaken to my very core. I wanted out. I had been blinded by too much show biz (I had been a writer on a hit show), too much disappointment (I was off the hit show and didn’t bag another staff position), and I was finally tiring of too much life in and out of the Hollywood fishbowl.
When the earthquake struck, I was out of the bowl and flopping around, gasping in my career, desperate to breathe. It seemed like the earthquake was simply a heavenly nudge, like the one Abraham had. It was telling me to “leave your land, your birthplace, your father’s house…”
Through a rather miraculous set of circumstances, I had met the charismatic Jewish troubadour, Shlomo Carlebach, and struck up a friendship with him when I was searching for living quarters in Scottsdale. It was shortly after Passover, and Shlomo was coming to town for a concert. I was invited to join a small party for dinner and a movie. The dinner was a vegetarian feast. The movie: Schindler’s List.
What does a person do in his life to merit watching Schindler’s List with Shlomo Carlebach? I felt as though I was in a cab that was pulled over by the Beatles who needed a ride to Shea Stadium for this big concert they were doing, and then they asked me to hang with them back stage. I just knew this slice of time was going to be historic and extraordinary. Maybe even holy.
Schindler’s List was as powerful and gripping as a movie gets. Everyone in our party left the theater spent. We slowly walked to the concrete parking structure, deep in contemplative thought. Suddenly Shlomo blurted out that we had not counted the omer yet for the day. (“Counting the omer” is a ritual counting of the forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuout, which symbolizes the initial time the Israelites spent schlepping through the desert until they received the Torah at Mount Sinai. After that, they made a few mistakes that crashed their spiritual GPS system, so they ended up walking around the desert for 40 more years before they made it to the Promise Land.)
So Shlomo realized that it was getting late, and we had to perform the day’s counting. Without hesitation he halted the group and insisted we count the omer right there…in the middle of the parking structure. So, our little group of seven people gathered in a circle and counted the omer. We sang a niggun (a melancholy, yet uplifting Chasidic melody). Then we sang an additional song or two.
It struck me that somehow in that dead, cold, concrete, exhaust-fumed, halogen-lit space we were having a holy moment. Then I remembered that Moses approached a burning scrubby bush somewhere in the desert. He was told to remove his shoes because he was on holy ground. I felt a kinship with Moses that night. Counting the omer in that parking structure was like taking our shoes off before the burning bush. Our actions somehow made that spot a little holier.
I guess you could say that while life is what you make it, holiness is where you make it. We each have the opportunity to make a moment more special, more magical, more awe-full. You have the opportunity to make this moment holy right now. This moment. The one that finds you sitting and reading this article.
Holiness is always available for every person in any moment. Shlomo was famous for saying, “You are the highest, holy brother and holy sister!” And that was his genius: the ability to see through the outer shell of every person - whether beggar, thief or saint - and see the Divine holy spark that is the best of us. His enthusiastic greeting could lift you up, because it reminded you of the truth of who you are. And he could see that in every miraculous moment of life.
Holiness is a point of view that generates a simple act. And that, after all, is an important goal of Judiasm, which is an action-oriented religion. Through our actions, we elevate the mundane and bring holiness to life.
Richard Rossner is a writer who has written for television and film. When he isn’t writing, he is working with his wife, Rahla Kahn, teaching Adaptive Applied Improvisation to cancer patients, corporations and private clients who want to experience the healing benefits of laughter, joy and creativity through their experiential program, The Power Of Play (www.ThePowerOfPlay.com).
Lead photo via istockphoto.com. All others, author provided.