Wild Faith

It is erev Shababt here in NYC and I somehow the blog post I have been meaning to write all week has not written itself. So here I am preparing for another relaxing Shabbat, and wanted to share some thoughts about I read last Shabbat.

I recently bought a copy of the book titled A Wild Faith by Rabbi Mike Comins. It is a guide to spiritual and Jewish practice in the wilderness. I would encourage every member of the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community to read this book, as it is a fantastic guide to many of the issues we will be teaching at camp. It also has over 30 practical lessons/ suggestions for integrating the Jewish ideas/ values into actual programming in a camp.

Two ideas that jumped out at me were the way that Comins teaches about spirituality in nature.

#1 Comins includes a chapter on how to incorporate Heschel’s idea of Radical amazement and Buber’s notion of I-Thou
If I had to summarize each of these concepts in only a few words, I would say that Heschel’s concept of radical amazement is that one experiences God in the “wow” moments. That is to say, when one sees something that is truly amazing (be it an airplane taking off, a beautiful sunset or a wild animal) and one stops and says “wow,” that moment of wow is actually an encounter with the Divine.
Buber’s notion of I-thou is that we go through life labeling items, seeing things in the world as “other.” “This is a tree, that is a house, there is a person”. In other words, we go through life looking at the world in an I-it relationship. There are moments however, when one does not see someone or something as “other” but as part of oneself. Think about two lovers when they kiss, or of a tranquil moment one has in the outdoors. That moment when you do not think of the other as other, but as part of ones being is when one experiences God. For Buber that moment is an I-though moment.
When it comes to applying these two ideas to outdoor education, I can think of many ways to include Heschel’s notion of radical amazement. In a later post, or perhaps in a few weeks in the discussion board, I will include a curriculum I have used many times with students about seeing God in nature through the experience of radical amazement. It is relatively straight forward to introduce campers to this idea when they are sitting on a cliff watching the sun set.

Yet it is harder for me to conceptualize how to experience Buber’s notion. By definition, Buber does not think you can plan for I-thou moments. Where as Heschel argues that ritual (brachot teffilot etc) prepare one or open one up to the possibility of experiencing radical amazement, Buber thinks that ritual get in the way. (in otherwords, Buber would probably be against saying hamotzi on trips where as Heschel would say one had to say hamotzi before eating).

But when reading Comins I was intrigued about the idea of trying to incorporate Buber into trips, yet he does not give any specific steps to doing so. I was left to wonder whether Buber might be better brought up not while the sun was setting on that cliff, but later around the camp fire when the group is talking about the highs and lows of the day. I do not know of curriculum written about Buber in the outdoors, and would be curious to read any that already exists.
#2 The second thought that emerged from Wild Faith comes from the following sentence.

“For many people wilderness is the best place to discern God’s presence. The individual nature of spiritual practice in wilderness, then, is an important corrective to the communal emphasis in Judaism, but it is neither an alternative nor a substitute. The aim is balance” (51).

I loved the way that Comins juxtaposes the communal nature of Judaism with the solitude found in nature. I think that this line captures why I love going into nature. I absolutely love living as part of and being an active member of the Jewish community. I would not want to live anywhere without a strong Jewish community. Yet for me, the power of going into the outdoors is that solitude that Comins speaks of. In nature I still feel part of a Jewish community, even though the community is physically far away. Sometimes, in an intense community it is possible to forget how God interacts in all of our lives. When I go out into nature, I am reminded what is one of the key reasons to be a part of the larger community. In other words, the solitude reminds one of the power of being together. The key in my life is finding the balance between solitude and community.

I could write more about Comins, and perhaps in a later post I will, but I will leave it with these two thoughts for now. Shabbat Shalom!

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