Thursday, November 11, 2010

God at the Edge

As I crank through my book-stack, I'm back into reading things I don't technically need to read.  Next in the rotation was a book given to my by one of the saints of my church.  The book, by Rabbi Niles Goldstein, is entitled God At the Edge.  Goldstein is a faith extremophile, meaning he's the sort of person who seeks out intense wilderness experience and wild-and-wooly EXTREEEEEME faith experience.  You know.  Wandering the wilderness of Alaska.  Trekking through Uzbekistan without the proper papers.  That sort of thing.

God at the Edge was quite readable, and the scholarship...particularly as Goldstein cranked his way through a variety of the mystics in both Judaism and Christianity who inspired him...was excellent.

What caused me to be a-strugglin' a bit with this book was the seeming inability of Goldstein to find contentment as a rabbi in a standard-issue synagogue.  The births and marriages and mitzvahs and funerals...well...they just weren't exciting.  He chafed and struggled with the tedium of it all.  He needed to be chased by bears, or shot at, or something...more...adventuresome.

I can understand that.  There's much within the lives of synagogues and congregations that is...well...boring.  Just routine.  It can be smotheringly irrelevant.

But there's this thing about even the most seemingly staid communities of faith: they are filled with human beings.    And those human creatures experience some pretty intense stuff.  A new life comes into the world...that's a big deal.  A marriage falls apart...that's a huge and complex thing, as fearsomely searing as the desert at the height of the day.  A life comes to a close, either softly or through a crucible of suffering...and that last breath rattling out after a years-long struggle against cancer is just as final as the sharp crack that ends a life on the battlefield.

I feel the extremophile yearning myself.  The voice of our Maker is more easily heard in places that kick us out of our complacency.  But the intensity of existence isn't something we have to wander far to find.  If we live and breathe, no matter where we are, it tends to find us.

Those who feel the need to seek it out just aren't paying attention.  They remind me of...well...this song: