by Rabbi Burt Jacobson
A version of the talk below was delivered by Rabbi Burt at the opening of the Interfaith Art Show at the Northern California Islamic Cultural Center on December 3rd, 2017.
The great mystics of the world’s spiritual traditions testified that during their mystical experiences the boundaries that circumscribed their everyday identities would dissolve and they would become part of a larger reality, somehow one with the universe or with the divine. Through such encounters these mystics realized the universal unity that embraces all of creation. These radical experiences of cosmic consciousness deconstructed and relativized the normal worldly identities that those mystics usually inhabited, opening them to the great mystery that lies behind and beyond all identities.
Part of what it means to be a spiritual person today is a recognition that there is more to who we are than our egos and our particular identities. Cultivating a larger sense of our spiritual potential is extremely necessary today, living in a world filled with divisiveness, conflict and hatred. The most powerful spiritual practices have this as their ultimate goal. And there are practices we can do together to foster this kind of universal consciousness, allowing each of us to reach out beyond the boundaries that divide us from one another, and connect with people whose identities differ from our own.
The artwork we see about us here embodies a definite movement in this direction. Working collaboratively with members of other faiths, each of the artists represented in this show extended themselves beyond their particular religious identities toward a more universal embrace, a recognition that greater truth lies in expanding our identities.
We are not just Jews, Christians or Muslims, we are all sisters and brothers, members of a single Abrahamic family. At an even deeper level, we are all members of the human race. And each of us is a creation of, a manifestation of a mysterious Source of existence. At that level of awareness our particular identities no longer limit who or what we are.
I’m not advocating the dissolution of our particular religious identities, mind you. Each of our faith traditions offers its followers a rich sense of ancestry, a deep set of values, and ideals to live by. But there is so much to learn from one another. The ancient Jewish sage Ben Zoma, said: “Who is wise? One who learns from all people.”
The great twentieth century orthodox Jewish mystic, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, wrote: “Let love fill your heart and flow out to everyone.” I pray that the love exhibited in the works of the artists of our Faith Trio flow out, reaching more people with a love that embraces our common humanity and our common origins in the divine.