Rabbi – Where’s the Spirit in Spirituality?

Posted on: April 21st, 2009 by Hayim Herring

A rabbi’s spiritual leanings (or lack thereof) ultimately determine whether or not a congregation achieves some dimension of spirituality. (Please refer to the last post for a rich variety of understandings of “spirituality.”) The congregational context in which the rabbi works will either contribute toward the creation of a spiritual community or help to undermine it.  In other words, while the rabbi must lead in the creation of a spiritual community, ultimately it is the partnership of a core group of congregants and rabbi who help to develop and sustain this kind of community.

Most congregations are structured to sap the spiritual energy of rabbis (and cantors for that matter). Think about it: when was the last time you remember a congregant saying to a rabbi, “Rabbi, your SQ (spirituality quotient) could use a little more zip. Have you taken your spiritual temperature lately?”

What are some of the structural barriers in congregations which conspire against the creation of a spiritual community?

  • Congregants don’t give clergy the solitude that’s necessary for the cultivation of spirituality.
  • Congregations are perpetual activity machines and rabbis are evaluated on their state of “doing,” not their state of being.
  • Especially in these times, congregations don’t budget sufficient funds for professional development. Congregations can encourage part of that development to be spiritually-focused.
  • Most congregations wouldn’t know what to do with prolonged periods of silence during services. Silence is one method for fostering spiritual moments.

The conversation on the prior post on dimensions of spirituality was incredibly rich, and thanks for your insights. So please respond to the following questions (in addition to any other comments):

  • What other structural barriers impede the creation of a spiritual community?
  • Are congregations really willing to restructure their ways so that they will actually value the creation of such a community?

The next time, we’ll focus on the barriers that clergy erect in fostering spirituality, so stay tuned!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Photo from Flickr.com  Orbital Joe

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