I frequently return to the wisdom found within The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham to help guide my spiritual counseling work. The authors’ perspective of spiritual growth starts with the premise of accepting the reality of our very human tendencies towards hypocrisy and self-deception. They share that “…we human beings find it extremely difficult to know the truth about ourselves, for we cannot see directly our own incongruous mixedness.” (p. 63) They go on to describe storytelling as an ancient response to help us overcome this potentially fatal flaw. It is through both telling and listening to stories that we able to “…hold up a mirror so that we can see ourselves. In a story, we come to know precisely the both/and, mixed-up-ed-ness of our very being.” (p. 63) Story sharing is a means of accepting and learning from our imperfections, helping us move beyond blame and shame, to better connect with our Divine purpose.
This week we find ourselves embarking on Devarim/Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Torah. Not only is this the last of the Five Books of Moses, but in many ways, Moses’ story is basically over, having already been told in the three previous books. [Spoiler Alert] Much of what we’ll read over the next few months regarding Moses and the Israelites is only a recounting of what happened to an itinerant tribe, wandering about, as they emerged from slavery in search of freedom. And most of the Book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses, standing before the people, recounting important events and lessons learned from their experiences over the past forty years together in the desert.
If we pay attention, we will find a fair number of inconsistencies between Moses’ re-telling of these events and the original versions. For instance, Moses starts off by sharing:
The Lord our G!D spoke to us at Horeb, saying: “You have stayed long enough at the mountain. Start out and make your way to the hill country…” (Deuteronomy 1:6)
However, if we go back and review the events in Exodus, there is no explicit mention of G!D telling the Israelites that they had stayed long enough at Horeb (Mt. Sinai). Granted, there was a lot going on while the Israelites camped at Mt. Sinai – the Revelation, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the worshipping of the Golden Calf, etc. And based on how it played out, it’s obvious that they overstayed their welcome, eventually needing to be asked to leave. However, this wasn’t apparent to them at that time, and it was only later that Moses was able to more clearly discern what G!D desired for them.
Thus the necessity and value of telling and re-telling our stories. With the gift of time and different perspective, we’re able to see situations from our past more fully, allowing us to better identify factors that contributed to successes and failures. This type of clarity also allows us to take responsibility for our part in a problem, as well as to let go of lingering resentments. And with insight and clarity we can employ greater discernment when it comes to taking the “next right action.” If we’re fortunate we have people in our lives, like a Moses, to help guide us through this process. We also can be guided by the wisdom of teachers and others who have already traversed this wilderness.
The process of spiritual growth in recovery often requires us to regularly re-visit and re-orient to our personal narratives. Author and educator Betty Sue Flowers (introduced to me in the book 8 Habits of Love: Overcome Fear and Transform Your Life by Rev. Ed Bacon) has developed a powerful framework for understanding ourselves. In her workshops, Ms. Flowers has participants write a brief outline of their autobiography in three different ways: first as a victim, then as a hero, and finally as a learner. While based on the same information,
those are three very different stories with three very different energies and three very different outcomes. A victim feels the need to be defended, vindicated, or avenged. A hero needs justification, ego promotion, or validation. And a learner? A learner seeks illumination, correction, and direction. Learners open themselves to discovering the new in every situation, particularly in challenging times. ~From 8 Habits of Love: Overcome Fear and Transform Your Life by Rev. Ed Bacon
Back to Moses and the Israelites: At the beginning of Deuteronomy, Moses knows that his story is coming to the end. With the perspective of time, he can choose to understand the past forty years through the lens of a victim, constantly burdened by the stubbornness and self-will of the Israelites. He can also choose to focus on the heroic leadership he was able to offer throughout the journey. Fortunately for the Israelites, he recognizes there is only a little time left for him to challenge, teach, and inspire them to live into their best selves. He’s open to seeing the mistakes and missteps that were made along the way and is able to use these experiences to teach lessons for growth. His humility allows him to be better attuned to G!D’s will, and he is able to re-tell the story with a sense of authentic impatience and urgency.
What story are you telling about yourself today? Are you stuck telling the same version? How can you re-tell your story as a learner, to help you connect with Divine purpose?
We can use the framework of victim/hero/learner for ourselves, to better attune ourselves to our Holy Soul. At Beit T’Shuvah, we also draw from our sacred community to attune to our Holy Soul. Next Wednesday evening, we will be gathering to commemorate Tisha B’Av, a day in which we focus on the destruction that’s been brought upon us as a people, as well as the destruction we’ve experienced ourselves. We will use the victim/hero/learner story-telling tool to mine Tisha B’Av for wisdom, insight, and guidance towards the next right action.
Chaplain Adam Siegel