Sometimes what seem like new words just pop up into my vocabulary. It may very well be that someone else said this word in my hearing or that I came across it reading something along the way, but in my innocence and forgetfulness, it feels new and right.
A new word that I have heard myself uttering – mostly in ritual moments like Shabbat service – is ‘godspace.’ It is nothing revolutionary or really new, but as I said it for the first time, it felt ‘new’ to me. It came out one Shabbat as I was trying paint a verbal picture of how we use that time we call ‘prayer’. I was trying to express the challenge and value of taking the time to going inward, to be inside ourselves. That part within – whether it is physical, psychological or spiritual – where no one else can possible be, in the intimate of intimates, the inner Holy of Holies. Then it popped out … what I was trying to name was the ‘godspace’ within.
The more I played around with the word in my mind the more I liked it. I think it was Rabbi Harold Kushner who spoke of ‘God-shaped holes’ within each us, maybe he was partly my original source. Or perhaps it was how space or literally ‘place’ is actually one of the names for divinity given by our Sages – Makom. It is this way of naming the divine that speaks most acutely to me in my understanding divinity. I also think the word leaves room for many understandings of what ‘god’ may be … perhaps the name of an actual deity who rents space in one’s inner sanctum; perhaps the part of one’s mind that allows for the possibility of divinity; perhaps the way or method that one uses to pay attention to the workings of the cosmos how they may affect or be affected by our choices, actions and thoughts. I believe that the idea of an untouchable, impenetrable inner sanctum relates to the types who talk to god, the types who just listen to god; the types who do not believe that god listens or talks; and even the types who do not believe in god at all.
The thing about these godspaces within is that you just don’t normally just walk in, sit down, open a cold one and let the party begin. One must be mindful, intentional and spend time getting ready to enter. Sure, every once in a while we get a magical glimpse of the light of the godspace as the door opens or closes – like in an intimate exchange with a loved or being awed on top of that mountain. The nature of the godspace within, however, is that we need to spend time laying the groundwork and preparing to enter this space. Every religious tradition offers a variety of methods to do so. What most have in common – at least the genuine, authentic ones – is the recognition of this godspace, the importance of spending time within it, and the need to prepare to be there.
In another one of my ‘surfing the web for one thing and finding something else’ instances, I came across a wonderful way of expressing this kind of preparation on Rabbi Amy Schneirman’s website. (It is so good I wish I had thought of it.) If you ever have painted any space in your home, you know that the actual painting – the part that transforms and beautifies the space – takes the least amount of time. The prep work demands an inverse amount of time and energy. I find the painting fun. I find the prep work tortuous. There is the removal of wall paper, the repairing of holes and scratches in the wall, the taping of windows, trim and the like … yada, yada, yada. You have to do the prep in the right way – or else the painting never reaches its potential. Spending time in your godspace takes the same kind of preparation … and the preparation can be boring – especially in comparison to the experience of being there.
In a fashion Elul is the time which we take to prep the ‘godspace’ for our annual paint job – with the painting to be done when we are in our godspace during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Now is a time to prep your space, choose your paint colors and get yourself ready … and see what transformation awaits as spend some time in your godspace in the days ahead.