Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Intention and Kavanah

Our lives are so full. Our world is so busy. We move so fast and so hard and so long. We have become pulled in so many directions – I believe mostly because of the media – that is the prevalence of media messages bombarding us every day: commercialism (buy this, get those, go there, drive that); environmentalism (recycle, go green, reduce your carbon footprint, the polar ice caps are melting); health (cancer, cell phone towers, bottled water); and lions and tigers and bears, Oh my! We are so fragmented that our core suffers. Our core is that place of true identity inside that defines who we are and where we are going. It provides meaning and purpose. It is the place our life story resides – our metanarative – the story that makes sense of all the little parts of our lives and lines up all the diverse, going-every-which-way segments into a meaningful direction.

This core, facing the bombardment of dailyness, gets chipped away and shrivels smaller and smaller until we have to hide it away just to protect it from the demands of the world. The result is that we become not a person but a collection of scattered and fragmented pieces loosely held together by our physical life (our body – i.e. where we are and what we do) instead of held together by the core of who we are – held together by our story. So church (or more importantly our lives lived out of worship) becomes one more fragment to piece together with the rest of our lives.

That’s how I’ve been feeling – fragmented. What is my “core?” That space from which I live my life? It used to be clearer – it is always much clearer when I’m working on a new plan but it gets more and more fuzzy the longer I live in that space. It needs to be continually reinvented and renewed. This core to me is a combination of soul and spirit. The spirit is that which is in connection with God, that is reborn when we truly encounter and surrender to the risen Christ. It is eternal. But our soul is that which processes all that we live in and through here on earth. It is the soul (mind, emotions and will) that needs renewal and regeneration. It is the soul where we must renew the mind and submit our will to God and express our desires or reign in our emotions.

It is somewhere in there that we get fragmented. Our desires become thin and fleeting. Our thinking becomes shallow and overly affected by sound bytes and political correctness. Our will bends to the whims of the spirit of the age.

That’s where kavanah comes in. In the Jewish tradition, intention, kavanah, is an essential part of meaningful action. The term kavanah comes from the Hebrew root meaning to direct, intend, focus. The rabbis were very clear that living a meaningful life involves combining both the actions we do and the intention we bring to those actions. For example, the rabbis stressed that prayer was not just about the act of reading or saying the words of a prayer. If you did not pray with kavanah, actively thinking about the words you were saying, you have not fulfilled your obligation to pray. It describes the centering that happens when we are able to line up all the little pieces of our into that purpose of God. That is living in the moment, being single minded, identifying with Paul who said:

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14

A quote from Martin Buber comments sums it up, "He who does a good deed with complete kavanah, that is, completes an act in such a way that his whole existence is gathered in it and directed in it towards God, he works on the redemption of the world, on its conquest for God.
quoted from the Shaping of Things to Come.

I suppose this also applies to a community. It would also be more effective if an entire worshipping community can gather itself up to advance the Kingdom and do good deeds with Kavanah – that is completing an act in such a way that all of its identity is gathered together towards the same direction and towards God. It would be most effective if all of its life was concentrated in one direction and fundamentally in the direction of honouring God. Doing that with the diverse types of people you have in a congregation would be a significant challenge - and is the fodder for another post.

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