I’m living in the material world/Living in the material world/can’t say what I’m doing here/But I hope to see much clearer,/After living in the material world/I got born into the material world/Getting worn out in the material world – George Harrison, “Living in the Material World”
Let’s start with a classic story. A story old enough that its verity has been tested by time. A story young enough that it could make today’s headlines. A simple story with just two characters whose names, I think it’s fair to say, you will know.
Now, let’s create a tableau – a diorama, to be more exact. Look at our three-dimensional figures – so lifelike! But, alas, what kind of life is this, inside a self-contained world of simulated reality? What’s a life that’s lived confined to a single scene from which one cannot escape? A life lived in miniature on the other side of a peephole? This is not much of a life at all. An incomplete and unfulfilled life, at best. But, such is life lived in the material world.
Even so, let’s set the stage for our scene. First, there’s the character of the well-tailored ambitious and restless charlatan. A man clearly frustrated by the limits of earthly power and, it would appear, bored by the vast expanse and richness of human knowledge. A man driven more by his insatiable desires for pleasure and self-gratification than governed by principle. A short-sighted man, who is totally enthralled with ephemeral, short-term gains.
Then, there’s the brooding and somewhat shadowy character – a figure that’s just out of sight through the peephole lurking in a little cloud of simulated fog. Someone with eyes bright as fire and dark as coal. Powerful. Knowing. His charisma burning through the darkness. A being with flawed vision, who is obsessed with very long-term gains – gains that could last, let’s just say, for all eternity.
There’s the crackling of a powerful, palpable, yet invisible charge. There’s definitely something smoldering that smells like the sheer determination to win at any cost. And, that ominous electric hum – it’s coming straight from the ineffable art of the deal.
If our characters could only get to the next scene in our diorama, it would be the one where they seal the deal – declare a winner – put their signatures on the contract. The contract where Dr. Faustus sells his soul to the Devil – where Faust gives away all of who he is and could become for the “finest,” most-fleeting thrills that Mephistopheles and a material world have to offer.
Sound familiar? Yes. Surprising? No.
Without the proper soul-work, we may find ourselves haplessly in a diorama-like world of separation and illusion – where nothing connects, and nothing is real. A world where our lives are needlessly “narrow” and constricted. A world where we may never fully see, much less realize, our relationship and place within the universe.
Rabbi and author Naomi Levy in her latest book, entitled Einstein and the Rabbi, shares a remarkable passage from a letter that the physicist wrote to Rabbi Robert Marcus, one of the first clergy to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp after its liberation. Confronted with death and suffering and grieving for his young son, who had succumbed to a life-threatening illness while he was in Germany, Rabbi Marcus reached out to his friend Albert Einstein for words of comfort. What Einstein wrote to Rabbi Marcus made such an impression on Naomi Levy, that she committed to a personal exploration of the meaning and purpose of the soul in her book. Here’s part of what Albert Einstein wrote:
A human being is part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us . . .
Until now, I had not thought of Caroline Center’s holistic approach to education and firm belief in the power of education to create a ripple effect of positive change as also a significant opportunity to overcome what Einstein called “the optical delusion of consciousness” – as an opportunity to begin seeing oneself as connected to the universe by knowing how to live a more fully integrated life.
One of Naomi Levy's favorite passages from the Bible is from Psalms - "I called to God from my narrowness, and God answered me with a vast expanse." Especially now, at Easter and Passover time, why not try to reconnect with God’s “answer to us” – with the “vast expanse” of meaning and possibility that beckon us to come out of our narrow places and to see and act with the generosity of spaciousness.
Why would we want to live inside a diorama, “getting worn out in the material world,” when we could “see much clearer” through eyes that truly are windows to the soul?