The Bible is a big book with big ideas and even bigger ideals. I admit to being addicted to reading it. I have made a career of commenting on what I read, and interpreting it for the modern reader. I find the Bible infinitely compelling, fascinating, enlightening, and annoying.
Compelling because the stories contain the universal elements of the human drama. Fascinating because so many of its insights are both old and incredibly relevant. Enlightening because there are truths mentioned in the Bible that remove the shutters of my narrow egoic self and let in the light of God that is spacious Self. And annoying because for all of this the Bible also contains some of the most misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic, and ethically primitive ideas ever invented.
For many people the latter renders the Bible useless. They focus on the worst material and ignore the best. This is like my refusing to read Shakespeare because I find the anti-Semitism of the Merchant of Venice insulting. If I only read or learned from those books and authors with whom I agreed one hundred percent I wouldn’t read anything. Not even my own books, as I tend to change my mind over time and don’t always agree with what I said in the past.
Unlike the Bible, Ordinary Mystics is a series of short posts with very few ideas. It is meant to be understood without breaking an intellectual sweat. I want you to find the suggestions offered in this book either so compelling that you will do them, or so absurd that you will ignore them. What I don’t want is for you to agonize over them.
You have enough to agonize over. You have enough problems and challenges in your life. And even though most of these are of your own making, I have no desire to add to them. On the contrary, I wrote these posts because I believe that if you take them seriously you will find a method for letting go of lots of the problems that plague you.
The connection between the big ideas of the Bible and the small ideas of Ordinary Mystics is that the latter come from the former. This is a book all about one idea found in the Bible, the idea of the Nazirite.
A Nazirite is a person who dedicates a certain portion of her life to God and godliness. It might be a day, a week, or a month. The rules of the Nazirite are simple: abstain from wine, don’t cut your hair, and avoid dead bodies. Or as I prefer to put it: “No bars, no barbers, no morgues.”
Understanding the implications of becoming a Nazirite and learning how to live by these three rules for a period of time is what the next few posts are all about. There is nothing special about this. Very simple, really. Unlike most of the rituals in the Hebrew Bible, taking the Nazirite Vow is almost a do-it-yourself venture. You get to apply the three abstentions to your life, rather than mold your life to the abstentions.
Because of, rather than despite, its free-flowing nature, I believe that taking the Nazirite Vow can be one of the most powerful and personally transformative acts you will ever do in your entire life. A huge claim for a blog, I know. But there it is.
What I want to do with the Ordinary Mystics posts is explore the nature of the Nazirite Vow and how to adapt it to your life. In so doing I will do what I have always done with biblical texts and teachings: lift them out of their historical context and see what they have to say to us here and now.
Therefore I am not overly concerned with history, traditional commentary, or convention views of Judaism, whether orthodox or liberal. What concerns me is the potential for the contemporary practice of taking the Nazirite Vow to bring an ever-deepening spiritual awareness to people who imagine their current life situations to preclude this kind of deepening.
The Nazirite Vow is for students, householders, parents, married, and singles—anyone whose life is so busy that going off on a spiritual retreat is a seeming impossibility. While I am a great supporter of retreating from the world now and again, and a huge fan of solitude (I spend most of my days happily alone), I recognize the fact that for many a weeklong retreat is just not in the cards. Taking the Nazirite Vow is not about retreating from your life, but engaging every aspect of it with a heightened sense of purpose.
A Nazirite is an ordinary mystic, meeting the everyday obligations of her normal life. A Nazirite is what my friend and teacher Brother Wayne Teasdale calls being a monk in the world. This is what makes this little known aspect of Jewish teaching so powerful. It is as if it were tailor-made for our hectic lifestyles.
If you read these posts and find the idea of becoming a Nazirite worthy of your time, give it a shot, and tell us how it went via the Comments section of the blog.