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To Zen and Back

A pilgrimage to know home for the first time

A Japanese woodcut depicts people crossing a bridge

"A pilgrim sets his or her sight on a place where the veil between the ordinary and the transcendent has been lifted. Each step moves the pilgrim away from the structures that have bound our lives, and each step moves the pilgrim closer to knowing the whole of reality as for the first time."

During my first years of parish ministry, my closest colleague was Rabbi Barry Altman. Rabbi Altman and his wife sent me an invitation to their son’s bar mitzvah. I was honored by the invitation but, never having attended such a ceremony, expected only a prescribed coming-of-age ritual and a party.In the course of the ceremony, the rabbi’s son read from Torah in Hebrew, then translated the passage into English, and finally offered a commentary. The 13-year-old proclaimed that Torah was wrong, that God does not protect the just, nor does God punish evil. We need only remember the Holocaust to recognize this truth, he reminded us. Therefore, the choice of how to live our lives, the choice to do good or ill in the world, belongs entirely to us. There are no external rewards or punishments either here on earth or in an afterlife. Fearing for the Icarus in this young man, I glanced at Rabbi Altman more than once during the service. He beamed with pride. When the commentary was finished, the scrolls were rolled up, fastened with an intricately embroidered cover, and carried around the room. People reached …

Frank Rivas is minister emeritus of the First Unitarian Church of Omaha.

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