The Most Important Question

“Because there is no ‘I’, then ‘He’ (God) is not, and all the more so ‘You’ are not.” – Rav Kook Orot HaKodesh

This quote from Rav Kook is part of his commentary on Genesis 3- the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve hear God’s voice and try to hide among the trees. God asks, “Ayeka?” (“Where are you?”) and Adam responds, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, I hid myself.”

During my brief stint as a hospital chaplain I spent many days knocking on hospital doors to see if patients wanted to visit either for conversation, prayer, or simply to have someone sit with them and be present. It’s a scary thing to initiate conversation with a total stranger, not knowing if they are terminally ill, have a broken bone, or are awaiting a life changing diagnosis. My mentor offered the following framework for thinking about our work: Know who you are, know who the other person is, and consider in what ways God may be present.

Whether as hospital chaplains, teachers, or simply as relational beings we must do all that we can to know our “I.” Creating time for reflection, knowing how we’re doing, and “where we are at” increases the likelihood that we can meet others in ways that allow them to be more fully who they are.

Who doesn’t want to be the kind of person that brings out the fullness of others? Knowing the abundant gifts, stories, experiences, wisdom, and humanity that exists in every person, who wouldn’t want to access that richness and help elicit it?

We’ve all spent time with people who have helped us feel fully present. At these times we feel like we have something unique to share with the world. Rav Kook suggests that in order to be this kind of person for others we must know our own “I.”

The casualty of not knowing our own “I” isn’t only that we live in exile from the core of our being, in and of itself diminishing the richness of the world around us. We shut out others and we shut out God.

What’s true of walking into a hospital room is true of walking into a classroom and even walking into a Starbucks. We might not be able to control all the conditions and circumstances of our lives, but we can make sure that we engage deeply with our own “I” and remain closely connected with the core of our being.

One way of staying connected is by asking “Ayeka?” “Where am I?” This question is truly a gift from God.

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