A conversation about Jewish wilderness spirituality

By on April 4, 2007


Jackson Hole Jewish Community rabbi and author Mike Comins will read excerpts from his new book “A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism” at a book signing on Thursday. Available on Amazon.com now and in bookstores by the end of the month, the book offers teachings on Jewish theology, spirituality and mysticism and serves as a practical guide for Jewish spirituality in the wilderness.

Jewish wilderness spirituality “is a field that a few of us are developing,” Rabbi Comins said. “It’s actually old – it goes back to the Torah – but it’s new in that the outdoors as a setting for Jewish practice and education is underutilized, particularly for adults. And it’s a pity because the natural world is the best classroom to teach God and prayer.”

Offering a practical base of knowledge for both Jews who are unfamiliar with wilderness and for wilderness-lovers who are unfamiliar with Judaism, the first few chapters discuss the traditional divide between nature and Torah (the Jewish bible), the stereotype of “unnatural” Jew as removed from nature, and the notion of believing versus trusting in God.

Comins also offers a crash course on Jewish mysticism, theology and famous Jewish thinkers who have explored the relationship between humans, nature and God.
In later chapters of the book, Comins provides specific practices, or exercises, that Jews can practice in the wilderness.

Many of the spiritual exercises Comins puts forth are original but adapted from other spiritual practices, such as Meditative Walking (Practice 2), which is a “meditative strategy … to occupy the mind with several simultaneous tasks, all focused on the present … the goal is simply to pay attention to the natural world.”
Another, Go Silently (Practice 1) is a relatively easy first step for wilderness visitors, new or old.

“The old adage says that before one speaks one should listen. In traditional ritual, we almost always open up a book and start talking. The first set of spiritual exercises in the book are about how to listen,” Comins explained. “Anybody can do the same thing they do in a synagogue in a national park. But in the incredible setting of wilderness, one should first listen and orient themselves and really be there.”

Other practices include sense walking, reciting wilderness blessings, saying thanks to the natural world, saying personal blessings and prayers, playing an instrument, keeping a journal, and writing a letter to God, all of which aim to deepen the connection to Jewish wilderness spirituality.

“I’m hoping this book will be read by Jews who love wilderness and feel its sacred character but have no idea how and why that connects to Judaism,” Comins said. “I’m also hoping that Jews who don’t live in Jackson Hole and have no idea what they’re missing, will take an interest and get on the trail.

“Lastly, I think that any spiritual seeker will find useful information in the book,” Comins continued. “It’s a very Jewish book, but the experience of wilderness is a universal experience and while we have to choose one culture and one language over another to express our own spirituality, I think people of other faiths will find the book inspiring and will encourage their own spiritual creativity.”

If you are interested in attending Rabbi Comins’ book signing from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, please call or email the Jackson Hole Jewish Community for details: 734-1999 or info@jhjewishcommunity.org.

About Melanie Stein

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