There is a beautiful parable in the story of Jesus that takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane that we visited today. The story goes that during Jesus’ celebration of Passover as he and his disciples are drinking the four cups of wine, sharing the matzah and eating the maror at their Seder, he leaves the table to go pray in the Garden. There, the very human Jesus who has foreseen the future that will follow his Last Supper, asks God to “remove this cup” from him. I imagine him crying that he is not ready. He is not prepared. He is not the one. Someone else should be chosen for this. He won’t be able to go through with it.
It is often when the mind comes to an impossible dead-end, when there is no way out, and no more explanations to be had, that something is released, something snaps. That something that falls away is the self’s illusion of control and, with it, the beginning of the dissolution of the self itself. Jesus arrives at that realization when he eventually comes to see the futility of his request that God “remove this cup” from him. He surrenders to the inevitable, he surrenders to “what is” and lets go of his need for this moment, for his life unfolding, to be any different than it is. In that place of realization, he exclaims: “Not mine but Your Will be done!” Now I don’t know what the original Hebrew or Aramaic would have been, but I hear in his declaration Joseph’s declaration to Pharaoh just before he interprets Pharaoh’s dreams: ‘Biladai – Without me/without a ‘me’, I am just an empty channel through which God will interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.” Here, too, Jesus may be saying “Biladai, Ken Yehi Ratzon. – I am empty of self, Thy Will be done/I realize that I am empty of self, and that all there is unfolding in Creation is Your Will, including my life path. I am not in charge nor have I ever been in control.”
All the spiritual traditions the world over have a version of this story, even the 12 Steps of Recovery speak of our powerlessness and invite their practitioners to “let go and let God.” One of the reasons is that this teaching, this realization, is the first required step on the journey toward enlightenment. Yet, at this time in our nation’s history when we are asked to step up and take a stand, the Truth of this teaching might look like an abdication of responsibility. If all is God’s Will, then I can just sit back and watch the world’s story unfold before my eyes. But that would be missing the point that the Gethsemane encounter is making. In the garden, Jesus was bearing witness to his own agony, to his own inner resistance while at the same time contemplating the magnitude of history in his story. In that place of witnessing all that was arising in that moment, the inner turmoil and the historical unfolding, he sourced in the silence of the heart what God was moving through him to do. He dissolved his resistances and surrendered into the flow of Divine unfolding. He grabbed ahold of that metaphorical cup again and forged ahead. Had he followed his own will he might have gone home to Nazareth and, who knows, try his hand at carpentry and live to a ripe old age. Surrendering to God’s Will, he stepped into a story bigger than himself even if that meant he would be suffer an agonizing death.
On my personal small scale, I find myself pacing back and forth in my own metaphorical garden of Gethsemane. There is great turmoil within since November 8. I sense the historical unfolding around me, and many competing voices swirl in my consciousness with conflicting messages from “go home and try carpentry” to “grab onto that cup and run with it.” I feel I need to wait a while longer and find my “Biladai” moment in the silence of the heart. Maybe this journey through Israel came at the right time to help me just do that. Ken Yehi Ratzon.