Tuesday, March 9, 2010


In my quest to find books to help my spiritual and emotional growth--and especially ones from non-Buddhist framework, since I have become so beholden to that view point (see my last post for more on this)--I was poking around the library and found My Grandfather's Blessings, by Rachel Naomi Remen. Actually, I was looking for it, because I had seen it somewhere and thought I should read it.

This truly is a work about blessings and blessing the world. Three of the sections are entitled: 'Receiving Your Blessings', 'Becoming a Blessing', and 'The Web of Blessings'. The remaining three sections are: 'Finding Strength, Finding Refuge', 'Befriending Life', and 'Restoring the World'. This is a book about the work that each of us needs to do to help the healing of the world, but it is also a book about the need for each of us to appreciate ourselves and our worth; appreciating the blessings we have, as we ourselves become a blessing.

It's a book of stories, some of them about the author's grandfather, an orthodox rabbi and scholar of the Kabbalah, but more of them about the author's life and about people she has met through her medical practice. In many of these stories, she develops the idea of service.

There was a point when I was with radical groups who contrasted social service with 'real' social change. I have come to believe that all real service is social change. We need those who think about and strategize and work for social change, but we also need those who simply do lovely things for other people and for the world. I most appreciate those who do service while holding the clear necessity for change--for example, groups like the Catholic Workers and Food Not Bombs.

The first story in the book is about the author at four years old being told by her grandfather that she needed to water a cup of dirt every day. She didn't understand and did it only because she had to, but she did it. A few weeks later, when a green thing emerged and grew leaves, she was astonished. Her grandfather told her that life is hidden everywhere. "And all it needs is water, Grandpa?" "No, Neshume-la. ...All it needs is your faithfulness."

The world certainly needs us. It needs us to restore and heal it. It needs our faithfulness.

I realized as I was halfway through this book, what I wanted to do was read the whole book and then start over and read it again. I have found the stories profound, inspiring, and thought-provoking. And, in spite of Rachel Remen's orthodox grandfather and socialist parents and medical background, there is Buddhism in this book--and Catholicism as well. She draws from many spiritual traditions and many people's stories to create a framework that transcends them all. Just being of service, she points out, is being a blessing. As the author says, "Service is not the attribute of any one religion any more than holiness is. Many of those who serve have no formal religion, while others follow any one of the many religious traditions on the face of this earth. All are a blessing to life."

Quote of the Day: "...every act of service bears witness to the possibility of freedom for us all." - Rachel Naomi Remen

No comments: