Sunday, May 15, 2016

We Are Alive!

I learned of the classic Hasidic concept of chiut in a very modern way…

I recently attended a Dances of Universal Peace Retreat led by Sára Rain and Jon Stevens. These dances are a moving meditation that combine simple steps with sacred chants from various spiritual traditions. I had been particularly moved by one of dances, though, weeks later I could remember none of the words, only that they celebrated God living through our lives. I emailed Sára, who easily supplied the lyrics.

Googling informed me that the dance, I Am Alive!, was created by the late Rabbi David Zeller, an internationally known teacher, musician and mystic. Following another link, I arrived at the website of Rabbi Josh Jacobs~Velde, who identified the dance's words as coming from the 18th Century Hassidic text known as the Meor Eynaim, by Menachem Nachum. Jacobs~Velde then introduced me to the concept of chiut embodied in the song.

While chiut’s root means “alive”, Jacobs~Velde shares its deeper message of the “continuous emanation of Divine energy…from the most hidden reaches of Divinity. Chiut…vivifies and enlivens creation.” He describes the term as an attempt to capture the concept of Divine Immanence, that palpable, “subtly pulsating aliveness” of God that is present in each moment and fuels all existence.

Modern humans tend to see a world divided into discreet, independent parts. With even the slightest experience of chiut, that illusion begins to fall away.

I return now to the massive hall of our Retreat’s mountain lodge. Sixty women and men hold hands in a large circle. The musicians at the center launch into the peppy and distinctively Middle Eastern melody as we begin to weave around them.

The song opens with a series of celebratory lai, lai, lais, and repetitions of the simple but joyous words, “I am alive!” Next comes the sung query, “But who is this aliveness that I am?” which is followed by “Could it be…(long pause)…the Holy Blessed One!

We dance for easily 15 minutes, likely longer, in a repetitious twining of melody, words, and simple steps, with spins and bows to ever~changing partners. The effect is profound. Jacobs~Velde writes, “If the veils of seemingly solid material reality were pulled back, the separate~seeming individuality of a created thing would completely recede.” That is what it felt like. 

Of course I still knew we were sixty human beings of diverse backgrounds, with personalities that might mesh well or not in daily life. But what became much more compelling was the vivifying essence shining through us all. In the words of the 19th Century Russian Rabbi Shneur Zalman, we were given an experience of “the chiut…that is flowing into each created thing from the Divine mouth and breath.

For the mystic, God is not out there, hidden in some ancient text, or found by following a set of rules offered by others. God is right here, as close as our thrumming hearts, and continuously breathing us into existence.

So, if you feel so inclined, pause now. Become quiet. Can you feel it, that pulsating aliveness at your core? And who is this aliveness that you are? “Could it be…(long pause)…the Holy Blessed One!


Leia Marie

To read Rabbi Jacobs~Velde's words on chiut, referencing its connection to both the ancient Chinese concept of chi and the cutting edge theories from Quantum Mechanics, click here.

And while the I Am Alive! dance on this video has uncharacteristic breaks between the repetitions and only includes three, rather than the umpteen we did, you'll get a feel for the dance by clicking here.