On a recent trip to Chicago, we visited the Botanical Gardens, one of the largest in the country and a destination that I had been wanting to visit for years. As we meandered through the colorful flowers, trees, and winding pathways, I was struck by the beauty and enchantment of nature. The weather was delightful, if a bit brisk for this Floridian, yet, I relished the crispness of the air and the cool breeze tempered by the sun’s rays on my face.
My husband and I had been walking for close to an hour when I hesitated before asking him a question that I already knew the answer to. You see, my husband is a Western-trained physician and a self-professed atheist. I, on the other hand am a rabbi and life-time spiritual seeker. We have often been described as the perfect yin-yang, his yin to my yang. Over the years, this dichotomy has been a struggle and yet, we have always found ways to support and respect each other, despite our vastly different orientations. With such a history, you probably wonder why I would ask the question that I did and to if I’m honest, I’m secretly hope that one day, my husband’s perspective will broaden.
Optimistically, I looked at my husband and asked, “Do you feel the energy of the trees?”
“Do you even understand what I’m asking when I say that? You know, do you feel the essence of the trees or do you just appreciate nature for nature’s sake?”
“I appreciate nature.”
“Hmmm…that’s nice…so, I guess you don’t feel the energy of the trees. You know what I mean right? Their essence, the energy that flows through them?
“Yes, I know what you mean and no. But, I appreciate nature; The energy that you think you feel is simply a human construct. You can’t feel it.”
Trying to not feel hurt or disappointed, I smiled and responded, “Well, you are certainly entitled to hang onto your faulty beliefs,” following my words with a big grin.”
We both laughed and that was that. Or so I thought.
A few seconds passed and I ran over to take a picture next to a beautiful tree that caught my attention. Gently, I wrapped my arms around the tree’s large circumference, unable to fully connect them. My husband snapped a couple of photos and I heard him say, “You’re gonna love this one.”
Curious and excited, I ran over to see what he was referring to and the photo took my breath away. I honestly had never seen anything like it. Before I could get too excited, he blurted out, “It’s not what you think, it’s the sun’s reflection off a piece of glass. I saw it happening when I took the picture; I just knew that you’d really like it.”
He was right. “Oh my god! That photo is full of so much energy!” As I saw both myself and the tree surrounded by multi-colored orbs, I had a hard time believing it was just physics at play.
Grinning even wider this time, I winked, whispering to my husband, “Maybe this was the tree’s answer to my question about the energy?” I knew eye-rolling would follow. With deep understanding for this thirty-year old dance, we simply smiled at each other, acknowledging another conversation divided between science and spirit.
A few days later, when I showed several of my soul sisters the photo, they all agreed that it–unequivocally–was the energy of the trees and/or the non-physical spirit world surrounding me. One friend, another physician, who has independent friendships with both my husband and I, summed it up best, “Yeah, it might be the sun’s reflection, but it’s hard to deny there might be something else going on there.”
We each get to choose how we experience life–some of us are more prone to a scientific perspective, while others feel more comfortable with a spiritual outlook. For me, while my default mode is toward the spiritual, I strive to find the balance between the two. Perhaps it was the sun’s reflection that enabled those beautiful, oblong orbs to surround me and the tree? Or maybe through science we are gifted with glimpses into the invisible world that we do not ordinarily see? Might the spirit world provide us with guidance and lessons that allow us to experience life in a way that science cannot? I have come to learn that if we only use one modality, we limit ourselves to the richness that life offers.
Jewish tradition teaches, “ein od milvado,” there is nothing but God. God permeates all of existence which to me, means that the differing beliefs that we espouse are also part of God’s Oneness. After more than thirty years of being together with my husband, I have learned to embrace both/and in favor of either/or. Although, we each clasp tightly onto our own belief systems, all of them are part of the Great Mystery.
So, what about those colorful spectacles of light?
Was it science? spirit? or both?
I’ll let you decide.
Amy Grossblatt Pessah is a rabbi, author, spiritual director and mom. She received her MAJE from HUC-JIR and her semicha from Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Amy has recently published her first book, Parenting on a Prayer: Ancient Jewish Secrets for Raising Modern Children. Her work has been featured in The Forward, Kveller, and Ritualwell. Amy lives in Florida with her husband; they are the proud parents of three young adults. Find her at A Soulful Journey.