March 11, 2022 / 8 Adar II, 5782
Gracias a Dios
opening to life
This week, we begin the third Book of the Torah, Vayikra (Leviticus). As with all Five Books of the Torah, the first parashat of each Book is given the same name as the whole Book. The Book of Vayikra describes, in detail, various sacred laws and observances to lift up the holiness of all that is Divine. It is all about being in intimate relationship with all that is divine and holy. This first portion concerns all of the conditions around offering sacrifices.
San Josecita, Osa Peninsula
I did not grow up feeling a connection with God. In fact, I railed against the very notion of a Supreme Being well into my adult life. For me, “God” seemed to be a big distraction and a huge obstacle to really connecting with all that is sacred in the world.
When crafting interpretations of Hebrew blessings, prayers, haggadot, ketubot, my children’s B’nai Mitzvah services, and all kinds of Jewish rituals, I have been adamant about leaving out the name of God (in English) altogether. Over time, though, I have come to use words like divine (sometimes I even capitalize it!), Source of Life, and the cosmos to describe that feeling of intimate connection with all that is sacred and holy. I must confess, however, that the word “God” (in English) still challenges me.
Although I have heard many people say “Gracias a Dios” throughout my life, somehow, living in Costa Rica these last seven months has opened me up to a deeper, spiritual experience of this common but sincere expression used all the time here. Although “Gracias a Dios” literally does mean “Thanks to God,” it doesn’t really have the same ring of Divinity to it in English.
But here in Costa Rica, when someone is asked “Cómo está?” they will almost always respond “Gracias a Dios.”
“I’m fine” is never the first response to the question “Cómo está?” It is just not the custom here to respond directly to a question without first acknowledging the Divine gift of being granted this day, this moment, this material object, this personality trait, this capability or talent, this insight, this understanding … there is a sincere belief that all of it is God-given, and to claim otherwise would just be an act of arrogance and a demonstration of ignorance.
The truly amazing aspect is that this “Gracias a Dios” is not offered in an off-handed way. At least, that is not how I hear it. I receive it as a mindfulness bell to return to the Divine, to return to all that is sacred and holy. To remember that nothing exists outside of the realm of the Divine.
And am I finding myself talking and feeling this way, too. When someone asks me how life is going, how I’m feeling … my first response now is “Gracias a Dios.” When someone observes how lucky I am to be on this journey, my sincere response is “Gracias a Dios.” And the really surprising part is … Now I truly believe it!
From the start of this Shmitah journey, I have not had any particular goal in mind. Not consciously. I have just been putting one foot in front of the other and saying “yes” to whatever has been offered. I knew I wanted to make the care of my physical body and my well-being my highest priority—and to be guided by the needs of my body—but, beyond that, I had no plans. “Mi vida esta abierta!” My life is open, I have been telling people.
At first, it can be hard for many people I meet here (or maybe anywhere!) to grasp that I am committed to a journey but I am not sure exactly where I am heading. It recently occurred to me that I could simply say: “No sé a dónde voy, pero sé que Dios lo sabe”. (I don’t know where I’m going, but I know that God knows.) And everyone (including me) seems completely satisfied with that explanation. I am letting myself feel guided by the Divine and trusting in the journey. And that pretty much ends any further questioning.
On this Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbes of Rememberance (one of thirteen special Shabbatot on the Hebrew calendar), I am remembering everything I do not yet know. I am remembering that even to remember can be a path to the Divine.
I am feeling my limbs and all of my body parts—all the members of my body—falling into place in new and sometimes surprising ways. I am re-membering, re-meeting my body and my Shmitah journey in a Divine light. I am open to the path forward even though I cannot yet discern exactly what that is. And I can say, in all seriousness, sólo Dios sabe (only God knows).
And although I still can’t quite get there in English—to express my gratitude to God–it rolls easily off my lips in Spanish … Gracias a Dios.