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Excerpted from God at the Edge by Niles Goldstein. Copyright 2000 by Niles Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 


"My own experience with spirituality has taken place not only in synagogues and through holy books, but in dogsleds, squad cars, and cyberspace."

Niles Goldstein, God at the Edge, Part 2

Nietzsche warns us, "If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." But there can be darkness without doom. The edge does not have to lead to nihilism. If we are careful, it is possible to recognize, accept, even grow from spirituality's borderlands without being consumed by them. As a seminarian and now as a young rabbi, I have never been drawn to the religious center, but I am not alone. I am just one link in a very long chain of spiritual malcontents, a chain that extends into our own time. Historically, when the mainstream has been stunted, many have looked to the fringes for their spiritual life.

We have alternative medicine and alternative music. Why not alternative religious expression? In an age when religion has been deconstructed and decentralized, I have started to construct the religious life and lifestyle that I know I will need in order to heed my particular calling: a rabbinate on the edge. In a way, the reshaping of religion in America has opened up new doors for the clergy. Our career paths are no longer spelled out for us in advance. We can work in a variety of noncongregational settings and hold a range of professional positions that those who came before us could never have thought possible. There are hospital pastors, campus ministers, television preachers, and a host of other career options. None of them have appealed to me. So I have tried to go a step further. I have tried to take my faith to the frontier.

In the past, men and women found God -- and their particular spiritual expressions -- in bushes that burned, valleys of shadows, and dens of lions. Some communed with the divine on the peaks of mountains. Others had mystical encounters in prison cells. Itinerant rabbis and explorer priests followed their callings to remote shtetls and uncharted villages. Some found the fullest manifestation of their faith through solitude, hunger, or other forms of denial. Some even found it through death and martyrdom. I understand the impulse toward the edge. My own experience with spirituality has taken place not only in synagogues and through holy books, but in dogsleds, squad cars, and cyberspace. It has taken me to the tundra of Alaska and the steppes of Central Asia. Existential struggle, not equanimity, has been the impetus for my quest, a quest that has uncovered the divine image within me but also brought me face-to-face with my inner darkness and demons.

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