on nachman’s narrow bridges


there is not a thing we can know about god, but we can still talk to her. how do we talk to god? by the embrace of all beings.

rebbe nachman of bratzlav famously said: “the world is a very narrow bridge. the main principle and most important thing is never to be afraid”. existential fear is the only mystery of human life i cannot comprehend nor overcome. never to be afraid seems like the most unreasonable of demands. it is almost as puzzling as nachman’s other famous teaching: “it is a great commandment to be always joyous.” joy cannot be commanded. the opposite of joy is not sadness, it is fear. to be both joyous and fearful is the most basic of human conditions. without joy we have no peace, without fear we have no joy.

“by the ‘narrow ridge’, said martin buber, “i mean that i do not rest on the broad upland of a system that includes a series of sure statements about the absolute, but on a narrow rocky ridge between the gulfs where there is no sureness of expressible knowledge but the certainty of meeting what remains undisclosed…the narrow ridge is the place where i and thou meet.” the place where i and thou meet is the place where god is.

to that previous thought, buber added the necessary conclusion about the differences between belief and faith: “i know no cogent proof of god’s existence. if one were to exist, there would no longer be any difference between faith and unbelief; the risk of faith would not longer exists. i have dared to believe – not on the basis of arguments, and i cannot bolster my faith by arguments. i have no metaphysics on which to establish my faith, i have created none for myself, i do not desire any, i need none, i am not capable of one…i gave my faith-experience the conceptual expression necessary for its being understood, but i posit no metaphysical thesis.” whatever it is “of god in us” as the quakers say, or whatever we find deep and deeper within us that is ineffable, whatever “that” is, the most important thing is that it be manifested in our reaching out in dialogue to one being.

i have argued about myself that i am a man of faith, but i do not believe. just to be able to even utter the word “god” it takes an enormity of intellectual and emotional recklessness, let alone make claims as to god’s nature and intentionality. the only thing that remains open is our ability to respond to god’s presence, and we can only do so by being present in the embrace of the other. as buber stated it: “the world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”


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