Niles Elliot Goldstein, the founding rabbi of The New Shul in New York City's Greenwich Village, writes: "Reality can be messy, and it can frequently force us to reduce our expectations and rein in our hopes. Not everyone can find spiritual fulfillment in a place that feels inviting and safe, like a self-help book or a house of worship. There is a long history of people discovering God in unexpected, unusual, sometimes even uncomfortable contexts. It can occur in a place of darkness, at the edge."
The author begins this spiritual adventure story with an account of a night spent in jail. It woke him up to the important role imprisonment and descent into the abyss have played in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Goldstein loves to test his spiritual mettle on a vision quest in the wilderness, dogsledding above the Arctic Circle, and traveling the Silk Road in Central Asia without a visa on a mission of mercy. He also describes a journey to Nepal with his father; his experiences with DEA agents in the South Bronx while serving as the National Jewish Chaplain for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association; and his response to the questions asked by seekers when he was rabbi of a cybersynagogue.
On the edge, yes, definitely so. Goldstein takes his cues from "a very long chain of spiritual malcontents" Jewish and Christian mystics whose faith was forged in the midst of suffering, darkness, and dread. The author writes forcefully about St. John of the Cross, Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, Soren Kierkegaard, and Jonathan Edwards.
Admitting his disdain for the "warm and fuzzy approach to spirituality," Goldstein is a stern advocate of asceticism, the fear of God, the dark night of the soul, the epiphanies of the natural world, sacrifice, and discipline as "tools for interior transformation." These alternative paths to God, as he calls them, can engender a genuine sense of awe, reverence, and devotion for "the Great Other."