Higher Learning

the spiritual aside
Since we’re all about the relentless pursuit of our own perfection, why limit it to the material world alone? Beyond hobbies and marketable skills lie deeper, more complicated questions. Not the “How do I make wicker furniture?” questions but the “Having learned how to make wicker furniture, how do I find even greater meaning and purpose in my life?” questions. In spite of the city’s overarching mercantile themes, there are a number of places to cultivate your spiritual side as well.

The 92nd Street Y is offering a bit of amnesty for those who’ve made themselves scarce around the synagogue – with no questions asked about where you’ve been since the days of haftarahs and fountain pens. Rabbi David Woznica, the director of the Y’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, teaches a course whose title sums up what many lapsed Jews are already thinking. Why Lead a Jewish Life? is a class about not how to live according to the Jewish tradition but rather the need for such a tradition at all. By looking at such texts as the Ten Commandments, the story of Cain and Abel, and the Torah, Rabbi Woznica hopes to reach “those coming to the tentative conclusion that the secular world may not be able to respond to the deeper questions in life.” And what of those who remain skeptical and unsure of the teachings? Doesn’t the subject matter lead to some heated debate? “I love it,” comments Rabbi Woznica. “I want it. If you walk out of my class saying merely, ‘Hey, that was interesting,’ I’ve failed.”

If you’re finding the New Testament a little, well, old, Dr. Gregory S. Cootsona at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church’s Center for Christian Studies will be more than happy to freshen it up for you in his class Theology Through the Creed: Bringing Belief to Life. For Cootsona, the best way to give an overview of Christian faith is by using the Apostles’ Creed as a lens through which belief can be examined. “The threefold breakdown Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is probably the most widely used in theology, primarily because it offers a clear structure,” he notes. “Each part of the Trinity acts as a magnet for certain issues.” The result is not confined merely to the classroom, or the church. “It’s the kind of thing that would inform one’s life in a total sense,” says Cootsona. “What we’re trying to learn is how to connect what happens on Sunday with what happens on Monday.”

Stress and anxiety are such regular parts of New Yorkers’ lives that many of us simply inure ourselves to them. All of which is fine – if you’re into constant feelings of bitterness and distrust, not to mention ulcers. If you’re not, you really should visit Thomas Amelio at the New York Open Center. Amelio’s class, Self-Inquiry Meditation: Uncovering Your Real Nature, is a bit different from the standard repertoire of chants and breathing exercises that often characterize meditation. “Meditation doesn’t necessarily get underneath the idea of who you are,” notes Amelio. “Self-inquiry asks, ‘Who are you?’ If you’re feeling fear, who’s afraid?” Amelio notes that such an approach is particularly well suited for city residents. “New Yorkers are so sharp-minded and inquisitive that self-inquiry is a very good fit for them. You’re meditating, but the mind is being used to look at its own self. It’s like using a thief to catch a thief.”

“Why Lead a Jewish Life? The Unique Values of Judaism,” nine sessions, Mondays beginning October 11, 6:15 to 7:30 p.m.; $75. 92nd St. Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue (996-1100).

“Theology Through the Creed: Bringing Belief to Life,” five sessions, Sundays beginning November 7, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.; $15. Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, 7 West 55th Street (247-0490).

“Self-Inquiry Meditation: Uncovering Your Real Nature,” six sessions, Wednesdays beginning April 7, 6 to 7:30 p.m.; $135. New York Open Center, 83 Spring Street (219-2527).

Written by Maura Egan, Sam Grobart, Logan Hill, Tim Hodler, Boris Kachka, Brett Kelly, Erika Kinetz, Nick Meyer, Anna Rachmansky, and Michael Steele.

Higher Learning