Rabbi Dr. Yosef Glassman has a unique perspective on both healing and spirituality, since he combines the two in his roles as a rabbi and a physician. He divides his time between New York City, the Island, and Israel, treating elderly patients as a geriatric hospitalist. Rabbi Glassman sometimes prescribes medical cannabis for his patients in their treatment plan, he said. He was on the Island for a forum on cancer and cannabis last week.
“Cannabis was highly used in ancient Israel and Chinese medicine as well,” Rabbi Glassman explained. “There are references to cannabis in anointing oil for the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem; some scholars believe the oil was cannabis.”
He says that spirituality and health care go together naturally; patients can be in the unenviable position of considering their own mortality. He wears the garb of a rabbi when he practices medicine, which leads to people bringing up spirituality themselves. “I’d say 80 percent of people want to speak about faith to doctors, but they think they’re only about the rational aspects.
“When you put yourself out there as a person of faith, people open up to that — especially if they’re sick,” Rabbi Glassman said. “They feel comfortable talking about what their fears are. They start to think, What is the purpose of my life?”
We talked about “infinite light” last week. Rabbi Glassman shared his understanding of humanity with me, and we had, at least on my part, a rewarding discussion about the meaning of the universe — a little “light” conversation, you might say.
He said that he thinks most would agree that there’s some kind of infinite, unseen creator.
“Even the Big Bbang theory says there’s an unknown source that created the universe,” he said. “Now, what that is, nobody has any idea. Ultimately when we connect to that infinite creator, we find meaning in life. I try to encourage them [patients] to connect to the infinite light that’s essentially where we’re from. We’re pieces of light, literally, that have turned into a form. If you break it down, we’re still light.”
I asked him if he thinks people these days are searching for meaning, for a deeper understanding as to why we’re all here.
“Yes, I think people are looking for that,” Rabbi Glassman said. “I see it in my day-to-day work. People don’t get satisfaction in physicality; ultimately it’s very fleeting, and not satisfying long-term. The more we delve into spirituality, the more we find it is the infinite happiness. Happiness is essentially an unseen force that is our soul. We’re covered with a shell that brings us down to a physical role that is stifling us. Our soul comes from pure happiness.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., we’re taught to accumulate things, to make money, and we’re taught to believe in things we can see, and those things can be deceiving. “It’s hard to grasp things we can’t see; we gravitate away from things we cannot see. It has to be that we’re all part of the same source,” he said.
We come up with different ways to communicate this, he said, and it doesn’t have to have a name. In most traditions, Rabbi Glassman explained, there’s a very literal teaching that says that God wants you to be happy. He talked about having a personal relationship with that single source, the creator.
“If we love somebody, we focus on the details,” he explained. “If we really love them we might pick out something for them in a favorite color. It’s the same with the infinite creator — the more we love the infinite creator, the more we may want to show the creator more love. We have a personal relationship with that infinite light that can just be.”
How can we communicate with that infinite light?
“I think the best way is to go into the woods and talk directly to that infinite creator like he’s your friend. An intimate conversation between the person and the infinite good,” he said. “Do not expect to hear back in words, but the more one does that, the more one hears back. I think it’s sometimes more powerful than prayer, speaking to that infinite creator as a friend in nature, outside next to the water or in the woods.”
This was no ordinary conversation, so I decided to dig a little deeper, since we were already laying everything out there. I asked the rabbi if there was anything else important to include in whatever I might write.
“There’s a big upheaval in the world right now, and I think I’m confident that what’s about to happen will be a major opening of awareness to the entire world, and we’re all going to finally see what we’ve been waiting for — the ultimate consciousness of the unity of each of us,” he said. “I think we’re coming to that soon, and it’s important to brace for that, and brace for that in a good way. Clinging to the idea of unity and communicating directly with the infinite unity as a friend, not necessarily in a liturgy but connecting and understanding that every person is an expression of that unity. Once we see everybody as a part of that, the whole world will stop. [There will be] a big upheaval of world consciousness, and we have to prepare for that.”
And that was quite a conversation.
The Easter season is just around the corner, so we caught up with some Island churches to see what’s in the works this year.
The First Congregational Church of West Tisbury hosts a Palm Sunday service at 10 am on Sunday, March 25. They host a Tenebrae service and communion on Thursday, March 29, at 7:30 pm, and then a 9 am traditional Easter service in the church sanctuary on Easter Sunday, April 1. There’s a community Easter service at the Agricultural Hall at 11 am with child care and church school, followed by the Easter egg hunt in the Ag Hall field. Again this year, instead of Easter lily donations, the church will ask the congregation for donations in memory or honor of loved ones, with the money going to the Vineyard Committee on Hunger’s Family to Family holiday meal program. Special musical guests violinist Joseph Christianson and cellist Andres Vera, both part of an artist-in-residence program hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society, will be part of the Easter services.
We’ll wait to hear more about another special program the First Congregational Church is offering the weekend after Easter, April 6-7, a special racial justice training titled “From Tolerance to Unity.” Libby Fielder wrote to say, “This training seeks to create a common language around racism, to unmask racism in our lives, and to encourage long-term engagement in racial justice ministry. The eight-hour session, developed by the Massachusetts and Connecticut Conferences of the United Church of Christ, is taught by trained facilitators. The training is open to everyone.” I’m interested to learn more about this event.
Grace Episcopal Church hosts an 8 am holy Eucharist service and a 10 am holy Eucharist with procession of the palms followed by hospitality hour on Palm Sunday, March 25. The Maundy Thursday service to celebrate the Last Supper is at 6 pm on March 29. On Good Friday, March 30, there’s a 12 pm and 6 pm prayer book liturgy. Holy Saturday, March 31, the church hosts an Easter Vigil service at 7 pm with the story of Easter, especially designed for children. They can wear their pajamas and dress warm for an outdoor campfire. Easter Sunday service is at 10 am.
Chilmark Community Church hosts a Palm Sunday service at 9 am on March 25. There’s a sunrise walk from the church to Menemsha Beach at 5:30 am on Easter Sunday, April 1, followed by an Easter sunrise service at the beach at 6:30. Easter breakfast is served back at the church at 7:15 am, and an Easter worship service with Sunday school begins at 9 am, and weather permitting, an egg hunt is planned for 10 am outdoors.
Good Shepherd Parish offers Mass on Holy Thursday, March 29, at 7 pm and a special Good Friday service, March 30, from noon to 3 pm: “The Seven Last Words.” The Stations of the Cross are planned for Good Friday as well, in English at 6 pm and in Portuguese at 7 pm. Easter Vigil Mass takes place at 7:30 pm on Saturday, March 31, all at St. Augustine’s. There’s an Easter Sunday sunrise service at Sheriff’s Meadow Beach at 6:30 am, with 8 and 9:30 am Masses at St. Augustine, and an 11 am Mass at St. Elizabeth’s in Edgartown. A 5 pm Mass will also be celebrated on Easter Sunday at St. Augustine’s.
The Federated Church in Edgartown hosts a Palm Sunday service at 10:30 am on March 25, with the last free lasagna luncheon served from 12:30 to 2 pm that day. A 7 pm service is planned for Maundy Thursday, March 29. On Good Friday, March 30, the church will be open all day, from 9 am to 3 pm. There’s an Easter sunrise service on April 1 at 6:30 am at the parsonage on 75 South Water St., and an Easter service at 10:30 am at the church.