Faith has its own momentum. I was never good at high school physics, but the power of centripetal and centrifugal forces intrigue me. To define these terms in the crudest of ways: centripetal force is exerted on an object pulling it towards a center point – inward. For example, the Earth’s gravity tugs on the Moon to draw it closer. Countering this, centrifugal force directs the Moon’s rotational inertia away from the Earth. These inward and outward forces must remain in balance for the Moon to orbit our planet.
If I say any more, I will be guaranteed to bore you and outstrip my basic knowledge of this science. Yet, I have experienced these same inward and outward forces of faith.
Inward (centripetal): Faith draws me to create communities which are, in part, inward focused. Through sharing ritual and philosophic commonalities like keeping kosher, praying, and studying, we knit ourselves together. These rituals increase our mindfulness of our actions and thoughts and create a framework for faith. When Rebekah and I lived at the Jewish Theological Seminary, we felt the embrace of the community as people explored living an intense life of faith – ritually and spiritually. Shabbat shaped our time, people became more reflective of their interactions, and forthcoming with their spiritual questions. It was an environment for tremendous personal growth. It became an incubator for our faith.
The caution of faith’s inward force is that it can lead us to overly narrow our community. Untempered, centripetal faith may lead to cloistering ourselves from the larger community. I have seen people separate themselves from friends and family in the name of faith.
This powerful religious inward focus must be countered by the equally strong outward force of faith.
Outward (centrifugal): Energized and grounded by faith, I am propelled into the world.
Aware of Judaism’s nexus of ritual discipline and prophetic action, faith drives me outward.
Isaiah’s words inspire me to act beyond myself – “share your food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, clothe them” (Is 58:7). Jews commonly call the centrifugal force of faith tikkun olam. The caution with faith’s outward force is when in the name of ‘doing good,’ we becomes untethered from its source.
These intertwined forces, centripetal and centrifugal, must exist in balance. If faith only draws us inward then we will live in myopic isolation. If faith only pushes us outward, we become increasingly distant from our core – Judaism. How are you negotiating these forces in your life?
Balancing the centripetal (inward) and centrifugal (outward) forces of faith puts me in a solid orbit.