Developing a “Sacred Arts” Practice

This week’s post is by Kohenet Ketzirah Lesser (HaMa’agelet), founder of Devotaj Sacred Arts in Washington DC.

More than 15 years ago, I started a blog called Peeling a Pomegranate because I was returning to Judaism and excited about aspects of Judaism that I’d never been taught and that I’d never heard anyone talk about – but was now learning.  I started the blog in the hopes that there were actually other folks out there exploring what I was exploring and the maybe they would find me. And it worked.

Just over three years ago, I ended the experiment that was Peeling a Pomegranate and founded Devotaj Sacred Arts.  I took those 15ish years of learning and experimenting, along with my training as a Kohenet and training from a variety of other sources, to offer something both fresh and ancient.  In no way is what I’m up to ”Jewish lite;” it’s a redefinition of what an active Jewish practice can look like and the tools and structures to support that.  It’s an evolution beyond the concept of ”observant,” as defined by Orthodox Jews, into an active, progressive Jewish spiritual practice.

In particular, I found that the work of Devotaj Sacred Arts aligns clearly with three pillars that Rabbi Sid presents and one that did not make the essay but appears in later presentations of this framework.

  • Chochma/Wisdom || Divination
  • Yetzira: ability to imagine/invent/create || Cræftwork
  • Kedusha/Lives of Sacred Purpose || Ceremony

Chochma/Wisdom  || Divination

Within the Devotaj Sacred Arts framework, we begin with Divination — sacred listening.  This may include tools like meditation, cartomancy, or bibliomancy — but it also may include diving into sacred texts and listening to, and unpacking the wisdom of, our ancestors.  An appellation that I love is ”cosmic reference librarian,” because I adore diving into what someone might think is dry and dusty and helping them understand the richness and juiciness of it.  In particular, right now we are developing a new approach to mussar practice that is infused with the wisdom of the Kohenet community, earth-based Judaism, and embodied spiritual practices to help introduce a whole new group of people to the wisdom of mussar.

Yetzira: Imagine/Invent/Create || Cræftwork

The second aspect of the Devotaj Sacred Arts framework is Cræftwork, channeling sacred messages into tangible form.  This is where we take the wisdom gleaned in our divination work and transform it for sharing with others.  This can take the form of dance, baking, shrines, shiviti, amulets, painting, writing, gardening, and on and on.  We encourage people to discover the cræftz that best align with their skills, vision, and the wisdom they are trying to impart to themselves and others.

Kedusha/Lives of Sacred Purpose || Ceremony

The final aspect of the Devotaj Sacred Arts framework is ceremony. Something that differentiates a practitioner of the sacred arts from a crafter, artist or artisan, is the aspect of ceremony.  For some, this may take the form of blessing or setting sacred intention prior to beginning the cræftwork. For others, it may come at the end as they ”power up” their creation. And for some, it maybe from beginning to end.  It is this aspect of ceremony that transforms the everyday into something with sacred purpose.

For these three elements to be fully integrated, I find that I need the other two aspects of Rabbi Sid’s framework: Kehilla(Community) and Tzedek (Pursuing Justice/Peace).

Explorers or practitioners of the sacred arts, especially within Judaism, may feel (or be) very isolated, so it is vital that people feel supported in the doing and receiving of the work. This is where community comes in. Providing connections to others, frameworks for community development, and especially by encouraging radical collaboration with the human and non-human world in all the work we do.

Lastly, Tzedek is the implicit purpose of the work. For Devotaj Sacred Arts, I understand Tzedek as Tikkun — co-creating the world with the Divine so it continues to move towards a more just society for all. In the end, that is what I hope practitioners of the sacred arts commit to in their creations.

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Kohenet Ketzirah Lesser (HaMa’agelet), founder of Devotaj Sacred Arts, is a maker and teacher of the sacred arts.  She was part of the first cohort to receive ordination as a Kohenet, and was also ordained as a Celebrant of Becoming, a spiritual community she co-led in Washington DC from 2002-2012.