Barbara Boyk Rust: Spiritual Leader and Teacher

BBRustBarbara Boyk Rust was one of AARC’s founding members.  Eighteen months ago, she was ordained as a spiritual teacher and leader by a Bet Din of four leaders.  Her approach to Jewish observance centers around meditation and sacred chant.  Along with member Allison Stupka, Barbara will be leading our Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday, December 18, at 6:30. Here, Barbara shares with the community some of her thoughts about her recent ordination process:

What prompted you to undertake the process of ordination? What was the preparation like?

Before moving further into spiritual leadership I needed the review and affirmation of others whom I hold as teachers, mentors and guides.  I needed them to say either “yes” or “no” to my sense of being called to teach and lead in a spiritual context.

Early rabbinic ordination, smicha or smichut l’rabanut, involved the laying on of hands from one rabbi to the next.  Some of the meanings of smicha are to rely on, or to be authorized.  Though I am following a unique path, it did not feel appropriate to me to take further steps authorized by myself alone.  Using a template similar to the origins of Jewish rabbinic ordination I held myself accountable to those who teach me and those whom I serve for recognition, validation and affirmation of this step of my journey as a spiritual leader and teacher.

Part of what I shared with them was the story of my journey, recapped briefly here:

I have been pursuing my spiritual path consciously since my mid-teens.  For more than half my life now, individuals, families and communities have asked me to serve as creator, facilitator and leader of holiday and life cycle celebrations.  Long ago, Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi said something to the effect of, ‘if 200 people think you’re a rabbi, you’re a rabbi.’  While I met that criteria long ago, I decided not to complete rabbinic training through the Aleph Rabbinic Program though I was enrolled in it for some years while I completed an interdisciplinary doctorate at The University of Michigan in Higher Education and Clinical Psychology.

While pursuing my Ph.D., I consistently offered spiritual programs in our community.  Once my doctorate was finished I came to a difficult discernment—that rather than pursue rabbinic studies formally, it was more essential for me to live the teachings and practices in meditation, sacred chant and embodiment that I had been pursuing since the mid-1980s.

I continued my studies outside of formal rabbinic ordination in a variety of ways.  Since 2001, I have worked with Thomas Atum O’Kane.  Atum is a spiritual teacher whose work integrates the mysticisms of the west in the frame of transpersonal psychology.  That means we engage with spiritual practices of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the frame of reference of the evolution and development of human consciousness.  One of Atum’s core teachers was Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, z”l, someone with whom I had also studied many times since 1988.  Working with Atum I felt a strong connection to Reb Zalman’s lineage.  The support and substance of this link to Jewish spirituality enabled me to open to the other parts of Atum’s curricula with depth and confidence that the values and meanings that I hold dear would be likewise held with respect and honor.

Another step for me was being part of the first cohort of Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Kol Zimra chant leadership training program from 2004-2006.  I began practice of sacred chant in the 1980’s and studied with Rabbi Shefa Gold many times as well as with others in the Jewish Renewal community, Hanna Tiferet Siegel, Linda Hirschhorn, Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank z”l, Rabbi Gershon Winkler, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi David and Shoshanah Cooper among them.  The Kol Zimra training provided more direction in leadership and a community of sacred chant leaders with whom to learn and grow.

Now, I have a calling to develop my spiritual work further.  The ordination I received 18 months ago derived from my need to codify and to receive acknowledgment and validation for the path of spirituality and leadership that I have taken. In the last few years I have moved from learning from others and using their guidance to help hone my path to creating melodies, chant and meditation practices, all means by which to further spiritual connection and sharing these offerings in circles in our community.   For example, I have developed a series of embodied meditation practices for each parasha of the Torah.

Experience is so deeply personal on the spiritual journey.  It can be difficult to adequately discern when something is for oneself and when it is to be shared with others.  I felt a strong need for honored elders and leaders to evaluate my journey and my offerings.  I wanted their assessment of the spiritual utility to others of the deeply personal creations that are flowing within me.

Over the course of 10 months in 2013-14, I prepared for a public Beit Din or Wisdom Council consisting of senior spiritual teachers; Atum anchored the council that also included Bernie Coyne, Mary Grannan and Rabbi Michal Woll.  They assessed me through discussion and reading lengthy essays I wrote about my journey.  Then we met in public forum with about 50 witnesses for an oral inquiry and review of my intent and purpose.  Their laying on of hands in blessing formalized my taking on the title of spiritual teacher and leader.

What is something you learned, about Judaism or spirituality, or yourself, in going through this process?

Perhaps the most gratifying surprise in the process was how those involved felt it was obvious that I would be ordained in this way.

Bringing consciousness to the spiritual journey of human life is my deepest fascination and longing.  We each do this per the guidance and direction of our soul and mind.  How we each do it animates my curiosity, motivates my inquiry and sustains my interest in being alive.  Sharing aspects of the journey in community has the potential to bless, heal and energize goodness in the world.

It is a delight and affirmation to experience the ways in which different paths have streams of shared consciousness.  While I am most deeply attuned to the path of Jewish spirituality, the ways other paths accent particular qualities and consciousness both adds to the resources available for spiritual support and enhances and affirms teachings of wholeness and interconnection giving life to experiencing the Echad/One we seek at the end of each recitation of the Sh’ma.