Mysticism made reader-friendly in book by Berkeleyite author

With a renewed interest in spirituality, many Jews are seeking out books on Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. But often what they find are dense, academic tomes.

Avram Davis, co-author of "Judaic Mysticism," saw a need to explore mysticism in a less academic way.

"It was necessary to begin talking more about direct experience, not to make a comprehensive or academic overview," he said. "The whole business of Jewish spirituality has to be geared towards real life, what will actually serve people living a pressured existence."

In his introduction to "Judaic Mysticism," Davis writes that he sees this renewed interest in mysticism as a "fourth wave" of Jewish spirituality.

"The first was the tribal/nomadic sacrifice period, the second was the Temple service, the third was the great wave of Rabbinic learning and the arising of prayer."

Davis, who is founder and co-director of Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley, writes that the fourth wave is characterized by "a renewed emphasis on directness in prayer; physicality manifested in dance, song and ritual, and deep concern with meditation. There is emphasis on the personal and psychological. There is an awareness that in religion, as in music, `it don't mean a thing if it don't got that swing.'"

Co-written with Manuela Dunn Mascetti, religion writer for Hyperion Press, "Judaic Mysticism" doesn't attempt to be an exhaustive exploration of the Jewish mystical tradition. Instead, the authors see it as an "entryway."

Gorgeously illustrated with reproductions of art from Jewish museums from around the world, the book explores the three main practices of mysticism: blessing, prayer and meditation.

"If every day we were able to feel blessing for three or four things that had happened to us, our entire lives would be transformed." Davis and Mascetti write.

The authors borrow from two current streams: the more avant-garde, in which prayers are rewritten, and the traditional, which is approached "in a more conscious way."

They offer numerous examples of prayers, blessings and meditations that people can begin to incorporate into their daily routines, including this one, from Rabbi Shefa Gold's morning prayer:

"Morning Will Unfold For Us

Life will rise from dust

we're rising in remembrance of Your Love.

Halleluyah, Halleluyah!"

"Judaic Mysticism" also looks at the Jewish year and its holy days. Davis said in an interview that he believes mystical and normative Jewish practices should be observed together.

"One part strengthens the other."

In "Judaic Mysticism," God is not presented as a distant entity, as is often the case in religious schools.

"With a 4-year-old, you have to start from a simple place" Davis said. "We introduce it through stories. The Torah tells stories. But as we mature, then the understanding of the God process also needs to mature. God is a process, not an entity. God is either internal, or God is a joke, God is a lie."