Tuesday, April 20, 2010


So I've got this other blog which I've posted a whole two times to, which is supposed to be about my relationship with/search for/understanding of God. But since I've only posted there twice and I figure that someday I'll combine this blog with that one anyway, I'm just going to go ahead and post this here.

Tonight we had a fabulous Intro to Judaism class with a fascinating rabbi, we'll call him Rabbi Y for now since I am still not comfortable with giving the internet 100% of the details about my life just in case all those cautious people are right and someone IS stalking me through my blog. Not like I've made it all that hard to murder me in my sleep, but I digress.

At the beginning of class Rabbi Y asked us to go around in a small group and state our understanding of God in a few words. Wowsa, a few words? Me? Hey, I hear you laughing... but this is something like what I was able to say in the time I had

  • I believe God is Omnipotent and Omnipresent
  • I believe God is Good
  • I believe God is ultimately unknowable, and that religions are peoples' way of trying to explain the unexplainable
  • I believe God gave humans free will
  • I believe God presents us with choices every moment we live. He (for lack of a better term) wants us to make the right choice, but doesn't stop us if we make the wrong one
  • I believe this is why bad things happen to good people, because other people made the wrong choice
  • I believe God loves us
Next, Rabbi Y had us make a knot by holding hands with two other people in the group, but not those beside us. Then we had to try to unravel the knot. My group couldn't do it. After we sat down again, Rabbi Y asked us where God was in that knot. Most people answered, 'in the head'. This led to a discussion of rationalism and God as the 'ultimate brain' (as I'm currently re-reading 'A Wrinkle in Time' this was a disturbing image for me!). My answer; God is in the hands, because He is in the relationships and connections we formed. According to Rabbi Y this is the existential way of thinking about God, as put forth by Martin Buber in his work 'Ich-Du' (translation: 'I-Thou'). This entry from the Jewish Virtual Library sums up this thought well:

According to Buber, frequently we view both objects and people by their functions...Rather than truly making ourselves completely available to them, understanding them, sharing totally with them, really talking with them, we observe them or keep part of ourselves outside the moment of relationship. We do so either to protect our vulnerabilities or to get them to respond in some preconceived way, to get something from them. Buber calls such an interaction I-It.

It is possible, notes Buber, to place ourselves completely into a relationship, to truly understand and "be there" with another person, without masks, pretenses, even without words. Such a moment of relating is called "I-Thou." Each person comes to such a relationship without preconditions. The bond thus created enlarges each person, and each person responds by trying to enhance the other person. The result is true dialogue, true sharing.

Such I-Thou relationships are not constant or static... [D]escribing the moment objectifies it and makes it an I-It. The most Buber can do in describing this process is to encourage us to be available to the possibility of I-Thou moments, to achieve real dialogue. It can't be described. When you have it, you know it....

Buber then moves from this existential description of personal relating to the religious experience. For Buber, God is the Eternal Thou. By trying to prove God's existence or define God, the rationalist philosophers automatically established an I-It relationship...

Like a person we love, we can't define God; we can't set up preconditions for the relationship. We simply have to be available, open to the relationship with the Eternal Thou...For Buber, it is possible to have an I-Thou relationship with God through I-Thou moments with people, nature, art, the world.

Talk about cool! I am so getting me some Buber to read. :)

The last concept was that God was in the hearts, which Rabbi Y equated with our souls. Here he went into a discussion about the name of God, which we are not supposed to speak or write. Hence the observant Jew's use of G-d in writing, especially in the non-permanent world of the internet, and the substitution of 'Adonai' when one comes upon the name of God in a text while reading or reciting. But I'm digressing again, Rabbi Y shared the theory that the name of God, which is all vowels, may have been pronounced like a breath of air. I can't write it... but imagine a sharp, short breath with a bit of a yaw sound to it. In addition, Rabbi Y told us that the first lines of the Hebrew Book of Genesis which are traditionally translated as 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. ' 'the spirit of God' can also be translated as 'wind'. And one of the Hebrew words for 'soul' is neshama. The word neshama comes from nesheema, which means "breath." So we have a soul, which is our breath, and God which is breath or wind, put them together and we have God in every inhalation and exhalation that we make. Double cool!

But this post is getting long, I'm getting tired, and I have a new book I want to get started on (Living a Joyous Life: The True Spirit of Jewish Practice by Rabbi David Aaron) so I'll just close with a few more ideas about what I think God is after having my thoughts stimulated by the class.

  • God is that which is just outside the farthest border of what we can comprehend and/or explain
  • God and science are the same thing, just from different approaches
  • When bad things happen, God is always in the equation. But he's not the one hitting you with the big stick, he's the one that takes the pain from the bruises, if you'll only give it to him


leaner said...

Wrinkle in Time= my favorite book EVER. I have worn out a copy of it and read it so many times. That book and the others in the series help me understand God.
I am loving your journey into Judaism. I am fascinated by other religious beliefs, even if I consider myself Christian although not affiliated with any religion.

Alicia said...

I'm a big Wrinkle in Time fan too!

Your idea of God is very, very similar to mine. I think maybe that's why we understand each other so well sometimes.

Annah said...

Now I must read Wrinkle in Time. And I laughed at your "not that I haven't made it easy to murder me in my sleep". lol.