"Don't look for me in some cold marble space. I am Life."
a moment of Torah with Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
"The world isn't separate from the divine. Holiness bubbles up; the world is marinating in godliness. We can see sparks of holiness in everything: in the mountains and the rivers and the planets, in each other and in all living things. [In this passage, given the Hebrew] God could be saying I am Life, the very force that calls you into life, the very energy that brings consciousness and makes us aware of each other: that is the manifestation of God that permeates everything. So what God is telling us is: "Don't look for me in some cold marble space that can't let you see the sky or the mountains or each other; the image of the divine is other human beings, other living things." I am Life, says God. And so we cherish life with love and with passion and with dignity, We cherish each other, because "I, God, am Life and I pervade everything."
I watch many of Rabbi Artson's Moments of Torah. You can find them on Facebook by clicking here.
Having watched and enjoyed so many of them, I realize that he has an ear for metaphor, and that he speaks of God many ways. Two of them are:
God as a separate Consciousness with whom we can have a trusting and loving relationship
God as an Energy or Force that permeates the whole of creation, bubbling up from the depths.
Both perspectives make sense to me.
Of course there are some people for whom only the first perspective makes sense. They think of God as a person but not a force. And there are people for whom only the second perspective makes sense. They think of God is an energy or a force but not a person.
And that's just the beginning. There are people who slide between the two ways, feeling the wisdom of one or the other way relative to different situations. And there are people who combine the two, as when they say: "God is the source of all life and God's spirit is an energy in which the whole of the universe is marinating." I myself am a combiner, and it seems that Rabbi Artson is as well. We are both influenced by open and relational (process) theology, which offers a way of saying "yes" to both. See God in Process Theology.
In my experience, part of the beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it is open to many different ways of thinking about God. This is because, in Judaism, all things do not depend on what a person believes. What people do is more important than what they believe. As Chaim Potok once put it: "Judaism is a deedology not a creedology." The very focus on deed makes space for different creeds. It's like being in a family for Friday dinner. We can have our different views and debate with one another, but we all pass the potatoes when asked.
You see something of this flexibility with regard to God with the Jewish custom of writing the very word God as G-D. The dash reminds the reader that the reality of God cannot be subsumed within a mental or linguistic grid. There always remains something about the divine that is unsaid and perhaps unsayable. G-d is always more than words.
Still I want to say a word about those who focus on God as a separate Consciousness too heavily. In my experience many Muslims and Christians do this. As a Christian myself, I see it often in more conservative Christians who want to 'nail down' proper definitiions of God. God quickly becomes a mere focal point in our imaginations.
Behind this lies a certain kind of piety: a piety that sees "holiness as something up there and out there and separate from life and the world and the welter of complexity that is our beautiful planet." For us, religion becomes a matter of orienting the psyche away from the world, and something is lost. We forget that holiness can be in life itself. We forget the bubbling.
I find myself grateful to Rabbi Artson, and grateful to Judaism, for inviting me to come down to earth, reclaim the bodily and fragile and poignant reality of this world, this life, finite as it can be, and to realize that it is in the momentary bubbling of each present moment that God is found. God is life and life is holy. This may be what is most important, even for the personal God. Was it not this God who, on the seventh day, was awestruck by the sheer goodness of the world? Might we do the same?
L'Heim is a Hebrew toast meaning "To Life." Let's lift our cups.