G-d does not want to be believed in,to be debated and defended by us, but simply to be realized through us. ~Martin Buber
How’s your summer been? I’ve had an amazing summer filled with lots of learning and new songs, not to mention the fabulous weather here in New Jersey. I attended Ruach Ha-aretz and studied philosophy with Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan. Reb Laura is among the most skilled teachers I’ve met, and studying with her was absolute joy. We studied God concepts of medieval philosophies of various faiths, notably Ibn Gabirol, Aristotle & Plato, Saint Anthony, Maimonides among others. It turns out that every of these philosophers despised anthropomorphic representations of G-d! God is just something really different from this. Following the Middle Ages, Reb Laura taught, some faiths got busy honing down a creed of what their folks should believe about God. This didn’t happen in Judaism, possibly due to lack of center after Jerusalem destroyed. So is it better to leave the question of G!d’s nature unspoken and unexplored? I find this to often be the case in synagogues. This is not a good thing. The assumption is that when I say G!d, I mean the big guy with the white beard (and white skin) in the sky. The pediatric, incredibly anthropomorphic, white, male-centered myth that some folks believe in, (or so I’m told). Reb Zalman z”l in Jewish with Feeling said “that G-d that you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either!” It’s so important to try, to struggle with the concept of God to to even begin any sort of spiritual conversation. At the end of the week in philosophy class, each student wrote down a personal concept of God, three of which were chosen (by one of us) to act out a God panel. We grilled one “God” who was “beyond understanding” and that actor replied in ways we could not understand! It was so much fun, so cathartic. I asked Reb. Laura “can we do this in real life?” and she replied, “don’t we?”
So I am taking the time to express my understanding of the inexpressible, undefinable, which is God. Now, I realize my concept may differ from yours, which is OK. But to shy from the attempt and the struggle is not OK, and to strive is perhaps quite ennobling: after all, it was the obsession of all those philosophers.
God is the Relational, Creative Power of the Universe.
I know this because:
in science, it is simple fact that when components of any system (creature, atom, etc) come into proper relationship, new levels of existence appear. One Biology text I use terms this “emergent properties”, which makes it appear not to be the total and complete magic that it is. There simply is a “thing” in the universe, which is creative, but only operates when things are interacting with one another properly.
So that hamster which died a moment ago has all the same organs, tissues, cells, DNA, proteins, etc as it did before, but they are no longer interacting as they were. And so the feature “life” is no longer present. Wow. Life is what happens in the space between. And all existence. Yes, the entropy inexorably pulls on it, until the hamster dies, but its life was an incredibly unlikely, outrageous event in the first place. As is consciousness, and family and community and love.
And what is Torah if not an expounding of what is proper relationship? Sometimes it’s a lesson in what not to do, a cautionary tale. But “all its paths are peace”, as my teacher, Eleanor Epstein reminded me: you’re just interpreting incorrectly if the path leads elsewhere. So what is this relationship that Torah instructs us in? Always it is love. Between humans, between humans and creation, between humans and this creative thread that runs through the universe we call God.
You cannot see love, or relationship, or interaction between parts. But you can experience these things, and know that existence depends upon it, and, as the second half of Adon Olam tells us, resonate with God and be strengthened by the connection. The whole universe is within us: in our materials, in our energy, and in the potential to be loving and creative as God is. Without this the universe is unrelieved entropy, which is the thing that makes time move only forward, and forests burn, and the glass shatter into a thousand pieces, and hearts as well.
So, for me, God has been the Relational, Creative Power of the Universe.
I could abbreviate it RCPU. But I’ll just call it God. (or Love?)
What’s your concept or code word for God?