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    People the world over, in every culture and circumstance, have felt the power, since time immemorial, and have given it many names. We have called it God. GOD!  What a word! Which handful of letters in the history of the world has accumulated more baggage than these?  How can we bring ourselves to say ‘God’?  What word of human speech is so misused, so defiled, so desecrated as this?  When tragedy strikes, or great joy befalls us, or even when we’re at the peak of sexual ecstasy— whenever an experience has shattered the usual language we use to describe such things— we have dialed that hotline to the center of the universe and said, in innumerable languages: “God! Oh, God!”  That angry old man in the sky, that far-off ‘other’ who commands and keeps score and rewards and punishes?  That God who stands by while innocents suffer, while children die of hunger every day?  The God that rabbis, priests, ministers, imams, presidents, prime ministers, etc., are always invoking:  God commands this, God forbids that?  Most of us are still angry with the patriarchal, punitive God of our schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, prayer books Bibles and sacred writings. We have so little stomach for this God business that we are barred from everything it brings in its wake. How do we even know this God exists?  What shred of evidence do we have that this God is anything more than a projection of human thought, an illusion woven together from all the prayers that people have murmured and shouted and sung and recited over the centuries? How can we take this God seriously?  How can we take seriously anything this ‘God’ is supposed to have ‘said’?  What meaning does prayer have— prayer to what? to whom?”  These are all great questions, and we have been wrestling with them for centuries.  Theologians have devoted their lives to constructing answers and systems we can live with.   But this is not a theological discussion.  Theology is the afterthought of spiritual experience, not the other way around.  We are not trying to construct some top-down authoritative system, but to nourish the seeds of our own personal spiritual experience.

    Has the word God gotten so tainted that we have to throw it away, and all the sacred technology that comes with it?  Some have, and many more have tried.  A term like God can still be very useful in nurturing spiritual experience in our lives, for God carries not only all the centuries of trouble and objections,  it can allow us, in its very plainness and starkness and mystery, to move forward and transcend all the arguments — we have a lot of very spiritual tools built around the “God” concept.  We need to explore how each of us might give this God a more personal name, a name that means more to us personally, by trying to imagine the entity that could be our partner in our “something out there” experiences.  We can begin to explore them to see which might be helpful to us in our search for deeper and more meaningful lives.

    We all have images of God that the past has given us, and sometimes these images get in the way.  These images are not God: they are just images of God.  “God language” can be of great help to us in relating to the infinite, but we should not confuse it with the real thing.  If we are to have some hope of regaining the wonder that inspired our ancestors to invent the word, if we are to gain any possibility of having “God” be our vehicle and partner in our search for meaning, we need to clean the word up a bit in our own minds, to scrape off a few of the barnacles of age.



    (Inspired by the writings of Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi, in Jewish with Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice. Turner Publishing Company.)

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