Thought and Spirituality

Spiritual awareness begins with the fleeting epiphany that you, yourself, are connected to everything and that everything is connected to you. Throughout all Creation, just beneath the surface, joining each person to every other person and to every other thing in a luminous organism of sacred responsibility: invisible lines of connection. I suspect that's also another name for ultimate meaning and for G-d, the One through whom everything is connected to everything else.

My mother, who turned eighty more than a few years ago, tells me that as you get older, it only gets worse: "No matter what you say, G-d always has the last word." That strikes me as wise, especially from a woman who has refined to high art the skill of getting in the last word. But it does make me wonder: What exactly is the "last word"?

If you and G-d have been adversaries, then the last word might be a triumphalist, "I'm G-d. You're not." Or, even worse, "I'm G-d. You're dead." If you've been friends and developed a good working relationship, the last word might be, "Thanks for all your help." But if, after all those years, you've come to understand G-d as "The Infinite One of whom you are a finite dimension, a unique but fleeting expression, then it would be, "I'm G-d.

So are you." Or maybe just, "What took you so long?" (But, of course, with all distinctions gone, the idea of a "conversation" is itself only a confusing metaphor: What can a wave say to the ocean? What can the ocean say to a wave?)

Before we begin our journey, we are one with all Creation. Once life begins, we find ourselves discrete, individuated, autonomous. And after the journey ends, G-d gets the last word: "Welcome." With some luck, we get glimmers of the great unity even during our lifetime. We realize that our life ­ and everything else ­ has all been part of the divine organism all along, that things are turning out "just the way G-d intends."

This is not to say that G-d is running the world like some overextended, occasionally under-performing puppeteer, depriving us of our freedom or moral responsibility. G-d is simply within all of it. And when we become aware of this, as we do during moments of great meaning or insight, it is as if G-d were the One who unites (and therefore runs) everything. Questions of free will and determinism become meaningless.

Everything exists within and derives its reality from G-d, including us. We are dimensions of the divine psyche, seeking to become fully self-aware. And, when we raise our consciousness, we not only realize that we have never really been apart from our divine Source at all, we realize that we also participate in the process itself. You may not be able to have an intimate relationship with such a G-d, but you are its pride and joy, its best hope. My colleague, Rabbi Nehemiah Polen, taught me that the world simply is. It is the way it is supposed to be, the way it must be. Such a vision is achieved by a surrender of the ego, by submerging your self in the enveloping waters of divine being. We say the last word, "Oh my G-d!" to the universe and lose ourselves as we do so.

Being is not from or by G-d. It is of G-d. There is only one player: G-d. In the words of Deuteronomy: "The L-rd alone is G-d: There is nothing else!"

All theology is autobiography.


Lawrence Kushner

Lawrence Kushner, Rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, Massachusetts, is widely regarded as one of the most creative Jewish theologians in America. He serves as Rabbinic Chairman of Reform Judaism's Commission on Religious Living and has served as a member of the Board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. He is on the faculty of the rabbinic school of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Rabbi Kushner has lectured extensively on the themes of personal and institutional spiritual renewal. He is Karen's husband and Noa's, Zachary's and Lev's father. He loves Mozart, graphic design, and hanging around sailboats.