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
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
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, 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.