I am currently applying for a rabbinical program at American Jewish University, and have to answer a number of essay questions for my application. I want to share this piece of an essay with you, and would love your thoughts and feedback on it. The questions is, what is my concept of God?
I use many names for God, depending on what I am doing or who I am connecting with. In music, I praise God through the names El, Shadai, Hashem, Adonai and invent metaphorical titles like the Gardener and Sweet One. In explanations of my visual art, I often refer to God as The Source, The Divine Presence, and Shechina (which I specify as feminine). These terms unlock different faces of God, and using the right term can do wonders for opening someone to experience God through conversation, music or art. “God” is a hard word for many people to swallow because the term is often weighted by Christian associations, political aggression and images of a male ruler. Some Jews hold the opinion that the term God is unredeemable, that it should be replaced in siddurim with new titles like “The Source of Life”. While these names may be more palatable in some ways, I know that it is possible, is in fact beneficial to re-understand the word God, to assign God the personal meaning and experiences that make divinity relevant and powerful.
It took years of frustration and seeking to re-understand God in my life. It was most difficult during prayer, when instead of opening my heart to wisdom and love, I was having irritated reactions to the written and spoken word God. After services at a Jewish retreat I finally became fed up with the defenses that were robbing me of truth and nourishment in the Jewish prayer service. I found a large piece of paper and wrote at the top “God is…’ and began drawing pictures of anything that came to me. The page filled up with images of Jewish people, nature, Torah, feminine and masculine figures, images of love and fights and birth and death, and individuals holding hands across a globe. These concrete concepts helped me redeem the term and uncover where I truly believe G-d is found: in relation.
I believe that G-d is found in relation between people, between people and the external world, and between individuals and the internal world. Like Martin Buber explains in I-Thou, it is difficult to have an honest, authentic encounter with another and with the world, because we have biological impulses that are selfish, and live in a society and that value relationships for personal gain. These can obscure the beauty and divinity found in each being, in each piece of earth. Even when we look inside and try to understand ourselves, judgment and shame keep us from encountering the delicate world of our true self. It is in superseding these insecurities and unhealthy values that God emerges in our every interaction. And it is in seeing God that we are able to deeply love.