Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Where Is God -- Is He Hiding?

There is an old and moldy joke about a bad little boy who is sent to the rabbi to get scared straight. The boy walks into the rabbi’s office and sits in stony silence until the rabbi finally glares at him and ask “young man, where is God?” After a few moments of silence, the rabbi repeats – but louder “young man, where is God?” After several more moments of painful silence, the rabbi shouts “young man, where is God?”

The frightened boy bolts from the rabbi’s office and runs home – through the door, up the stairs into his room and starts packing his bag. His mother runs in and asks “Vendie, my angel – what is wrong?” The boy answers, “God is missing, and I ain’t taking the rap for that.”

I’m a rabbi. I shouldn’t have to ask MYSELF that question, right?

After all, that’s what people are supposed to ask me, not the other way around, questions like:
· Where is God?
· How can I sense His presence in my own life?
· How can I make my own life more spiritual?

I have to confess, I often ask myself these same questions.

In my own life, these points are predictable – way too predictable.

Being busy is part of it. I – we – get busy and often crowd “little” things like Hashem out of our lives.

When we’re filling every minute with some-thing, we don’t leave space for our own souls to breathe. There certainly isn’t room for God. We crowd Him right out of our lives.

A passage from this week’s Torah portion addresses this. In Deuteronomy (8:12-14), the Kadosh Baruch Hu says: “Lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses, and lived there; And when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; Then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.”

This isn’t really talking about getting rich and forgetting God.

This passage talks about being so preoccupied with the mundane that we don’t give ourselves space to think … to let ourselves just be … It’s easy enough to get busy and crowd out the people we love. It’s even easier to get busy and crowd God out of our lives.

I forget how easy this to do. I’m a rabbi, my life is supposed to be dedicated to God’s work – right?

But all of us, even when we’re doing “God’s work,” can find ourselves so preoccupied with minutiae that we lose sight of our true mission … and the Big Boss.

I didn’t realize this in my own life until Bob and I went on vacation.
Most of you know that our summer ritual is finding a cabin – that is air-conditioned and allows dogs -- with the following qualifications:
· In Wisconsin
· On a lake so Bob can fish
· In a forest so we can hike

It’s also my yearly respite just before life gets especially intense before THE holidays.

I began my week still mentally juggling a million things. Relax? I had to relearn the art!

I read, I prayed, I studied Torah, and in the beginning, wondered: Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, where are You? I came here to find You, to bask in Your Presence, and I don’t feel You at all. Are You hiding?

The longer we stayed, the more I relaxed. I told myself to stop expecting some out of the blue spiritual experience. Of course God was there. What did it matter if I felt Him? It was important to relax, period. I started to let my own worries and concerns drift away and just give myself over to contentment -- to enjoying the blessings around me.

And I realized, Adam and Eve in Gan Eden couldn’t have been more content.
And that’s when God snuck up on me, and I knew He was really there.
Of course He was there – the whole time. He wasn’t hiding. I was just too preoccupied to notice.

When the religious experience came, I was no longer looking for it.
This is not to say that we will experience God’s embrace every time we relax or every time we stop looking for Him!

We also have to learn that experiencing Hashem comes in so many, many ways, in both joy and in sorrow. It can be as simple as gazing at – inhaling the aroma – of a field of wildflowers – and reminding yourself that the Kadosh Baruch Hu created the scene.

When our hearts break, God is there … enabling us to feel … the Holy One shares our sorrows.

God is present when we let go of the phrases: I want this, or she did that so wrong … God is present when we take care of minutiae but then don’t allow it to rule our lives.

The Master of the Universe is present when we realize that He is the One who created us and the One who made us free. As we saw in Deuteronomy, we are the ones who lose sight of God if we forget … lose sight of … His role in our lives.
God is there, always there … but we’ll never really know that if we don’t step back and give Him space to enter our lives.

We can do that – even without taking a vacation! That IS the reason He gave us Shabbat … and the upcoming holidays … times to give Him our attention … just as every day, every minute, the Kadosh Baruch Hu gives us life and breath.