Rabbi Rami: How to Talk with My Astronomer Daughter about God?

Rabbi Rami: How to Talk with My Astronomer Daughter about God?

Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler

Photo Credit: den-belitsky/Thinkstock

Question: I want to talk with my astronomer daughter about God in a way that honors both her science and my Christian faith. Any suggestions?

Rabbi Rami: I’m partial to Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, who defines God as that in which we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). In other words, God is the universe. As a scientist your daughter probably finds the same sense of awe, wonder, and the sacred when engaging with the cosmos as you do when engaging with God. Rather than talk about beliefs, talk about the sacred, the wondrous, and the awe-inspiring. I suspect you will both, each in your own way, discover that the universe is filled with glory (Isaiah 6:3). Share with each other your respective sense of wonder and see if that doesn’t open into a deeper conversation about life, meaning, and purpose.

Is spirituality a feeling, a worldview, or what? How do I know this or that spirituality is authentic?

While spirituality has an emotional and intellectual component, for me it is primarily the practice of moving from alienation to integration, from the smaller self that insists it is apart from God to the greater Self that knows itself and everything else as a part of God. A practice is authentic if it moves you from self to Self, frees you from fear, deepens your capacity for love, and shifts your worldview from “us” and “them” or “us” against “them” to “all of us together.”

My 12-year old came home from school and asked, “Mom, what does it mean to be human?” I’m stumped. What would you say?

Human beings are a way the universe knows herself and says “wow!” Saying “wow!” opens your heart so wide that you cannot hate; humbles your ego so profoundly that you cannot exploit; and triggers compassion, justice, respect, and love for all life. While many spiritual teachers talk about the power of now, for me it’s all about the power of “wow!”

I’ve been reading the Bible, and I’m appalled by God’s cruelty, evil, and moral schizophrenia. Why read this stuff?

Like all great literature, the Bible explores the best and worst of humanity. God is invoked both as a catalyst for kindness (“Love the stranger as yourself,” Leviticus 19:34) and as an excuse for evil (“Slaughter every man, woman, child and infant” of the Amalekites, I Samuel 15:3). I read the Bible for the same reason I read Shakespeare: as a way to deepen my understanding of who I am and of what—for better and for worse—I am capable of.

I’ve been meditating for years but I have yet to stop my mind from thinking. What is your trick for quieting the mind?

There is no trick, and I don’t try to quiet my mind. The mind babbles, chatters, and spews an endless stream of thoughts, stories, feelings, and distractions. Rather than quiet your mind during meditation, realize that the “you” that observes the unquiet mind is always and already quiet. Rest in that and leave the mind alone.

My husband is dying. My sisters formed a prayer group asking God to heal him, but we don’t believe in this. How do I tell them to stop without insulting them?

Don’t ask your sisters to stop praying, ask them to stop praying for things to be other than they are. Ask your sisters to pray for two things: 1) that God’s “will be done on earth as in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), and 2) that when the time comes, and for as long as it takes, they will have the courage and compassion to walk with you through the Valley of the Shadow of Death as you deal with the reality of your husband’s passing.

I’m a practicing Catholic and fascinated by other religions. My friends worry that if I learn about other religions I’ll start following them. Are they right?

Just as professional basketball players can enjoy golf without fearing they will one day bring their clubs onto the court, so you can enjoy other religions without fearing you will one day start praying to Krishna rather than Christ. Knowledge is not something to fear. Friends who fear knowledge are.

I’m a liberal American Muslim. I respect the values of my faith and my country, but my American friends are suspicious of my Islam, and my Muslim friends are suspicious of my liberalism. I’m looking for an intellectual home. Any suggestions?

Yes! Check out the Muslim Reform Movement (muslim They reject “violence, social injustice and politicized Islam, … bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression,” and they support “secular governance, democracy, and liberty.” Introduce your Muslim friends to this movement, and ask your non-Muslim friends if they could affirm the same values with regard to their religions.

I think meditation is the key to ending terrorism; my father says it’s bombs. Which of us is right?

Neither. If you really want to end terror, the answer isn’t cushions or carpet-bombing, but actively supporting the education of girls especially in those countries where doing so is anathema. Please look into the Malala Fund ( and see how you can help.

My best friend says evolution is intrinsically meaningful. I say evolution is meaningless until we humans make meaning of it. Who is right?

You both are. While I don’t believe in a Director, I do believe evolution has a direction: trending toward greater levels of complexity and consciousness. On our planet this leads to the meaning-making animal called human. Just as earthworms are a way nature enriches the soil, humans are a way nature enriches the soul, and nature contains both. Evolution is intrinsically capable of making meaning, and humans are one of the ways it does it.

One for the Road

I miscarried a month ago. My partner says our baby wasn’t really a baby and I shouldn’t grieve. But I do. I want to name our baby and have a memorial service for her. Am I being silly? How can I get my partner to agree?

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Author and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro has been called “one of the best bridges of Eastern and Western wisdom.” His newest book is Embracing the Divine Feminine.

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