My eight-year-old granddaughter came home from Bible School insisting God is a boy. “I’m a girl, Gramma, I don’t want a boy God.” “But He loves you,” I said. “See, Gramma, your God is a boy!” I don’t believe my God is “a boy.” How can I help her see God differently?
Rabbi Rami: Let’s apply the duck test to your God: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. If your God looks like a boy, is spoken of as a boy, and is prayed to as a boy, your God is probably a boy. If you want your granddaughter to “see” God differently, speak of God as Harachaman (“The Compassionate One” from rechem, the Hebrew word for uterus), or borrow language from the medieval Catholic mystic Julian of Norwich who spoke of Christ as “our very Mother,” and the Lutheran pastor Jacob Boehme (1575–1624) who referred to Jesus as Christos Sophia blending the masculine Christ with the feminine Sophia/Wisdom. If you can’t do this, admit to your granddaughter that she’s correct: Your God is a duck; I mean a boy.
I’m writing on behalf of a group of friends who fear for your soul. With all due respect, aren’t you afraid that your open-hearted embrace of spirituality will cause God to damn you to Hell?
I appreciate your concern, and with equal respect, I must tell you that after 50 years of contemplative practice and spiritual exploration, I find nothing to fear from God and much to fear from those who choose to believe in a God who would damn people to Hell for being open-hearted.
My teacher urges me to surrender my will to his will as a necessary step toward enlightenment. Is he right?
While there are moments where “my will” is surrendered to the greater Aliveness of which I am a part, being surrendered isn’t a willful act but a gift of grace. As for surrendering your will to your teacher—watch out! That isn’t a recipe for enlightenment, only exploitation.
As a Jew, I’m put off by Jesus saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Is Jesus such a narcissist?
Jesus was a Jew who taught as a Jew and should be understood through the lens of your shared Judaism. When Jesus says “I am” he is referencing Ehyeh, the Name of God revealed to Moses in Torah (Exodus 3:14). A form of the Hebrew verb “to be,” Ehyeh is the nondual “I Am” happening as all-being the way an ocean happens as every wave. Jesus is saying Ehyeh is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the only way to awaken to this is by realizing that you, no less than Jesus, are a happening of Ehyeh. There is nothing narcissistic about this at all.
I’m an atheist. My wife reads your magazine monthly and has the annoying habit of reading your column to me out loud. While she denies this, I think you’re a closet atheist hiding behind a gaseous spiritual fog. I dare you to tell her what god you believe in.
You’re right: I don’t believe in God; I experience God. The God I experience doesn’t choose one people over all others, save or damn, write or dictate books, have a dress code, demand the slaughter of animals or humans, or dabble in real estate. The God I experience isn’t obsessed with race, sex, or gender, isn’t traumatized by women’s hair, and isn’t obsessed with female or male genitalia. The God I experience is the nondual dynamic Happening happening as all happening hinted at by the ineffable Hebrew verb Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay (“to be”). I hope this isn’t too foggy for you. In any case, please thank your wife for her support, and, so that you know, we are a bimonthly magazine. Her reading out loud only seems monthly to you.
How do I judge if a spiritual teacher is worthy of my time and effort?
When considering working with spiritual teachers, ask yourself four questions: 1. Can I learn something valuable from them? 2. Do they teach without demeaning? 3. Do they not only welcome my questions but help sharpen them? 4. Do they charge reasonably for their time and effort? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” the teacher may be worthy of your time and effort.
You should also ask four questions to judge if you may be worthy of the teacher’s time and effort: 1. Am I willing to have my biases and beliefs tested and challenged? 2. Am I willing to be held to the same ethical standard I apply to my teacher? 3. Am I willing to live the truths I learn? 4. Am I willing to pay a fair price for my teacher’s time and effort? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” you may be worthy of your teacher’s time and effort.
I was outraged by Super Bowl commercials selling Jesus alongside Cheetos. Does it bother you that capitalism has commodified the Son of God?
Bother me? Yes. Surprise me? No. But what really irks me about the Super Bowl Jesus ads is the tagline: He Gets Us. Of course He gets us—He’s Jesus! The more important question is Do we get Him? Do we love our neighbor (Luke 10:28), welcome the immigrant, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and heal the sick (Matthew 25:3–46)? Do we love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and forgive those who hurt us (Matthew 6:14)? Do we envision a future where the meek rather than the mega-rich inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5)? The answer to these questions is “no.” What Jesus gets when He Gets Us is the fact that we don’t get Him at all.
I’m a Palestinian American with many Jewish friends. It enrages me to watch the nightly news and see their people killing my people, and it enrages them to watch the same broadcast and see my people killing their people. Neither Islam nor Judaism sanctions such evil. When will this stop?
I beg to differ: Islam and Judaism as well as Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism do in fact sanction evil whenever Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists want them to. This will only stop when humanity undergoes a spiritual revolution that shatters tribalism (religious and secular), and its innate hatred of and violence toward “the other.” Sadly, I don’t see this happening any time soon.
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