This past Shabbat, the rabbi spoke about one of the most valuable pieces of wisdom she learned in rabbinical school. We think of theology as a fixed understanding, an aha! moment of awareness that arrives and stays, she said. But relationships between our fellow humans grow and evolve over time, taught her professor; why, then, do we assume our relationship with God is any different? We're created in God's image, after all.
I agree. I believe in God but don't know what God is, never can and never will. But my perception of the mystery, how I tell the story to myself so it can become a source of support and comfort when I sense the presence in my life of this unexplainable thing, changes constantly. With each experience I find new words to help articulate the reason and meaning of awe, pain, joy. My language is barely up to the task; I am grateful to have Torah as a starting point. But even those words, slippery and illuminated through time and culture, rely upon our hearts to give them meaning.
The most valuable piece of wisdom I've received from a rabbi to date was offered as a comment in the Secret Rabbi Room right before I helped lead Shabbat morning service as practice for the High Holy Days. "Don't be nervous," said the rabbi. "You're about to talk to God!" "God is making me nervous," I laughed. But then I thought about that word "talk"--not sing at, not repeat words of, but have a conversation, God and I.
Prayer is very participatory at my synagogue, so I never chant without an awareness of ongoing feedback from the congregation. And often it seems as if God, like dew, gentle and caressing, fills the empty spaces between all those people, and offers an answer. My sound, and the trajectory and landscape of my prayer, responds in turn. In a way I think all learning and growth is a response to this voiceless, wordless talk with God, as the whole world changes along with every other living thing in it.
A few weeks ago I had a discussion with an old friend, a born-again Christian, about scripture, and I explained about Talmud and midrash, and how Jews regard all interpretations as valid. Some are more so than others, but few are rejected outright. But only God's words can be holy, she countered; isn't this heresy? The difference is that we see the very act of volleying those those words back and forth as holy, and one more manifestation of the divine. I love that Judaism can find God in doubt as well as faith. I think that our job, as people, is to take the confusion out of those sacred disagreements and, with help of the best of God's gifts to us, make them beautiful in some way.