God

Time To Find Your God?

By Rabbi Richard Address –

Eric Weiner, a former National Public Radio reporter, has just published a fascinating book entitled “Man Seeks God.” I mention it to you because it raises some interesting questions about our relationship (or lack thereof) with God. Questions posed by young and old alike.

The genesis of his book was a discussion Weiner had with a health care professional in a hospital. He was there thinking he was extremely ill. This health care worker, thinking the tests were going to be bad news, asked Weiner, “Have found your God yet?”

That simple question set Mr. Weiner off on a whirlwind exploration of various religions. Eric was trying to understand what each religion’s God was, and if he could adopt it for himself.

The book is quite relevant to many of us who are, in some ways, dissatisfied with the God that we were raised with. So many people are searching for some sort of meaningful faith that Weiner’s journey, in many ways, symbolizes the journey for many of us. We may not have the means to travel the world and spend weeks in various communities; but we are searching. That is the point, I think, of the book. I like the phrase, “have you found your God?” Our generation of baby boomers has pioneered the ability to create personal religious responses and, in many ways, hybrid definitions of God. This spiritual dynamism marks a clear reality across the religious landscape. It represents some real creativity on the one hand, and sadly, for some, a way to just do “religion lite.”

The search for our own God is a serious undertaking. It asks us to confront our own sense of self, our relationship with life and death and our own view of what we see as our legacy. In the New Year now beginning, I suggest that it is a perfect time to consider undertaking your own search. Looking for your God, unencumbered by “oughts” and “shoulds” may be a liberating and energizing experience. An experience you can start today and not left until you are older.

Shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min

Learn more about Rabbi Address on his bio page. Find more articles by Rabbi Address in Spirituality & Life section of our library.

Rabbi Address is author of the book “Seekers of Meaning: Judaism, Baby Boomers and the search for Healthy Aging”. You can learn more about Rabbi Address and his books at www.jewishsacredaging.com

The Importance of Being

We are creatures in search of meaning

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

Winter is the season of discontent. It may be that there are still weeks until baseball or the fact that I am looking out at more than two feet of snow here in the Philadelphia area.

Or, it may be that so many things seem to be a little out of balance in the world. Not quite the future we contemplated way back when, is it?

This is a time for many of us when we begin to ask the “why” questions of life. I call them the why questions because that is how I interpret Genesis 3, in which the issue of one’s mortality is raised. (More of that in an upcoming column.) These why questions are the basis of life, I think, and they seem to be more present at this stage of our life.

Often, some event or life cycle issue will trigger the contemplative mode that gives rise to us asking these basic questions. One just hit me a few weeks ago as I flew home to officiate at a friend’s funeral. He was just two years older than I am, and his death was sudden. What made it more devastating is that just one month prior, I had officiated at his daughter’s wedding. The swift pace of life, its randomness, and the inability to control it were once again brought home.

The why questions really are quite simple: why was I born, why must I die, and why am I here? Simple, yes, but very complicated. We do spend most of our lives, in one way or another, wrestling with these questions. And, as we age, and time becomes more precious, these questions increasingly move from our unconscious mind to our conscious mind.

Curiously, you never know when these questions will pop up in our heads. I was sitting at a meeting recently, trying to pay attention, but my mind wandered, and these questions again emerged. As they did, a passage from an essay by Abraham Heschel also moved into consciousness. The essay dealt with the issue of our place in the world and our relationship with God. In the middle of the essay is this wonderful thought that the basic need of all of us is to be needed, and in that desire to be needed, is the search for our own sense of meaning.

Heschel makes a great deal about the fact that we are “creatures in search of meaning.” Every one of us wants our life to stand for something, to mean something. We want to be needed by someone, and we need that connection because that connection helps define our sense of meaning in the world. That is why we create communities. That is why, in the end, it is family and relationships that win out over career and possessions. How many of us have looked into the eyes of our grandchildren, or been hugged by them, and realized that this is the real priority? How many of us have experienced illness and been supported and lifted up by community, friends, and family? How many of us have enjoyed a moment of honor or personal growth and had it made more delicious by the fact that we could share it with people we cared about and who cared about us? And how empty that triumph was when we were alone.

Simply, the point is that the relationships we have are the real glue of our life. Those relationships are what give texture and meaning to our existence and help each of us define how and why we can answer the “why” questions. So, cherish the relationships that you have, and be open to new ones that, no matter where we are in life, can help give added meaning to our own life. We need them.

Shalom.

Traditions and End-of-Life Care

Don’t be afraid to talk about it

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

Montana has become the latest state to legalize or decriminalize assisted suicide. The state’s legislature made this decision, and thus Montana joins Oregon and Washington as areas that have opened this door to allow terminally ill patients to choose how to end life with a physician’s assistance. New Jersey, at the beginning of January, passed a law decriminalizing the use of marijuana in cases that would assist pain management for terminally ill patients.

Medical technology has made these issues evermore present. Conflicts abound among religious leaders as to the validity of allowing people to end their life. Special restrictions have been imposed to try to make these most difficult of decisions in line with medical treatment and advice. What is becoming abundantly clear is that this question will not go away. Despite sermons and religious laws, and beliefs regarding the sanctity of life and its preservation, the realities of pain and suffering have made the issues of legalizing assisted death a modern concern.

As you might expect, various religious traditions hold varying points of view. Time and space here do not allow us to delve into the differences, but each position is based on a particular faith community’s beliefs from its understanding of texts and religious philosophy. Each sees the human being as a representation of God. Debates as to the validity of issues such as “quality of life,” “dignity,” and “sanctity” are the heart of these debates and positions. All are, in their own way, valid for that particular community.

Yet, through all of the points of view, let me suggest that there is one constant theme: a call on the part of all involved that is becoming more crucial with each triumph of technology. That theme is the need for people to have “the conversation.” What is that? It is the conversation with your parents, your spouse, and your children regarding your wishes if you are enduring overwhelming pain and suffering, dealing with a reality that, in truth, may take away from your human dignity.

Every tradition now has documents that facilitate these discussions. Increasingly, religious institutions are creating educational programs that speak to their views on end-of-life issues. These programs often include an elder care lawyer to explain the laws of a state or province. Likewise, these programs may include pain management specialists, social workers, and physicians, as well as clergy to explain the texts of the tradition and how they are interpreted regarding decision making at the end of life.

These may not be easy conversations. Yet, given our life situations and what many people bear in these circumstances, it is now becoming more and more essential that families have this discussion. I invite your comments and stories as to how you and your family managed to handle this most challenging and difficult fact of life.

Shalom.

Choosing Life, Part 2

The shofar calls, but…

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

The second half of September sees the global Jewish community assembled to welcome the New Year of 5770. It is a time of introspection and contemplation. It is also a time for renewal and re-visioning.

One of the most powerful symbols of the New Year period is the ram’s horn, or shofar. A series of powerful blasts highlight the New Year celebration of Rosh Hoshonnah, and a long, slow sound brings the 10-day period to a close as the sun sets on Yom Kippur. This is a season when we are called upon to literally assess who we are, to put our spiritual lives in order, and to reflect on what we wish for the coming year. The prayers of the services are powerful, and the music is stirring. The readings from the Torah are designed to raise significant questions about life and our relationships to God and our fellow human beings. All in all, it is a season that calls on us to again, choose life!

But do we listen?

Here is a little prayer-wish for all of us on this season. I include myself, for this season finds me at my own spiritual crossroads. As the New Year begins, I, along with many of my generation, am quite aware that things are changing. We are gradually accepting, or at least acknowledging, our aging. We are at a stage when we are trying to figure out, really, what these next years will be, what they will mean, and how we will make sense of them and our place in them. This year, the shofar will call us to awaken our souls, and we wonder, to what?

One of my favorite readings during the season is from the book of Deuteronomy. This is the last of the five books that make up the Torah. The reading comes from the 29th and 30th chapter of the book and contains the phrase that is the basis of much of Jewish theology and civilization: “Choose life.”

This often-quoted phrase is the message for us. The shofar will call us to worship and remind us of the infinite possibilities for life that rests within each of us. This is a key message for us this year, and indeed every year. Choose to celebrate and enjoy the life we have been given. There is no more precious gift. Do not wait. Do not put off what you wish to do. Seize life, celebrate it, embrace it, wrestle with it. It is there for our living.

The reality check for this is also within the liturgy. One of the themes that runs through the prayers on these holidays is that, despite our wishes, we do not control much of life. The randomness of our own existence is always present, and its impact grows on us as we age. Thus, says the Torah reading, in the face of the randomness of so much of life, choose to live it. There is an old Yiddish expression that translates as “Man plans and God laughs.” You can make the argument that this expression correctly sums up one of the major themes of the holidays. It is as if the tradition is reminding us that plan as we might, so much happens that we do not and cannot control, we must remember to celebrate and enjoy the life we have.

A new year is now dawning. May it be a year of peace and joy, happiness and health for you and all who you care for and who care for and about you. And most of all, my prayer for you and me, is that we have the courage to choose life.