Wrappings for God

Reb Zalman, a’h was asked: “When you come before God. I wonder, what is that ‘God’ to you? Who is this that you come before? And what is that like?”

Here’s his reply:

Ok. It’s such a good question!

And I want to say that at another time I was describing how William James, the great psychologist who wrote about varieties of religious experience, one day made his way and came to a town in New England and, he asked one of the wardens of the church, “Who is God for you? What do you place yourself in front of?”

He answered: “An oblong blur.”

Now he was talking to a New England transcendentalist who was very much afraid to say anything of shape because that’s a “no-no.”

The mistake is that the head has to know there’s no shape. But the heart has to have a root-metaphor.

I can be in a monistic place in my head but I can’t be in a monistic place in my heart. In my heart I have to have the other whom I love. That’s where I’m in the I/Thou relationship.

So the point is this: It’s true that in the past people used to think of God as a king. And we say, Avinu Malkeinu, our father our king. And sometimes we speak of the Sh’khinah as being our mother, and that’s wonderful. But… The one that I have the best conversations with is the one who sits in the passenger seat when I’m driving: My Friend.

I can talk to my friend, I don’t have to hide.

The sense that I am not opaque to God (I can’t hide anything from God anyway, but I don’t want to hide anything from God. So I’m so transparent.)

But I also want to talk to God.

So what happens is, part of the divine grace is that God will wear any mask that I will give Him to wear so that I can communicate with Him.

H.G. Wells wrote a novel about the Invisible Man. How could he go around if he was invisible? The answer is that he was always wrapped in something so that you could see the wrapper.

Similarly, we provide God with an image.

Sometimes a terrifying image; that also has happened for people.

But the more I feel myself into our place today, the more motherly God is for me.

Then there’s other times when I need to have a romance with God because so little enchantment is around and if I don’t have that romantic feeling…

And the Sufi’s are full of that, Rumi is full of that.

But our own people were full of that same thing: The Baal Shem and all the other mystics had a romance going with God.

So when you ask, “Who do I place myself in front of?” I say: “Check out: What image will allow for you the most heartful exchange with God?”

Sometimes a physical thing such as a burning candle is also helpful because it gives you a focus.

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