Childhood mentors deluded me with images of God sitting on a throne, the seal of judgment gripped in his right arm, about to stamp me into the book of life for another year. And then my Jewish education ended. Lest Judaic teaching be singled out for the promulgation of the anthropomorphic God, Michelangelo fixed upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a parallel image of a Christian God digitally infusing life into Adam. These images haven’t worked for me in adulthood, and God and I haven’t seen eye-to-eye since.
That’s not to say we haven’t been looking for each other. I know I have, but each time I try to get my head around an understanding how to perceive God, insight fails the fit test. I know a pair of pants doesn’t fit when my middle vetoes my vanity, and a vision of God doesn’t fit when my gut rejects what my mind considers. This has been going on for a long time.
My summer project is preparing to teach a course about Robert Frost for the coming school year. In my reading I discovered the close friendship that existed between Robert Frost and Rabbi Victor Reichert. In 1946, Rabbi Reichert invited Frost to give a sermon at his Cincinnati synagogue. Frost agreed, although he was unsure as to what to say. Shortly before he was called upon to speak, the congregation offered the following prayer, “Look with favor, O Lord, upon us, and may our service be acceptable unto Thee. Praised be Thou, O God, whom alone we serve in reverence.”
Inspired by the word, “acceptable”, Frost said the following, “Now religion always seems to me to come round to something beyond wisdom. It’s a straining of the spirit forward to a wisdom beyond wisdom. Many men have the kind of wisdom that will do well enough in the day’s work, you know, living along, fighting battles, going to wars, beating each other, striving with each other, in war and in peace – sufficient wisdom. They take their own side, naturally, and do well enough. But if they have religious natures… they constantly tremble a little with fear of God. And the fear of God always has meant the fear that one’s wisdom…one’s own human wisdom is not quite acceptable in His sight. Always I hear that word ‘acceptable’ – acceptable about offerings… Always the fear that it may not quite be acceptable. That, I take it, is the fear of God, and is with every religious nature, always…”
Frost’s phrase “wisdom beyond wisdom” resonates deeply in me. We use wisdom to make our daily life successful. This wisdom also takes our side. My egotistical mind is perpetually scheming ways to turn every moment to my advantage. I am a self centered automaton. “Did he just cut in front of me? Let me be first, please, please, please…,” my mind is constantly, silently screaming.
Is there a higher wisdom that asks the question, “Am I acting, am I thinking, am I striving acceptably?” And if there is such a higher wisdom, acceptable to whom? It feels healthy to look beyond the needy self to find out who I am and who I wish to be. I want to be acceptable to a singular standard beyond my individual needs. Such a standard needs to unify all needs into a oneness. And then I think of the quintessential Jewish prayer, the Shma. “Hear Oh Israel, The Lord Our God, The Lord Is One.” And now my gut stays its rejection and ponders. Where is “oneness”? Who is “One”? Should I look up to heaven? Do I look inside myself for that glow of Godliness that resides in each person, waiting to be discovered? Is there unity in the world, in our lives, in all creation?
Truth is process, not resolution. I grope for insight, but am less lost. Something fits. There is a wisdom beyond wisdom. My spirit strains forward to know a wisdom greater than human wisdom. I tremble a little with fear, whether my life is choosing a path that is acceptable to God.