Jay Michaelson
Am I "Religious"?, p.4

If there is a difference between love of people and love of God, it’s that the former has an Other, but the latter is nondualistic. God is me is you is the tree is the ashes of the dead. The cycle of expansion and contraction is more real than any of its temporary manifestations. We are, to invoke Star Trek, living on the holodeck; all of us are temporary, flickering motes of energy, organized by the mind of God. In contrast, to flatten the earthly beloved into me is an act of inhumanity. In his particularity, he is Other than me. That is what makes love a state of growth and a place of discovery: there is Other than me. It works, to a point, for God too.

Yet ultimately, when I look into my beloved’s eyes, God sees Godself.

And what does God see? I experience a profound sense of being at home. Writing to you, I would say-

Relax: the entire world is on your side. Because there are no sides.

The experience you are having right now has no inside and no outside.

“You” are not even having this experience, if by “you” we mean the person with your name, history, traits, and flaws.

This moment is being experienced by God, manifesting as you, and also manifesting as a seemingly infinite number of other points in the universe, the overwhelming majority of which our minds cannot comprehend.

That the world is on your side does not mean you can do whatever you want and everything will be “fine.” Of course, you can do whatever you want (don’t try this part), but then you have to accept everything that might happen as a result. You can jump off a bridge, but you will die. You can act unethically, but you will cause suffering, and if you are really being open, that is a painful consequence to know. (If you’re not working on being open, please listen to reason, obey the Golden Rule, and minimize doing harm.) And some of the manifestations of God in the world will react with fear, rejection, even violence, if you act in certain ways. So, yes, there are no sides – but there are still consequences.

Better not to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, or cross the street without looking. Trust in Allah, but tie your camel up at night.

Finally, while the world may be God, most things are not fine. Righteous people suffer. Evil people win. There is no explanation. Deal with it. My editor calls this a copout – “your theodicy is that you have no theodicy.” That is correct. In the face of children with disease, my explaining mind shuts up. I learn more from just being present, observing, feeling.

Most of us, fortunately, experience such extreme pain only a few times in our lives. But we live in ordinary pain all the time. Maybe we can deal with it by allowing it, not by lying and saying that everything is ok, or that a human-like god has a plan. Instead, allow an anxiety attack (or temper tantrum, or sadness) to happen; breathe through it, see what it feels like. Be curious. Make room for both hesed (openness) and gevurah (boundaries) in your life, accepting both, skillfully dancing between them. Reject nothing, and be blind to nothing.

Religion is not a matter of opinion, and should thus not be a matter of lies either. If giving up on certain core beliefs of my faith community means that I am a heretic, so be it. I don’t care to strive with others for ownership of holy words like religious, or Jewish, or Buddhist. I prefer to open my eyes, so that God can see and love Itself in everything that is Here.

[1]       [2]       [3]       4
Images: James Turrell, Space that Sees,
photographed by Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson is the chief editor of Zeek. He will be on retreat from November 5 through December 17, and will be teaching at Limmud UK and Limmud NY afterwards. To join his mailing list, click here.

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From previous issues:

God Likes New Things
Abraham Joshua Heschel
trans. by Jonathan Boyarin

Jews, Goddesses, and the Zohar
Jill Hammer

Zionism and Colonialism
Michael Shurkin