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The Frustrating, Difficult, Never-Ending Search for God

I have long struggled with how to best answer the question: "Rabbi, how do I connect with God?"
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For most of us, the hunt for God never stops. We deny God, curse God and demand proofs of God's existence that we will never get. But the search continues, motivated by a sense -- often just a hunch, or the slimmest instinct -- that there is holiness in our world that only God's presence can account for. We know that what we believe about God may be wrong, but we prefer the possibility of false belief to no belief at all.

I have long struggled with how to best answer the question: "Rabbi, how do I connect with God?" The obvious place for the questioner to begin is with personal or communal prayer, but I have learned that for many such seekers, the experience of prayer is too alien to even contemplate. They are looking for other paths, and for multiple possibilities to consider. And assuming that they are willing to give me a small amount of their time, I do my best to provide them.

Begin, I suggest, with a new openness to the world around you. Reawaken your capacity for wonderment. Make room for the sense of awe that you felt as a child when you considered the beauty and the mystery of the natural world. There are divine sparks there, if you will allow yourself to experience them.

Turn next to the sacred texts of our tradition. They are important because there is an ebb and flow to our religious impulses. A hunger for the holy may overwhelm us one minute and dissipate the next. For most of us, God is not available "on demand." Texts are important because they are a record of how others before us, faced with the precisely the questions and doubts that we face, made their way to God and to faith. When we are lonely or isolated because the immediate experience of God eludes us, we can find reassurance, inspiration,and guidance in carefully studying how others navigated this course, connecting with God in ways that -- at this moment, at least -- we cannot.

Remember, too, that God is not only a noun but a verb, not only a presence but a process.
We may not know precisely what God is, but our tradition clearly tells us what God does: God heals the sick, clothes the naked, houses the homeless and pursues peace. We cannot be God; we are weak and imperfect human beings. But we can, within the limitations of the human condition, emulate God's behavior, and, in this way, bring God into our lives. Consciousness of God, of course, is hardly a requirement for ethical acts. There is, thankfully, much "do-goodism" in our society. But those who pursue justice with the express intent of testifying to God's existence are those who find the greatest satisfaction in their actions and who are least likely to fall victim to exhaustion and despair.

And finally, experiment with religious rituals, including those that you may have earlier discarded. Rituals give structure to the holy. They help us to cultivate a sense of the sacred within ourselves and in our midst. They are particularly valuable as an instrument of sacred reenactment: they are a means for us to relive the momentous encounters with God -- the Exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Sinai, the wondering in the desert -- that our ancestors experienced and that shaped our history and our religious lives. Almost always, a craving for God goes together with a craving for meaningful ritual, which binds us together and affirms our common values, shared joys and deep faith as a religious community.

All of this might be a little overwhelming, I say. But start somewhere. The search for God is frustrating and difficult, and it is never done. But with God, our lives have meaning and purpose; without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.

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