Edie Weinstein questions the deeply instilled version of God in favor of the God of her understanding.
A bit of a caveat before we dive into this loaded topic. As a ‘nice Jewish girl’ who became an ordained interfaith minister, I say often that I have no right to tell anyone what to believe spiritually, since it is an inside job. I note the difference between religion and spirituality; with the former being the box, structure, format and framework around the contents into which we pour the latter.
I was raised in the Jewish religion which is paradoxically matriarchal in one sense (a person is considered Jewish if their mother is) and overwhelmingly patriarchal in another. Judith Kaplan, at age 12, became the first American girl to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah on March 18, 1922. Until then it was considered a ritual only meant for boys. Her father was Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. On December 25, 1935, the first female rabbi ever to be ordained was Regina Jonas of East Berlin, Germany. To date there are 350 women ordained as rabbis in the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist branches in the U.S. since 1972 when Sally Priesand earned the title. This after thousands of years of Jewish history.
It wasn’t until 20-some years ago, that women were counted in the minyan, which is a quorum required to recite certain prayers. The rationale for excluding women seems a bit juxtaposed; sometimes cited that their primary responsibility was to the home and family and others that they were already holy (more than men), and so did not need to say these blessings in a group format. What I experienced at synagogue often felt restrictive and not in keeping with the freedom to fully practice Judaism in our home. Even years after becoming a Bat Mitzvah myself, I was still not completely welcome to play an active role in services. I felt like a ‘second class citizen’.
The liturgy had me imagining that the God of the Old Testament was a ZZ Top bearded mercurial old man sitting on high, judging us; not quite hurling lightning bolts like Zeus, determining if on Yom Kippur, we would be ‘written into the book of life for a good year.’ He (always He, never She) was jealous, angry, vengeful AND loving. Blessedly, this was not what was reinforced in my home.
During Passover, my sister and I took turns reading the Haggadah (the book used in the seder), we lit the Shabbos candles on Friday night (that is typically a woman’s task), and the Hanukkah candles each winter for 8 nights. We were expected to go to services with our parents and were invited by my father to attend the Sunday breakfast club gathering that was all boys until we broke the gender barrier. I attended Hebrew School until I was 16. We recited the Shema (the signature prayer in Judaism that speaks of the Oneness of God) each night before bed. I still do. It is a familiar comfort and a seal to my day.
In 2012, I was engaged in my regular ‘playout’ at Planet Fitness. Much more fun than calling it a ‘workout’. The Jeff Probst Show was broadcasting from two of the twenty screens that sprawled across the wall above the mirrors. His guest was the spiritual icon Deepak Chopra and his son Gotham who had just released a movie called Decoding Deepak, for which he followed his father around with a video camera for a year and interviewed him extensively. The intention was for people to get to know the man behind the image and that, I imagine, they did. I haven’t seen the film, but would like to do so, to get a first- hand perspective on a man I had interviewed many years ago, when he was just getting started as a teacher, author and guide. He does not refer to himself as a guru, although some would label him thusly. It became a movie, not just about the spiritual superstar an author of 65 books, who has partnered with Oprah Winfrey on projects, but indeed about the father-son relationship and even more importantly, the son himself.
“I learned a lot, and not only about my father,” said Gotham. “It’s funny, someone recently said to him, ‘Oh I read your son did a movie on you,’ and he turned to them and he said, ‘No, my son did a movie on himself.'”
One thing I appreciated about Jeff’s interview with Deepak was how respectful he was of beliefs that might have been left of center for some of his viewers and perhaps even his own. Unfortunately many of his media colleagues take a tongue in cheek approach to spirituality that is not mainstream. Jeff posed a question that Deepak answered magnificently. The query was, “Who are you?” to which he responded “I’m God in drag,” and if memory serves, he added “And you are too.” I felt an instantaneous respect for Jeff at that moment, since I already experienced a kinship with Dr. Chopra’s mind and heart-set.
A few days later, Jeff’s guest was the gender-bending RuPaul, star of Ru Paul’s All Star Drag Race. I remember his cameo in the 1995 cult classic : To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar as Rachel Tensions whose performance as a drag queen show emcee, foretold his role on his own show that debuted in 2009.
He was dressed in a plaid suit, not his usual fluff and flounce and spoke about his life and spiritual beliefs and the origin of his name, given to him by his Louisiana born mother. The “Ru” came from roux, an ingredient used in gumbo. Guess how he identified himself? Of course, he too is “God in drag.”; who else could he be? Now an even more pressing question is “Who else could you be?” My sense is that we are sparks of the Divine, dancing through the cosmos, being all fabulous.
I remember a story I heard many years ago about a little child who was drawing a picture. Mom, looking over her shoulder, asked “What are you making, honey?” “I’m drawing God,” to which her mother responds “Nobody knows what God looks like.” “They will in a few minutes,” replied the smiling sage.
I have long believed that God is too big to put in a box. I alternately refer to Spirit as “God/Goddess/All That Is” as well as the 12 step term The God of My Understanding-which changes moment to moment. People often ask why God would ‘allow’ horrific things to occur. I respond that I’m not so sure that a Force outside ourselves creates this whirlwind of mayhem, but that it is often the Source of our comfort through it.
My experience is that God (also referred to as Good Orderly Direction in the recovery community) is so many things as is articulately expressed in the song God Is In by Billy Jonas.
“God is in your strangest pleasure…some say God is into leather.”
“God is in the Buddha’s chair, saying “Don’t just do something…sit there.”
“God is in the Christian house; bread and wine and Holy Cross.”
God is in the Hindu way.. “Jai Bagwan, Namaste.”
“God is in the Jewish home, Shalom, chaverim, Shalom.”
and my favorite line “God is insatiable, so sing and dance way past full.”
For many of us, God is an enigma and wears different faces; some friendly and some frightening. What if, as the Joan Osborne song asks :”God was one of us?” How would that change the ways in which we view ourselves, our roles in the world and how we interact with the other ‘God-beings’ that inhabit the planet with us?
Photo credit: everystockphoto/Clouds 1 by Quevaal