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A patient asked to see me this morning. He’s going home with a short diagnosis: a few months to live. “I know I’ll be back,” he told me, “but find all this impossible to comprehend. I try to bargain with god sometimes: ‘What if I did this, or that, would he let me live a little longer?'”

mysteryDo you practice a religion, belong to a faith community, I asked. And who’s this god you speak to? “No, not really. I just look up and hope someone’s listening.” I too speak to god sometimes, I told him, when I’m at wit’s end.

Why I do this, I’m not sure. Common custom? Old habit? Wishful thinking? I don’t imagine god in the way I was taught by the Roman Catholic priests of my boyhood, as some entity that created the cosmos, that listens to my prayers, forgives my trespasses, waits to sit in judgement some day somewhere. Even Zen teachers mention god sometimes, referring I think to the highest reality and truth, through which and in which this universe exists.

I found the following explanation helpful:

rabbi cooperIn a way, there is no God, writes Rabbi David A. Cooper. Our perception of God usually leads to a misunderstanding that seriously undermines our spiritual development. God is not what we think It is. God is not a thing, a being, a noun. It does not exist, as existence is defined, for It takes up no space and is not bound by time. Jewish mystics often refer to It as Ein Sof, which means Endlessness.

Ein Sof should never be conceptualized in any way. It should not be called Creator, Almighty, Father, Mother, Infinite, the One, Brahma, Buddha-mind, Allah, Adonoy, Elohim, El, or Shaddai; and It should never, never be called He. It is none of these names, and It has no gender.

When we call It God, what are we talking about? If we say It is compassionate, full of loving kindness, the source of love, we may be talking about an image of what we think the divine nature ought to be, but we are not talking about Ein Sof. In the same way, if we say that the God portrayed in the Bible is vindictive, jealous, angry, cruel, uncaring,  or punitive, we cannot be referring to Ein Sof. Ein Sof includes every attribute but cannot be defined by any of them individually, or all of them combined.

source: Cooper, D. A. (1997). God is a verb. New York: Riverhead. image: Photographer Nicola Tramarin looks for meaning in common things. This photo appears in the Fall 2009 issue of Mountain Record, p.75.


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