If you didn’t know, every summer, I work as a counselor at Tannen’s Magic Camp. I’ve been going there since I was a camper at the age of 9. It’s a sacred time and place for me. (If you want to watch, here’s a pretty awesome link to performance I did called The World’s 2nd Greatest Psychic.)
Last year, I met a boy named Ryan – and, because, his name sounds like mine, but without a “B,” I started to refer to him as “Not-B.” I really liked the kid and I got a good sense of this boy – “Not-B.”
Or, I thought I got a sense of him.
It’s not that I later found out that the kid has a secret identity or anything like that.
It’s just that while I thought I knew him, later, upon reflecting on it, how much of this kid could I have known? I know what he does at camp when I see him, but how much could I really know?
The chances are that Ryan who exists outside of magic camp might be a very
different kid. I don’t know how he interacts with his parents, in school or at the 7-
Eleven. I don’t know how frustrated he gets with his sister, if he even has a sister. I have an idea, maybe, but really, I don’t know much about this boy at all.
I’m thinking maybe the same is true about God. I might know a section or a portion of God, but I don’t really know God. I can only know some of God.
And, the same way that I can develop and enjoy relationship with Ryan without
really knowing him, I can have a relationship with the part of God that I know. This line of thinking reminds me of a John Godfrey Saxe poem called “The Blind Men and The Elephant.” The six sight-deprived men in the story all experience a different portion of the elephant and all assume the elephant to be different things – because that’s the part they have experienced. The one with the tusk thinks it’s a spear; the one with the trunk, a snake; the one with the tail, rope; and so on.
My understanding of God clearly will be different from yours.
Do I have a “more correct” understanding of Ryan than his parents, his peers, or the cashier at 7-Eleven?
Of course not.
And, of course, I don’t have a better understanding of God than you.
In a moment, I will give you a challenge to further your understanding of God, but
first, let me give you a rabbinical interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:4, central words
to Jewish liturgy. This passage is known as “the Shema,” which is the first word of
The words translate as,
“Hear! O Israel, Adonai is
our God, Adonai is one.”
(Note: Adonai is a
placeholder word for God.) Here is how I interpret these words: Listen, all you who struggle with God, God is God is God is God. All are aspects of our one and the same God. The infinite is one.
Now, I’m going to throw down a theological challenge for you.
The same way that I gave Ryan a nickname – “Not-B” – I want to you consider the
nickname by which you might refer to God. I mean, if you are going to have a
sleeves-rolled-up relationship with God, one that has some familiarity, oughtn’t you at times use a ‘pet’ name?
Let me assure you with my background in religion that there is nothing blasphemous about this – according the Jewish tradition there are many names of God. (Jewish tradition assures us that none of those are God’s actual name.)
Me, I’ve taken to refer to God as “Doni” – it came to me as a shortened form of
Adonai. You see, “Adonai” translates best as “our God”. And, in a conversation we were having once, I called God “Adoni” – which would mean “my God.” And, well, the “A” dropped off and the name stuck.
This week’s wisdom_biscuit:
Come up a nickname for (the) God (of your understanding) and see how it feels. (Bonus points, figure out the nickname by which God calls you.)