Actually, God seeks man
This is my review/commentary on 'Man Seeks God', Eric Weiner's latest book. After reading his book 'Geography of Bliss' back when I was in Hawaii years ago, I was lookiing forward to his next book. It did not disappoint.
Islam and other curiosities
The 1st religion Eric showcased was Sufism - showing a delightful, soft side of Islam.
I did not really start taking notes until I got to his chapter about Buddhism. I must say, Sufism is more interesting to me than the Buddha business. I have always loved lists. Buddha has the 5 precepts: undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life, to abstain from taking what is not given, to abstain from sexual misconduct, to abstain from false speech, and to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.
Buddhism is very dry to me, very murky. It is during the Buddha session that Eric tells his age, 46, while surveying the boring religion in Kathmandu. He mentions Martin Gardner, a fideist, who cannot prove Jah's existence, but believes in Jah anyway. Eric recalls Gardner's name in contrast to Buddhism, the religion that believes in no god. Buddha does not believe in God either.
Next up, the Christians: via the Franciscans. Eric's praise of them gives me hope the next time I might be homeless in New York City; Eric found the Friars of the Renewal fathering a homeless shelter. Eric admits that 'nobody does forgiveness like the Christians. They are number one in their field.' It feels good to hear a near-faithless Hebrew say that. Brother Crispin confessed to Eric, 'Christianity is filled with contradictions,' and he is right. The gospel of Matthew says, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged' and then Paul the apostle says, 'he that is spiritual judgeth all things' (1 Corinthians 2.15). Holy contradictions is what I call them.
Messiah Yeshua promises a relationship, which is utmost personal, in a way no other faith does. Eric not only says as much, but sees this in action when Louis - his guide for the day in front of an abortion clinic - faces off with pro-choice escorts. Eric was awkwardly seen as a passive supporter of Louis' cause, because of his identification with the friar. I love Jah's humor. Eric was guilty by association! Good guilt is a good thing.
Eric's study of Messiah's activity led him to folks like Simone Weil, a Hebrew lady born into a family of Paris, France. Though dead, her words reached even to Eric. Weil experienced an encounter with Jah's Son in 1938, but never converted to the Vatican. However, she rejected Rabbinic Judaism, saying all the evil in popular Christianity was from the words/deeds of Hebrews who refused the Son of Man (as per Encyclopedia Judaica). 1 of Weil's testimonies was her book La Condition Ouvriere, which tells of her poverty lifestyle. I had a hard time finding out what that title means in English, but then Yahoo's Babel Fish came to the rescue: The Working Condition.
Eric's chapter on Raelism made me laugh: there is nothing like a UFO-based religion to keep things lighthearted.
As Taoism unfolded before Eric, he kept his pen at the ready. In so doing, he just confirmed what I had learned years ago: that Buddhist nuns actually exist. He observed the tale of Madam H, who used to be a Buddhist nun. Years before reading Man Seeks God, I met a Messianic Hebrew woman who had once been such a nun (at the time I thought the Roman Catholics had cornered the market on nunnery). The Messianic Hebrew woman I met was of French stock, attending a shul called Baruch Hashem, and struggling with an unruly son.
Eric passed through Wicca, reminding me of a Wiccan I brought to Messiah in the 1990's. Eric also surveyed Shamanism.
Then Eric embarked on his heritage: Judaism, via Kabbalah. This is the greatest of religions, a gift which men have separated from its daughter, Christianity, too many times. It is a religion that came to Eric by reason of birth. He sadly admitted that to him, Judaism was simply a sad parade of rules.
Then Ruach haKodesh (the Holy Spirit) - who lives in me - highlighted this for me, by teaching me that when Abba gives birth, he then tells his children (at babyhood) from the time they can understand, what to do - the how, what and why of life. So the 'rules' Eric speaks of are probably Jah's principles governing conduct, as seen through the eyes of those called rabbis.
Eric found Tzfat (Safed) charming, a place which has served as an artist's colony - such a claim makes me wish to investigate. Tzfat drew men to it who were called 'daring stormers of heaven', as per Lawrence Fine. Makes me think of how Jah in the flesh said (Mattityahu 11), 'From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.' I believe that those 'stormers of heaven' were much better men than the Crusaders.
Eric's curiosity awakened in me a passion for the 10 sefirot (divine emanations), a soft place to land, only to be followed by Eyal's confused declaration that God is not a spirit, 'without limits'. But allow me to park on the sefirot for a moment. They are: 1) the Divine Crown, 2) Wisdom, 3) Understanding, 4) Mercy, 5) Justice, 6) Beauty, 7) Eternity, 8) Glory, 9) Foundation, and 10) Kingship.
Concerning God being a spirit or not, let me say here that he is a Spirit. Eyal's declaration is a clear departure Scripture. But Eyal is not all bad, for he explains that Jah is a Father teaching a child - a concept easy to forget about Abba.
Tzfat sounds like my kind of place - it attracts misfits. As a jewel city for Kabbalah, Tzfat is a place where you find out that none of our actions are without consequences. This comforts me more than it frightens me. Jah weighs the heart. What seems bad sometimes shows itself as ugly beauty - motives purify misunderstanding.
Indeed, Jah wants us. This is not preached enough.
Eric inserts a thought by Joseph Campbell: we all have an indigenous mythology, put into us at childhood, a myth which awaits to be translated into eloquence instead of something to be escaped. That thought rings well with me! I assume Eric is referring to the words of the American mythologist (1904-1987) who was born in White Plains, New York. A sentiment such as the one Campbell promoted moves me to ask my parents to fill in the blanks for me, to tell me what happened before I could understand the world around me.
Eric makes it clear that he fears time, its finiteness. He equates it with death. Eric often quoted Abraham Heschel, who said, 'We suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time' - thus confirming my long-held and hard fought-for conclusion that the reason why people rush and try to do as much as they can is because of the fear of death. Heschel was a Polish-born American born in 1907.
In Israel, the coming of each shabbat (the Jewish sabbath, Friday evening to Saturday evening) kept Eric from missing anything, kept him from worrying if someone was trying to reach him. The obedience of others (sabbath-keepers) made it easier for Eric to obey: this is a perfect example of the rule of law cherished by Gentiles at sundry times in the nations that beget sensible attitudes.
Eric's visit to a tiny shul in the Holy Land reminded him of 1 he visited in New Delhi, India (I wonder if he speaks of the Judah Hyan Hall Synagogue at 2 Humayun Road). It was in that goy land where he felt more Hebrew in that shul than he did anytime/anywhere else. I have read articles in recent years that show India to be Israel's new best friend. Eric had this wonderful feeling in the East (Judaism's origin), in a shul outside the self-righteous core of Israel's orthodox reach. A shul tempered by the surroundings of goyim who are friendly.
One particular meal Eric enjoyed drilled into his head the impossible recurrence of orthodox Hebrews and Fanta at the table. When I was in Germany, I was told by an American soldier of German stock that Fanta is a German product. In doing research on this, I found out it was true! The fruity drink came out into the open in Germany in 1941. The name Fanta was the result of Coca-Cola's leader in Germany telling his team to 'use their imagination' (Fantasie in German). 1 of the salesmen yelled out, 'Fanta!'
What is more, it is my understanding that Orthodox Hebrews are mostly Ashkenazi. Hence, the connection between Fanta and the Orthodox Hebrews. For those of you behind the power curve, Ashkenazi refers to Hebrews from the Rhineland (the region on either side of the River Rhine. Ashkenaz was the Hebrew name for Germany. I have always thought it to be a curious thing that the word Nazi could be found in Ashkenazi.
It was Asaf who delivered to Eric a wise joke, exposing the folly of Roman Catholic designs. The joke showed the inefficacy of Catholic baptism. For the record, and as my testimony, I will say that only belief in Messiah begets new life.
Eric's experience and research introduced me to a new maxim: 'receive with love'. I like that. How many times do we receive with hate?
Yedidah explained to Eric that the Zohar was written in code, which makes that text intentionally deceptive. To me, this qualifies the Zohar as spiritual fiction, a religious novel, whereas the Bible is spiritual non-fiction.
Kabbalists believe we have an assignment - mine is mainly preaching via writing. Kabbalah asks us not to get rid of ego. Ego = the 'I' of any person. Psychoanalysts says ego is the part of the apparatus that reacts to the outside world. It would not be too far fetched to say that ego in scripture is called 'conceit'. Case in point: 1st Shmuel 17, 'I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.'
Kabbalists say mikva has the same numerical value as 'womb', and so Kabbalists talke about returning to the womb, to being reborn. I cannot but help to think of Messiah's words in Yochanan 3, 'You must be born again.' Mikva = immersion into water. That is why Messiah-niks are buried in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life, as I often heard the Baptists say for so many years of my life.
On his way out of Israel, Eric saw the Ethiopian Absorption Ministry. It struck him how immigrants are not merely welcomed, integrated or assimilated - they are absorbed. Jah absorbs us who love him.
As Eric concluded his worldwide tour story, his remark about Jah being someone 'like the wind' reminded me that when I feel and hear the wind (Hebrew, ruach), I am feeling and hearing Jah (Spirit). Ruach also translates as Spirit. I have oft comforted myself with this thought, that windchimes thus become Jah's vocal chords: eerie, yet making Messiah palpable, until Shiloh come. Windchimes have always given me an uncanny feeling, especially metal ones, inspiring superstitious fear.
Thank you, Eric, for bringing us closer to that fear - 'the Fear of Isaac' (Genesis 31).