Contributed by Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

An Invitation for Summer:  Going to the beach?  The mountains?  A get-away trip for relaxation, refreshment and rejuvenation?  Why not take some time to express your own personal theology.  Wrestle with it by yourself or with others.  Regardless of your religious tradition and heritage, I think we all incorporate our life experiences and learning into a theology that is “operational,” that allows us to live in the world day-by-day, making decisions and direction our actions. What might yours be?

Here’s a reflection with some of my own ideas.

Revelation:  Torah—in its broadest sense—is the dynamically evolving product of the Jewish people’s ongoing encounters with God. For all of the Torah that has been written, printed, bound, cataloged, distributed and studied, there exists still more Torah struggling to be born within the Jewish people. Our encounters with God never cease and only need to be recognized as such for God to permeate our lives. We construct rituals, symbols, words and worlds wherein we seek to let God in, to come face to face with the wholly Other.

Religious Authority/Commandedness:  We are 100% commanded. We are 0% willing to be commanded. The intervening increasing/decreasing percentages represent our dialogue with God, our effort to discover how actions unfold God for us, and our eternal hope for meaning in this life. We confront how our unwillingness to live other than just for ourselves leads to death and destruction for others and ourselves. We confront how our being commanded requires action before comprehension. We confront how our turning back (repentance) and our circumcising our hearts bring us more health of body, mind and spirit—how they bring us closer to God and how they provide direction for us.

The Nature of God:  We cannot know the nature of God. We can be in relationship with God, through which we discover God. Harold Schulweiss’s critical question for what he terms “predicate theology” is “not ‘Do you believe that God is merciful, caring, peace-making’ but ‘Do you believe that mercy, caring making peace are godly?’ (Evil and the Morality of God, p. 122 as quoted in Sonsino/Syme, Finding God, p. 156).  Revelation within the Jewish community over long centuries continually speaks to the point of discovering what is godly—resting on the cornerstone of the prophet Micah’s dictum that God requires us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”  We are observing God’s commandments when we are doing godly things. We can know what godly things are through God’s past, present, and future—God’s ongoing revelation to the Jewish people – individually and communally. The nature of God beyond this is speculation which deters us from the task at hand—bringing more people to an understanding that doing godly things brings peace and wholeness—sh’leimut.

Evil:  We and others who live close to the 0% bring about evil. When we answer to the voice of self-interest and no other, we endanger everyone around us. The larger the voice of self-interest, the larger the danger. We concentrate often on preventing great evils and we ignore the small evils which change lives more directly, resulting in a culture of pain and despair, leading to more evil ꟷ Free moral choice skewered and impaired by the actions of others.

Suffering:  It exists. Why me? Why any of us? Why not me? Why not any of us? Responding to being commanded means doing godly things to ameliorate suffering on an individual, communal and world-wide level while at the same time discovering and repairing the underlying evil which is responsible for human-engendered suffering. Does God cause suffering? No. Has God created a world in which suffering is possible? Yes. Will God abandon us? No. Can God stop all suffering? No. Who/What can? In partnership with God, much suffering can be alleviated. Beyond that, we do not—maybe can not—know. We live, hope and pray that with God, doing godly things, we repair the world and bring about the messianic age. God—think global—act local!!

The Power to Shape Our Experiences

contributed by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

For me, settling in my chair for a “day at the beach” brings forth texts from the Psalms that shape my experience of the moment. Remembered verses from biblical texts join with the remembered experiences of past days at the beach and increase my expectation of delight throughout the day and refreshment upon my departure.

Psalm 95:3-5. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the mountains are also his. The sea is his, and he made it; and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 96 1,11. O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. . . . Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all that is in it.

Psalm 104: 24-25. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. So is this great and wide sea, where there are innumerable creeping things, living things, both small and great.

Yet for others a “day at the beach” is really, well, not “a day at the beach”. The beaches of the Mediterranean may bring physical relief to those who reach them as they transit across the waters from dangers in their home countries, but the desired economic and social relief may never materialize. D-Day and Normandy Beach (among others) saw thousands killed.

Indeed, Job’s metaphor (6:2-3a) rings true in these instances: Oh that my torments were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid on the scales! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea.

My day at the beach changes with the somber recognition of other experiences of “beach” than my own current one. My worries about having enough sunscreen or needing water shoes to soften walking the rocky shoreline into the surf or getting sand in my lunch shift to deeper thoughts.

Job 28:12-14. But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its price; nor is it found in the land of the living. The depth says, “It is not in me”; and the sea says, “It is not with me”.

Job 38:1-11. Then the Lord answered Job from the stormy wind, and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now your loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and you will answer me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ Declare, if you have understanding. ‘Who determined its measures,’ do you know? Or ‘who has stretched the line upon it? Upon what are its foundations fastened?’ Or ‘who laid its corner stone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’ Or ‘who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, as if it had issued from the womb, when I made the cloud its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, but no further; and here shall your proud waves be stayed”?’”

My “day at the beach” becomes a lesson I hadn’t sought, a sobering reminder that this “day at the beach” is no such thing for me, either. The words and texts I learned and remembered “way back when” have the power to shape my experience in the present in multiple directions. The seriousness of life I sought to escape found me, and, I hope it was for the better.

Been to the beach this summer?  How was it for you?