When I was eight years old in Sunday School at a synagogue in Culver City, California, Jacob, the ever-earnest teacher, told us that God created the world in six days.
I called BS on that fast.
“There is no way that the world was created in six days,” I said. “That is not scientifically possible. It takes a baby nine months to grow. So, how can God create everything in less than a week?”
(Yeah, I was that kid – the one with her hand in the air all the time. Hermione Grangerstein.)
Jacob, with a zealot’s gleam in his eye, tried to convince me otherwise.
“God has powers we don’t understand,” he said.
Not good enough for me. I simply could not wrap my head around the idea that the entire world – light and darkness, water and sky, dry land, plants and trees, the sun, moon, and stars, dolphins and whales and mermaids and clown fish and pigeons and eagles and unicorns and lions and elephants and cows and horses, and finally people – was all made from scratch in six days. (We were studying geology and the Big Bang theory in science class that year, and I happened to know for a fact that life evolved over a much longer period of time. So there. Ha!)
“It doesn’t make sense,” I told a beleaguered Jacob.
“You just have to have faith,” he sighed.
Now that, my friends, was an amateur mistake: No one — not then, and certainly not now — tells me what to believe, and gets away with it.
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do.”
(Seriously, Jacob? You’re 25. I’m 8.)
“Do you know what a metaphor is?” he asked.
I leveled him with the best “are you fucking with me” look that an eight year old can give.
“Yes, I know what a metaphor is.”
“Well, many scholars believe the story of creation is a metaphor for a much more complicated creation of the universe. And, to be honest with you, I used to study astrophysics before becoming a rabbi, so I personally believe in a more scientific approach. Even when studying the Torah.”
This answer pleased me. And I was able to go back to class where I learned (very quickly) to take everything Jacob said with a grain of salt. And when in doubt, I’d run it by the Rabbi.
And you know what? 23 1/2 years later, I can say this: I do believe. And I’ll even go one step further and say that “yes, I believe in God.” But not in the Jawist, Elohist, Priestly, or Deutoronmic depictions of The Almighty.
Sure, the biblical narrative is a powerful story – the story of a nation struggling to come into being. And the metaphors behind it are powerful and often inspiring.
So far so good, right? Elohim take the wheel, and all that. And I’ve gotten this far with my beliefs, and am doing my best to live a life that is inspired by the godliness reflected in others. Even when it ain’t easy.
But then last night during dinner, my daughter put down her fork and out of nowhere asked:
“Where does God live?”
“Nu, Mama. Where does God live?”
O.M. HaShem child, ask me about sex and drugs and rock’n'roll, because I can break it down. But this? I am so not ready!
Look: When you raise two kids on a secular Kibbutz, you don’t expect that question to come up until after they’ve memorized the Communist Manifesto.
And I have no idea how to answer her, because I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. Sure, there are lots of quickie answers I can give:
“In your heart.”
“All around us.”
“In a galaxy far far away.”
“In jail. (Because apparently a lot of people find Him there.)”
But I’m stymied, mostly because I want her to come up with the answer herself. Just because I believe that God lives in all of us, and radiates through us in the kindness we show one another, does not mean that that should be her Truth. Or her brother’s Truth.
Or anyone else’s Truth.
So I turned it on her: “Where do you think God lives?”
“Up in the sky dancing with Dead Gramma.”
Ah, now there’s a mental picture that will stick with me forever and ever hallelujah.
But I guess that answer is good enough for now, although I also know that that answer will most certainly evolve into bigger questions. And bigger answers. Forever and ever hallelujah
And I suppose that’s true for me, as well. Faith is dynamic and evolving, and that’s OK.
Seriously. I’m asking – really asking: