A few weeks ago, I attended a course from the Jewish Learning Institute called Wrestling with Faith. In the last class, I had to read aloud an excerpt from philosopher George Steiner’s book, titled In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture.
It was a challenging piece to read aloud because along with wrapping my mouth around complex academic language, I had to wrap my mind around complex philosophical ideas at the same time. Simply put, Steiner wrote that the emergence of the belief in one G-d instead of many gods was foreign to the human psyche, and difficult to grasp because this one G-d’s name was (and is) unspeakable, there were (and are) no images to represent this one G-d, and people were not even supposed to imagine an image of this one G-d.
This G-d was and is the G-d of Moses, the G-d who gave us the Ten Commandments and the Torah, the G-d who is sometimes called the G-d of the Jews. I was raised to believe in this invisible G-d, and although during my teen years I was agnostic—a doubter—I was never a non-believer. I have always believed in a Creator, someone or something that is ever-present and responsible for all that exists. But…if our G-d has no name and no physical representation does he/she/it really exist? It’s easy to see why the course was named Wrestling with Faith!
I know you have probably read or heard many explanations and rationalizations about the existence of G-d so I am not even going to try to provide that perspective. Instead, I would like to share with you through a story how I experience G-d in the world, no matter whether I am having a day full of beauty and wonder, or a day full of challenges and disappointments. I see patterns and evidence.
My father (of blessed memory) suffered from Parkinson’s disease. It bent his spine, caused his body to shake uncontrollably, and took away so much of his dignity. As a dedicated physician, he had always focused on ways to heal others and lessen their suffering, yet he was unable to stop the progression of this terrible disease. He passed away when he was 77 years old.
In Judaism, there are prescribed mourning periods for different family. We mourn a parent for twelve months, and thereafter read special prayers on the anniversary of the parent's death. At the end of the mourning period for my father, I decided to make something in his honour.
I love to knit, so I went to a local wool shop, found a pattern I liked that required two types of yarn and asked a young sales assistant to help me. As we searched through the store, I told her what the project was for, but I didn’t tell her any other personal information about myself of my family. Later, when I was unpacking the yarn, I read the receipt which had the name of the sales clerk and the names of the yarn.
I was so shocked at what I read that I took a picture of the receipt: the sales clerk’s name was the same as my father’s; one of my chosen yarns was the same as my mother’s. There, on this little piece of white paper that documented my purchase for a project dedicated to my father was his name and my mother’s name. For me, what some would call a coincidence is evidence of the existence of G-d.
Do you have a similar story?
Fiona Prince, MA is a coach, facilitator and teacher who provides fundamental communication and writing skills to help people succeed in their professional and academic lives. She worships at the Chabad Family Shul where she volunteers teaching children and adults how to read Hebrew. Sign-up for weekly communication tips at www.princeheron.com. To learn to read Hebrew, contact her at email@example.com. (Morah means teacher and Faiga is her Hebrew name).
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* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, December 8th 2018