On Friday mornings I attend a study group at Mt. Saviour Monastery. Usually we pour over Holy Scripture, but the last few weeks we have been reading the most recent book by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. You may remember him as the author of the best seller, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” This new release is titled “Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life.”
One chapter I found particularly compelling and I want to share a bit of it with you. As we know, church attendance throughout the world has been declining and Christianity is not the only religion affected by this phenomenon. And how many times have we heard people say that they are not religious in the conventional sense, but that they are spiritual. Perhaps we have even said it ourselves. Well, Rabbi Kushner admits to having been at a loss regarding how to respond to these individuals. That was until a colleague, Rabbi David Wolpe, of Los Angeles, shared with him his response, which is, “No, spirituality is what you feel, theology is what you believe, religion is what you do.” Rabbi Kushner goes on to say, “the most sublime religious faith becomes real only when it is translated into behavior, into doing things you might not otherwise do as an enactment of your religious faith.” He then quotes the famed theologian Martin Buber who, when asked, “Where can I find God?” replied, “God is not found in churches or synagogues. God is not found in holy books. God is not found in the heart of the most fervent believer. God is found between people.” Rabbi Kushner then adds, “when you act toward someone as your religion tells you to, God comes and bridges the gap between you. You are joined for those moments by bonds of holiness.” He continues by quoting Rev. Lillian Daniel, a UCC minister who in her book, “When ‘Spiritual, but Not Religious’ Is Not Enough” writes, “people who invoke simplistic reasons for rejecting traditional religion, but find God in spring flowers and changing leaves will have no problem as long as it’s sunny out, but they have no framework for making sense of a hurricane, or a business reversal or a diagnosis of serious illness. At times like that, you need a tradition to turn to that has seen it all and has no illusions about the world. You need a community, people who have learned to find God in the shadows as readily as in the sunshine, to find Him in the courage of afflicted people and the helpfulness of their neighbors. And you need people whose faith compels them not to pity you or to question God on your behalf, but to hold you and dry your tears.”
I do hope that this sampling of Rabbi Kushner’s book will spark both reflection and conversation. I would love to hear your thoughts. This may be a book you will find worthy of a discussion group.
In the meantime, I encourage you to spend time out of doors enjoying the warmth of the sunshine, the greening grass, flowering trees, and the gardens ready to burst forth with colorful and fragrant blooms, and then come to church where your friends are waiting for you.
Kushner, Harold A. “Religion Is What You Do, Not What You Believe.” Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life. New York: Anchor, 2015. 103-117. Print