I am almost through with The Complete Francis of Assisi: His Life, The Complete Writings and The Little Flowers. I have finished reading The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi themselves but have not read the Biographical Sketches afterwards. However, I am taking a break until after the 11th Hour (a news show I like to watch). Reading it I think of the apparently un-Jewish notion of sainthood. I don’t mean mere hero-worship, as I loved Harry Truman as a kid and other people have loved George Washington, Abigail Adams, or Abraham Lincoln. No, I mean the idea that having searched within and apparently failed to find the God the person hoped to, the person searches for the Kabbalist, Catholic abbot, or Muslim Sufi mystic, hoping that by learning the ways of the saint, they will become more like him or her. This person is rarer than the mere “hero” and yet people seek them out in remote corners like India, hoping to finally discover the Truth about God.
I honestly believe that faith in “the still, small voice of God” within is possible for most people. I have studied and I believe my prayers are answered by God’s voice–not with words but with a gentle feeling of love. I first received this idea studying a class Philosophy of East and West, where we learned that there is a bit of God in each of us. This bit is called Atman, and it is a small piece of Ana-Atman or Brahman. Brahman is what Hindus call God. I thought to myself of the similarity of this idea to the Quaker notion of “the inner light,” the idea of God speaking to the individual. Years later I learned about the Jewish notion of “the inner light” in the Kabala. The Kabala is a piece of Judaism only serious adepts of our faith are allowed to study, but from what little I know of it, it can be very moving or very strange. In other religions–Sufi speak of God within and Buddhists of the “inner Buddha”–the idea exists, too.
Yet there are those, who from excess of love or excess of doubt, need more to comfort them. So, they seek out a saint. I have never myself sought out a saint, though I have had rabbis, and for converts a rabbi is required in a similar way to a saint. Yet I believe in saints. As I read The Complete Francis of Assisi, I also read Something Beautiful for God (the book that discovered Mother Teresa) and Chadha’s Gandhi: A Life. After reading about St. Francis, I have a need to read about “Jewish saints”: The Life and Teachings of Hillel; Hillel: If Not Now, When; The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov; and Jewish Tales of Holy Women. Then I shall read about Sufism: Muslim Women Mystics; Women of Sufism and Four Sufi Classics. I pray that I learn from each of these books.
I am going to make an admission. I feel that right now is a moment of spiritual low in America. It is the only explanation I can feel satisfied with a man as cruel as Donald Trump being president, but also the only explanation I have of the secularization of the left. The second is ironic; the Catholic Church finally has a Pope who is liberal and loves the poor of the Church’s least well-off countries. How can he be distasteful to the best-off Catholics in the world? How could people lose faith in the Church now? After all, he is a promising leader for it. As Hadassah Magazine put it, the current Pope is a mensch. Despite this I have read that Jews are finally pulling around and coming back from what had been a decline. I do not know how this is happening, but I am hopeful on that score. I only mention other religions because I believe a Jew is somebody who should care for all people and not just herself.
Oddly, I feel something needs to be said: though I love my Bible, I do not take it literally. Perhaps it is the amount of Biblical criticism I read during and after Graduate School… I feel that God ought to be able to stand Welhausen (the founder of Source-Critical analysis) and that Process Philosophy is a possible place to find a new way of believing in an old deity. Perhaps this, as much as my reading for Jeanie and the Gentlefolk (and putting aside The Firebird Unchained for that brief time period) is why I am reading up about Hillel and the Baal Shem Tov. Though they are the Jews of tradition, that tradition is always my starting place for understanding for God. Yet it is not the ending place. I believe in God speaking through scripture; both the God within (in the heart) and without (acting through Nature).