Thinking About God

Rabbi's Message - October 19, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Soon after it was published, Rabbi Tuling’s book, Thinking about God, was a fixture on my nightstand.  I remember watching my youngest son, six at the time, pick it up and thumb through it.  As he closed the book he stared intently at the cover, a beautiful celestial scene in midnight blue, covered by the sun, moon, planets, and stars.  He looks at me.  Half stating and half asking he says: “So God is a star?!”

 
Yesterday, as I drove him home from Hillel Academy, he couldn’t wait to tell me that there are 248 bones in the body, as there are words in the Shema, so if we say the Shema perfectly over and over, HaShem will watch over us and protect us.  He was so excited. “HaShem will protect us from everything!”
 
One of the most wonderful parts of teaching children in a religious setting has been to see how their God-concepts have changed.  From Preschoolers sharing their answers to “Thank you God for…” in services with Rabbi Sobo to examining contemporary Jewish thought with Confirmands, their responses never cease to amaze me.  
 
In 1981, James Fowler developed a theory of faith development based on the works of Kohlberg, Erikson, and Piaget.  He was able to “map out” the process by which individuals progress in their faith development.  When I listened to my son describe God as a star, I recognized that he was right where he was supposed to be - in the mythic-literal stage.  Even if I helped, at 6 or 7 he wouldn’t have been developmentally ready to unpack ideas of Buber, Heschel, or Fackenheim that I teach in 9th and 10th grade. 
 
One of the things I enjoy most about working with teens is watching them explore deeper, more critical discussions of Jewish ideas, to which they will eventually assign personal meaning. This is why it is crucial that students continue to attend Religious School after Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  It is at this point that they can synthesize information meaningfully.  They shift from simply repeating information to hopefully understanding why it matters to them.   
 
Some adults move beyond this adolescent level of understanding.  But, according to Fowler’s research, many adults do not.  It seems to me that it isn’t that we are incapable of doing so, but simply that we don’t take the time to reflect on our beliefs and how our life experiences have impacted them over the years.  That is why I chose to teach “Thinking about God.”  It offers thoughtful questions for various God concepts and encourages us to find ourselves within the array of Jewish thought.  I am excited about our conversations this will evoke and hope you will consider joining the conversation.
 
Last week we explored basic definitions related to theology, took an accounting of our current beliefs of God, examined Fowler’s ideas of faith development, and turned to Genesis to see what the Hebrew Bible had to tell us about God and Creation.  This Thursday at noon we will continue our journey by looking at the theology of traditional Jewish liturgy.  We hope to see you there.
 
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