Friday, June 14, 2013

Still Waiting

I am enjoying a new book that I am reading.  It is from the pen of the now famous, Mitch Albom, entitled, Have a Little Faith.  The book is about two of Albom’s friends from his childhood days, his rabbi, Albert, and his black friend, Henry.  Albert Lewis was Albom’s rabbi of the Jewish congregation, Temple Beth Sholom, which was Albom’s childhood synagogue and the only one in his life. 

The story begins in a humorous way with Albom being asked by the rabbi to do the eulogy at the rabbi’s funeral.  Albom is not so sure.  After all, he reckons, he is only a sports writer.  But as I said, he has become famous.  He is the author of the best seller, Tuesdays With Morrie.  So he agrees to do the eulogy.  And he figures, if he is going to do the eulogy, he better get to know the rabbi much better.  Childhood memories would not suffice.

So as the book begins to unfold, Albom heads back to his home area in New Jersey to spend time with Albert.  His first visit to the rabbi took place in the rabbi’s home.  Albom begins with some innocent questions.  “Do you believe in God,” he asks?  Not surprisingly, Albert says, “Yes, I do.”  I loved the next question posed by Albom.  “Do you ever speak to God?’  And Albert’s reply is a classic: “On a regular basis.”

Anyone of us could put ourselves in the place of Albert, the rabbi, in having these questions posed to us.  If someone were to come up to me and ask me if I believe in God, I also would answer like Albert.  “Yes,” I would say.  But as I also would tell my  students, you learned almost nothing with this answer.

If I tell you I believe in God, you may well assume too much.  Especially if you, too, believe in God, you might be tempted to think I believe in God very much the way you believe in God.  This is precisely the place I tell students not to assume too much.  Ask another question to learn even more.  To that end, I wish Albom had asked Albert how he understood the God in which he believed?

And I really wished Albom had asked another question when Albert affirmed that he spoke regularly to God.  I think this is a trickier question than the first one.  If someone were to come up to you and ask if you spoke regularly to God, how would you respond?  Does prayer count as “speaking to God?”  What about meditation?  This is why follow-up questions are such a good idea.

The rabbi goes on to say that in his regular speaking with God, he asks God what kind of plans are in store for him.  Will he be soon taken?  Or will God leave him on this earth for some period of time?  This prompts Albom to confess that he wanted to ask the real question: “What should I say about you when you die?  But he could not.

Albert’s speaking to God was an attempt to hear God’s answer.  “Ahh,” he simply said and glanced up.  Immediately, Mitch jumps in with another question: “What?  Did God answer you?” 
The rabbi’s answer to the question is a classic for me.  Did God answer you?  The rabbi said, “Still waiting.”  When I read that, I laughed out loud.  I thought it was funny for a couple reasons.  In the first place, it was funny because it was unexpected.  The rabbi had affirmed his belief in God and he acknowledged that he spoke regularly to God.  So Mitch’s query whether God answered made sense.  But the rabbi said merely, “still waiting!”

It was funny at a second level because it resonated with so much of my experience.  Whether it be prayer, meditation, or some other spiritual discipline, I have often sought to know God’s desire for me.  I seriously petition the Holy One to let me know and I will surely obey.  Christians call this process “discernment.”  I want to discern God’s mind…in classical language, to know God’s will. 

All too often, the rabbi’s words are my words: still waiting!  Really, there are only two options to this state of affairs.  I can get frustrated.  When I get frustrated, there are two choices.  I either make a guess what God’s desire is and go ahead and do something.  Or in my frustration and I essentially say, “forget it,” and go on my merry way.

So frustration is one option.  Patience is the other option.  If I speak to God and find myself “still waiting” for some kind of response, I want to be patient.  It does not mean God will not respond.  It just means God is not responding when and how I want.  But I am not in control.  Relax.  Be patient.  God is God.  I begin to feel better.

Still waiting?  That’s ok.         

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