Thank you. Thank you. Welcome to the Jewish faith. Let’s talk some more about God. (Chapter 4: God and His Lack of Interest.
Over use injuries were not my first hints as to God’s existence. I was introduced to Him when I was in grade school in the 1960’s at Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA. It was a strange introduction. One of my Sunday School teachers was a woman who had a large number of moles on her face, the kind of moles with hairs growing out of them. She, like many teachers, and adults of any kind in that era, were prone to turning red and yelling at children. Modern technologies such as granola, meditation and chakra contemplation were not available to her. This explains her propensity for yelling. Another teacher was a heavy set hairy middle aged man who was the father of one of the kids in my class. He asked us, “If God can do anything, can he make a rock so big he can’t move it?” I didn’t hear a good answer in that class. I’m not sure that I’ve heard a good answer since.
In addition to Sunday School, I was taken to Jewish Services. During those services, old men would be on the “stage” and would intone, in Hebrew and English, the same prayers, over and over. These men and their prayers had absolutely nothing to do with me nor my life. For example, on an overnight field trip with my Sunday School Class when I was 12 years old, I had my first crush followed by my first shame followed by my first jealousy followed by my first despair. There was a boy my age who had a gentle face, a kind smile and flowing black hair. Think Fabio, but scrawny and kind. He was really nice to me and I had a warm feeling in my chest whenever I was with him. But… he was into Nancy Edelstein and during the retreat they went off for a walk somewhere. When they returned he was not wearing a shirt. That warm feeling in my chest turned into twisting pains in my stomach. I had no idea what was going on inside of me other than that it sucked. Those old men intoning “shema Israel” weren’t going to ever help me with the Fabio Junior problem.
In the 1970’s, my parents decided that Temple was meaningless for them and they gave me the choice to not be Bar Mitzvahed. Thank God ! God at Sinai Temple was old and grouchy and would never have understood me. We were like two people who were introduced at a party and then realized that we had nothing in common with each other. We had a moment of awkward fidgety silence over the punch bowl, and then, “I think I’ll go see what they are serving over there.”
In the 1980’s, God reappeared and He looked a little better. I was taking Religion 101 at Bowdoin with Professor William Gohegan, the thundering orator who thought I was the heir to him and to Hegel. He was into Mystisicm and all of our readings were from Eastern and Western Mystics. In his class, I learned about something that could solve all of my problems, including the Fabio Junior problem, for good: that thing was a Mystical experience, a direct experience of God. Professor Gohegan had had such an experience. Everyone who had written the books we were reading had had at least one. Some of my classmates even had mystical experiences. I wanted a mystical experience too. But I wasn’t having one.
If God couldn’t give me a mystical experience, where was I going to get one? I know. Maybe the founder of analytic psychology, Carl Jung, could. A strange choice. I know. Here’s why. A lot of the Professors at Bowdoin were into Carl Jung and there was a little community of scholars at Bowdoin who would see Carl Jung in everything. They were the most charismatic professors on campus and would write papers such as “A Jungian interpretation of Hamlet” or “A Jungian interpretation Zen Buddhism” etc. Unfortunately, no one had yet published the seminal paper, “A Jungian Interpretation of Richard and his Fabio Junior Problem.” But, I just knew, if I could see my life in Jungian archetypal terms, mandalas and the collective unconscious, I would feel better. Or, if not Western enlightenment, how about Eastern? If I could have a Zen moment of Satori, then I would for sure feel better. My path was clear. I would cover both bases, East and West. I would become a Jungian analyst with an interest in Eastern religions. I went to medical school thinking Jungian, Zen, and Taoist thoughts and it was there that I met Elisabeth Targ, of the full-bladder-fascination Targs.
Elisabeth was not only going to solve my Fabio Junior problem by being my first lover, she was also going to give me that mystical experience that had eluded me in college. Elizabeth grew up in Palo Alto. Her father was a renowned parapsychology researcher who had defense department contracts to use ESP to find missile silos in Russia. Her mother was even more formidable. She had long straight white hair and was a combination of hippy earth mother and hardcore New Yorker. She was also the sister of Bobby Fisher, the famous chess player. Elisabeth and her family not only knew about Carl Jung and mandalas… well, they pretty much were Carl Jung and mandalas. At a Thanksgiving dinner at her house, Elizabeth’s father stood up at the beginning of the meal and gave a toast explaining how Thanksgiving was a Taoist Holiday. These people made me feel better. They were surrounded by interesting people. You pretty much had to be interesting to be around them. If I was with them, I was, ergo cog ito sum, interesting too. And if they could talk to dolphins and predict the future, and they could, then they could certainly solve my problems. And they did help me a lot.
It was Elizabeth who had introduced me to Tina and to Rachel. These three women all knew each other and in a way they were like the three wise men to my baby Jesus. They bestowed their gifts on me. But instead of gold, frankinscence and myhrr they brought me the gifts of themselves, their love and their caring. Their love, and Rachel’s love in particular, was much more helpful than anything I had ever gotten from esoteric mystical texts. My problems of repeated humiliations, betrayals of success by injury, and Fabio Junior had been solved, not by religion, but by the warmth and love of a normal family life.
But, even though I had wandered away from God at that cocktail party, He hadn’t forgotten about me. I could see Him at the other end of the room. He would look at me and then look down and scribble something on a note pad and then look up again. This didn’t look good. I could swear I saw him mouth the word…. Dayenu.