On Finding God

Without faith or religious knowledge

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © June 06,2013

Recorded Live on Facebook

Many people have sought God through religion, dogmas, 'cults', and so on. Many of these people have been disappointed. While those who have a personal relationship with the Creator are often blessed by participation in the various religions, embracing the official dogmas, practicing the mitzvot and the like, those without this inward certainty often feel lost and confused by them. They sense that there must be a Creator and yet they are skeptical of those who claim to know Him. When hearing religious people talk about God they scratch their heads.

Others approach spirituality as they might explore the physical sciences. Seeking objective evidence of God's existence often leaves these people disappointed and skeptical as well. Do we really have to give up reason and science to have a meaningful spiritual life? Must we accept ancient beliefs that modern knowledge seems to have disproven?

So, how can one with serious doubts and/or spiritual scars 'find God'? Here's my suggestion:

First, its important to understand that there are key differences between scientific and spiritual methodologies. With the secular sciences ascertaining the 'truth' is easier because its more tactically present. You mix the right ingredients or crunch the right numbers and you have an answer. Your research is rationale and your results are consistently repeatable. With the material sciences one plus one always equals two. Its different with the spiritual sciences.

With religion and spirituality the evidence is not generally so consistent nor controllable. Spirituality (regardless of the path) brings us into a place of inner peace, something that is not directly objectively demonstrable. This is a key element of having a meaningful personal spirituality. A person who is spiritually well grounded will be a peaceful person regardless of external realities. This is an indication of true spiritual maturity.

But what of those for whom religion seems to be a justification for hate and violence? Its too easy to say "that's not real religion" or to brand them 'fanatics' or radicals. With religious truth we deal in shades of gray. Things are seldom 'black or white' and sometimes one plus one does not equal two. Ultimately spirituality is personal. Each of us must determine how to commune with the Infinite and the Holy One Chooses whom to accept and whom, if any, to reject. Surely love transcends hate. This is the essence of faith.

People who desire inner peace and light but are unable to realize it often turn to God. Turning to man made religions, sects, dogmas, etc. seldom results in this desired inner peace. Finding/developing a personal relationship with the Creator does.

So, how to do this...

A good way to begin is with what we (Jews) refer to as Hitbodedut: Seclusion. Set aside a few minutes a day for spiritual nourishment. Preferably find a secluded place for this. The rabbis often recommend somewhere outside if possible, a park etc. but your bedroom can work just as well.

Make yourself comfortable. Sit down and allow yourself to become inwardly and outwardly quiet. Breath in and out, releasing any residual stress etc. Stay this way for a few minutes. Just mellow out.

Then in a quiet voice talk to the Creator as you would a friend or trusted confidant. "God, as you know I'm not sure you are really even there. I have sought you before only to be disappointed. This time I am coming to you, just you, not religion, not dogmas. Its just you and me. Please hear and answer me."

Do this in your own words of course. For Hitbodedut you don't need Hebrew etc. Its just a conversation between you and the Infinite.

Then continue with whatever is on your heart. Just talk to God in your own words according to your present realities and understanding. Honestly share your doubts, your hopes and desires. Discuss whatever is on your mind. HaShem is our Counselor and Guide.

There is obviously a degree of faith needed for this: faith that at least maybe there is Someone present in your seclusion with you who cares. Don't be concerned with doubts however. Faith is necessary for everything we do. When you get in a car and turn the key you have faith that the car will start. I've had cars where it took a lot of faith because the cars didn't always start! The faith to turn the key, to try, is enough. Prayer takes no more faith than that. Just turn the key.

Invest some time like this, say once a day for two weeks, maybe an hour or so, or a half hour if an hour seems like too long. Ten minutes a day is better than nothing. Find what works for you. Sometimes you will be talking, sometimes listening, sometimes just soaking up the peace and quiet. At the end of the two weeks ask yourself if this test was successful. Not if you "found God" etc. That's too abstract. Ask yourself if your life has gone more smoothly for establishing this quiet time. If so, then continue. The Way of God is not based on visions, hearing voices, having dreams etc. The Way of God is manifested in daily becoming the person you want to be: A human being of love, peace, openness, and integrity, towards others, towards God, and towards yourself. By investing a little time each day with the Eternal One -- however you conceive of God -- you will find your faith increasing and blossoming. Prayer and meditation are powerful tools.

As London's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains:

Prayer is the language of the soul in conversation with God. It is the most intimate gesture of the religious life, and the most transformative. The very fact that we can pray testifies to the deepest elements of Jewish faith: that the universe did not come into existence accidentally, nor are our lives destined to be bereft of meaning. The universe exists, and we exist, because someone -- the One God, Author of all -- brought us into existence with love. It is this belief more than any other that redeems life from solitude and fate from tragedy -- From the Koren Siddur, page XVII.

As you continue this practice you will probably be drawn to know this Presence better, even as one desires to know ones beloved ever more completely over time. This desire may well lead you to reading Torah or other spiritual writings. Gradually you may feel inclined to study the religious aspects of Judaism (or whatever religion you feel drawn to). Perhaps you will discover the joy of spiritual music, song and dance and begin making new like-minded friends. The possibilities are limitless. Every journey progresses one step at a time. Just walk and enjoy.

The Tanakh (or Hebrew Bible) says, "Taste and see that I am good." Hitbodedut is one effective way to do this. Taste, experience intentional seclusion with God for a couple of weeks and see if you do not develop a taste for the Sacred Presence.

Then, continue walking the Path. Remain open to new insights while holding firmly to your developing inward certainties.

As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches:

Set aside time each day to meditate and pray alone in a room or some meadow and express your innermost thoughts and feelings and personal prayers to God. Use every kind of appeal and argument. Use words that will endear you to God and win His favor. Plead with God to draw you closer and let you truly serve Him. This is Hitbodedut.

You should hold these conversations in whatever language you speak best. Our set prayers are said in Hebrew, but if this is not one's native language, it is difficult to use it to give expression to all one's innermost thoughts and feelings and the heart is less drawn after the words. It is easier to pour out your heart and say everything you need in your own language.

You should tell God everything you feel, be it contrition and longing to repent over the past or requests and supplications to come truly close to God from now on, each person according to his/her level.

Be very careful to get into the habit of spending time every day on your personal prayers and meditation. Fix a regular time for this and then be happy for the rest of the day!

Hitbodedut is of the greatest value. It is the way to come closer to God, because it includes everything else. No matter what you lack in your service of God, even if you feel totally remote from His service, tell God everything and ask Him for all that you need.

If at times you find yourself unable to speak to God or even open your mouth, the very fact that you are there before Him wanting and yearning to speak is itself very good. You can even turn your very inability to speak into a prayer. Tell God that you feel so far away that you cannot even speak to Him! Ask Him to have mercy on you and open your mouth to tell Him what you need.

Many great and famous Tzaddikim [i.e. saintly people] have said that all their achievements came only through Hitbodedut. Anyone with understanding can recognize the supreme value of this practice, which ascends to the most sublime heights. This advice applies to everyone equally, from the very least to the very greatest. Everyone is capable of practicing it and can attain great levels. Happy are all who persist in it.

It is also good to turn Torah teachings into prayers. When you study or hear a teaching of a true Tzaddik, make a prayer out of it. Ask God when you too will be able to fulfill this teaching. Tell Him how far from it you are and beg Him to help you attain everything contained in the lesson.

A person of understanding who wants the truth will be led by God in the path of truth, and he will learn how to practice Hitbodedut and offer words of grace and sound arguments to persuade God to bring him to true service.

Hitbodedut rises to a very high place. This applies especially to turning Torah teachings into prayers, which creates the greatest delight above.

Hitbodedut is the highest level: it is greater than everything. -- Likutey Moharan II, 25

I hope this helps. If I can be of any assistance to you please do not hesitate to contact me.

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