How To Maintain A Relationship With God Without Seeming Insane

Disclaimer: The title of “God” and the gender pronoun used for such an Entity can never fully express the Creator, but are used as placeholders for the sake of this piece.

Getting Off-Balance With The Worldly & The Godly

I like to think of myself as a person with a fairly broad worldview. I have friends of differing backgrounds — ethnicities, nationalities, sexual preferences, political views, gender associations, and definitely religions. I’m not sure why, but within the past five or six years, I’ve had this overwhelming desire to not offend anyone. While I can’t pinpoint where this desire to avoid confrontation first stemmed, I feel that it grew as my worldview began to expand. The less I saw myself as a member of a certain political party or other group and the more I saw myself as simply another earthling, the more respectful I wished to become. That fear of confrontation went from eggshells to a self-imposed muzzle against views that I felt may make others feel uncomfortable. I felt that I was being a good steward of my people. Over time, my internal dialogue began to change to accompany my external expression. I began to see myself losing my very firm grasp on something precious to me — my continual personal relationship with God.

It’s not that my religious observance stopped. I still kept all of the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly tenants of Judaism and thoroughly enjoyed them. What I noticed lacking first was speaking to other God-believers about God as though He were real. Whenever the conversation would head in that direction, I would sterilize it with some talk of a religious observance that didn’t necessarily require a firm belief that something was metaphysically in control of things in the universe. Talking about an upcoming holiday? Is that certain brand of food kosher? Attending religious services? Those were effective masks for more spiritually intimate and revealing questions, such as asking a known God-fearer how they best connect to God. I felt like the mental concept that God exists, that I believe in God, and that He cares at all about me and anyone else was a muscle that hadn’t been exercised and was beginning to atrophy. That neural pathway had not been traveled actively and the trail was less worn now. I knew I believed in God and felt Him in my life, but how do I balance being someone who seeks to grow a relationship with God and being a part of the collective of all of mankind? Here are some things I’m beginning to realize.

Realizations When Attempting to Balance a Relationship with God and Being a Courteous Earthling

1. Even for those who don’t believe in God, your belief does not necessarily offend them.

One of the reasons why I felt uneasy about being open about my belief in God is because I know how I feel when someone else tries to push their own spirituality on me.

I feel very blessed to be a part of a faith that does not evangelize. Jews are not looking for converts to Judaism. This means pushing my religion on others is not one of the tenets of my faith the way it is of many other religions. When someone else thrusts their faith on me, I feel like they are attacking my own faith. In order to never put a non-believer through this, I opted to shut my mouth about God whenever I felt like a non-believer could be listening. I quickly learned that this was most situations, even in a religious setting. However, over time, I began to realize that most people don’t find someone’s own personal relationship with a Higher Power to be offensive and if they did, why would I covet their approval?

I also realized that speaking about God is not necessarily thrusting God upon a person, which leads to another realization…

2. Know your audience when sharing your heart.

Here’s an odd statement that I feel ok saying: I don’t want to talk about God with people who don’t want to hear about God. Many religious zealots will claim that a true God-fearer should never be afraid to mention God. While I believe that’s somewhat true, talking about God to someone who doesn’t want to hear about God is just, well, rude. It doesn’t increase the likelihood that they will want to have any kind of relationship with God in the future. While I don’t believe in evangelism, I’m happy to answer any questions anyone may have about my own relationship with God. How does one compel someone else to ask? By living in such a way that demands an explanation. In living an ethical life that is respectful and helpful to peoples of all walks of life, keeping God close without having to speak a word about Him is much easier and less intrusive.

3. Exercise talking about God with other God-fearers or at least those who desire a relationship with God.

My initial reason why my personal relationship with God began to wane temporarily was due to an atrophy of the part of my mental process that kept Him real to me. When I was afraid to discuss having a relationship with God, the weeds grew over that trail, making it nearly invisible. One remedy I’ve found for strengthing the realization that God is real is to have a group with whom you speak to about having a relationship with God. While this form of support group doesn’t need to exist solely for this process, this group of like-minded/hearted individuals will act almost like a spotter would act in a gym. When you feel safe discussing what it means to have a relationship with God, you can help to maintain those pathways in your heart and mind.

4. Seek out continual spiritual education.

Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto of the Emunah Center

While talking with others about how to strengthen your relationship with God on a daily basis is beneficial, sometimes you don’t want to speak — you just want to grow. For the purposes of exercising your relationship muscles with God, seek healthy spiritual education from authorities you trust. This is not to be confused with simply seeking out any religious education, which sometimes can seem completely devoid of spiritual connection. To receive instruction from a teacher who is dedicated to helping strengthen their students’ alignment to God and to build their relationship on a daily basis can be instrumental in one’s spiritual maintenance. This can be done by attending actual classes with this focus or consuming media on the subject, including video classes, reading books, or listening to such podcasts. Having a compass like this when you’re away from your core group can help maintain the idea that God wants in your life.

5. Talk to God wherever you are.

While the title of this blog does imply trying not to appear insane, it may seem counterintuitive to appear to be talking to yourself. However, making God a real part of your life is extremely difficult without letting Him in. While I’m not recommending talking to God out loud in public (especially not while aboard airplanes), talking to God like you would have a private conversation with a physical friend not only helps you begin to sort out your thoughts and emotions better, but it also makes God a part of the process. In all honesty, a lot of our prayer is not only meant to express to God how we are feeling, what we’re experiencing, and to ask for assistance — for He already knows these things before we ask. Prayer is also a time where He gets the chance to answer in the form of realizations, feelings of comfort, jubilation, or even much needing mourning when we’re bottling up negative emotions. There is a practice in Judaism called “hitbodedut” (Hebrew for “seclusion”) in which the practitioner secludes themselves, often in nature or anywhere away from where others can hear them, and they speak out loud to God in their own words. They express their thoughts, pour out their hearts, or even sing and make music for the Creator. The spiritual benefits of hitbodedut are immeasurable.

However you choose to maintain your relationship with God while living in a largely Godless world, understanding the following truths:
– There will always be those who will be uncomfortable with the idea of anyone having a relationship with a Higher Power — even if you never mention it to them. That is their problem and there’s nothing you can do about it.
– When you worry too much about what people think about you to the point of that changing you, you are no longer yourself.
– If you truly desire a relationship with God, that means there’s nothing can stop you.
– If you feel distant from God, it wasn’t God who moved.

The Supernal Dialogue: Enhancing Alignment With One Simple Shift

Introduction:

Lately, I’ve been on this “get your life together” kick. Too often, I had been catching myself coming home from work, sitting in my chair, and not getting very much accomplished before bedtime. I hate it.  In an effort to combat this, I had put together some goals I have for myself and how to accomplish them. In the Spiritual Goals section of my day-to-day breakdown was to enhance my kavanah with the Creator of the Universe.

What the heck is “kavanah“(כַּוָּנָה)? Some would say it is your spiritual intent or your focus in doing a holy act. While that’s true, I like to say that it is your alignment with the Creator of the Universe. I had heard from some Israeli friends that this is the same word you would use in Modern Hebrew when you take your car into the shop to get the tires aligned. It’s not getting your car to its destination, but it is the act of ensuring that both of your front wheels are headed in the correct direction. From a spiritual perspective, I would say it’s simply the action and feeling of knowing that the Holy One is among you — to feel that presence the way you can sometimes “feel” that someone is watching you. Not only does this sensation allow one to feel that their tefillah/prayers are being heard, but that the Creator is with them in daily life as well. Feeling this presence takes the action of adjusting your alignment constantly. I’ve been trying to share what has helped me and the following tip is one of those — trying to replace your internal dialogue with a supernal dialogue.

Making the Swap from Internal Dialogue to Supernal Dialogue

It sounds super New Age-y, but what I would call your “supernal dialogue” is really quite simple when you look at the definition of these terms.

su·per·nal
səˈpərnl/

adjective

literary
  1. relating to the sky or the heavens; celestial.
    • of exceptional quality or extent.
di·a·logue
ˈdīəˌläɡ,ˈdīəˌlôɡ/
noun
  1. take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem.

What is typically our “internal dialogue” is the sensation of our own voice in our mind as we work out problems. Psychology breaks it down a little further:

“In Dialogical Self Theory (DST) the self is considered as ‘extended,’ that is, individuals and groups in the society at large are incorporated as positions in the mini-society of the self.”

If the internal dialogue is speaking to yourself internally (or sometimes externally, if you’re like me), the supernal dialogue is including the Holy Other in on that conversation and speaking directly to the Holy One in the same manner that we speak to ourselves. While we strive to do this in daily prayer, making the Creator the Ear to our internal dialogue helps perpetually increase our alignment and emunah/faith/knowing that HaShem is there to help us work out any problem we may have. Simply keeping the Holy One in the loop of your internal dialogue by making the Creator the recipient of that dialogue can be exercise enough to help keep the connection strong.

If we’re attempting to enhance our alignment with the Creator of the Universe and open the door to allow Him into our day-to-day, minute-by-minute lives, a simple technique is to shift the internal dialogue to a supernal dialogue and speak with Him instead.

“If you’re feeling distant from G-d, it wasn’t G-d who moved.” – Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser

Jewish Prayer: "I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

In many of my run-ins with people of more modern religious denominations, prayer is spoken about like writing Santa Claus a letter a month before xmas. Growing up as a Lutheran Christian, I remember being taught in my confirmation class that a prayer actually had a certain order. I don’t remember the order specifically now, but I remember it resembling the old Mary Poppins song of “A Spoonful of Sugar Helps The Medicine Go Down” in that it seemed to start with complimenting God, thanking God for things, and then bringing your requests – almost as though you had to say the magic word in order to get the Most High’s attention. Even though you’ve successful stroked the ego of the Creator of the Universe, prayer in that manner always seemed oddly selfish to me from that context. 

In Judaism, prayer takes on a much different role and even takes on a different term. “Tefillah”, as it is referred, doesn’t even technically mean “prayer” in the way most people understand it. “Tefillah” is more accurately translated as “praise.” Most of traditional Jewish prayers these days are built with the purpose of trying to (though it is impossible) somewhat replace the sacrificial system of the Temple. In the Temple, different sacrifices were carried out several times a day as offerings to God. Did Jews ever believe that God came down and partook of these sacrifices? Of course not. Did He necessarily even need these sacrifices? Not at all – He’s not a human and doesn’t need food to survive. So, why the heck were we bringing our very best crops and animals to be killed and/or burned for a Being who didn’t technically need them? Because our obedience was a sacrifice of our material goods that brought about the effort of praise. 

I know it sounds really weird, twisted and slightly immature, but God has emotions like we do. When we spend time with other things and dedicate more of our lives to making money and serving our own flesh than serving Him, He gets jealous. Just like when we see our significant other appear to flirt with someone else and our face gets red and hot with jealousy, God feels the same way when another obsession seems to take His place. Also, just like we enjoy an unprompted “I love you” from our significant other, so God enjoys that from us. That is (and this is just my theory) why we have freewill. How good would it feel to have a robot tell you “I love you” when you programmed it to say that to you? Do you get a warm-and-tingly feeling when a parrot says “I love you” a moment after you said this? Probably not so much. So with God, we have the choice of whether not to tell Him that we love Him. We do this with our sacrifice of time and energy in the form of tefillah. 

Just like a significant other will bring the other breakfast in bed or give them a gentle rub of the shoulders after a long day’s work, so are our prayers/tefillah/praise to God. While there are times when we can share our concerns with God, far too often we only pray when we want something. When prayer takes on the role of praise, it becomes our way of telling the Most High that we love Him and want to express to Him how amazing it is to just be able to live lives for Him. 

Because the Temple no longer exists and we’re unable to bring sacrifices to the Most High, we bring our prayers – morning, noon, and night. When your prayers feel like they’re too long and you find yourself detaching from them, remember that this isn’t about you – this is your opportunity to bring your sacrifice of praise to the Creator of the Universe. 

Shalom.