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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

What is the Divine?

I am not a Jew. Although I was raised “culturally Jewish,” for the past several years, I have gone from feeling impartial to feeling angry to simply rejecting Judaism from my personal spirituality altogether. And this is not to say that I have a problem with Jewish philosophy/community/beliefs, but as of now, the Jewish faith has no place in my mindspace or my coming into my own as an adult. Yet, I have definitely felt quite profoundly moved by several aspects of the Jewish liturgy, specifically the music of the prayers, the words of Mourning and shared grief experience of reciting the Mourner’s Kaddush, the ample criticism and flaw-recognition in a lot of Jewish scholarship, and the fact that so much of the texts are constantly interpreted and re-interpreted as the world continues to change. But when I really think about it, the heart of what moves me in these aspects has very little to do with the institution of Judaism itself. At Namo Buddha, I felt moved by all of these aspects of religion just as much, if not more, than I have ever felt in a synagogue or Hebrew school setting, which to me says a lot about how I view Divinity and spirituality. The music of puja, conversations about Buddhist dharma, and philosophy of death all struck me just as deeply at Namo, regardless of which physical manifestation of the Divine was the center of worship. So what does that say about me as a spiritual and religious being? I’m not exactly sure, except to say that, well, I am one. The Divine plays a role in my life, but that role is yet undefined. So back to the original question, what is the Divine anyway? Is it “something greater than we are”? Is it the Buddha? The Adonai, the Jesus Christ, the Muhammed, the Lord Shiva? Is it the answer to where we go when we die and why there are some years in which the weather causes the crop to fail? Is it “spirituality,” defined by meditating sometimes, speaking in wispy tones, and wearing Free People dresses with flowers in our hair? Is it “religious-ness,” defined by blindly following the exact words of ancient text, praying and performing acts of devotion, constantly fasting, and denouncing sex? Is it all of the above? None of the above? Something in between? “Whatever we need it to be”? I think it goes without saying that the Divine is different for every person, plays a unique role in every person’s life, and cannot necessarily be defined in a universal way, beyond saying that is it something, it is fluid, and it is to be learned from and interpreted in some capacity. But what that is exactly, I cannot say, and frankly, I do not wish to, because even within myself, the Divine is constantly shifting and developing in definition. In the puja room at Namo, it felt like a massive presence, defined both by the huge golden Buddha in the space and the intensity of the music and chanting. It felt like something I desired to prostrate in front of, whether or not I was in fact humbling myself to be cleansed of my misdeeds. Either way, I felt compelled, even before learning more precisely about the dharma. That’s definitely something of the Divine. And that feeling I get when I just think of certain people’s names, that warm shiver up my spine, the physical, bodily manifestation of respect and gratitude, if that isn’t the Divine, I’m not really sure what is. And what about love? Is love the Divine? And I don’t really mean romantic love, or physical attraction, or any particular other love one can feel in the form of attachment and desire to be near another, but that love that is simply intense appreciation and hyper-awareness and overwhelming connectedness and overflowing joy that can occur between any number of beings, things, places, sensations, memories, etc. That must be something of the Divine. Is our ability to feel gratitude and to find ourselves in interpersonal relationships, to have the ability to form connections and access each other’s undefinable, unquantifiable, imperceptible, amorphous mindspaces we call “souls” something of the Divine? Our ability to develop spiritually and cognitively, to learn language and communicate, to understand and create music that can universally be understood and used to draw us together, to hear laughter- a really weird sound, honestly- and to immediately identify that joyousness and pleasure behind it, to have house pets who recognize us as family, isn’t that all something of the Divine? I’d say that is, and so are the figures we look to within religious dogma to answer our questions and provide sets of rules and ideals to govern our ideologies. The Wilderness is the Divine, the mountains who house the Gods are Divine, the trees that grow towards the sun for hundreds of years and become homes for infinite cycles of living creatures are the Divine. And no one aspect of the Divine is more important or more necessary or more, well, divine than any other, of course, because they’re all connected, they shift constantly, and they are not always equitably perceptible, but they exist- at least in the sense that they can or have been perceived, identified, or recognized at some point- and therefore, to whatever extent, have a place in our mindspaces.