Noah is the biblical hero who builds an ark, saves the animal kingdom and helps rebuild the world after a great flood. In spite of his heroism, he is not without fault.
Consider his seeming lack of concern with anyone outside of his own family. Why did he not ask God to consider saving others or warm them of the upcoming flood?
Noah may be the first exemplar of a trend I’ve noticed more and more. It is a faith concerned primarily with oneself.
When God Becomes Ourselves
Alan Lurie calls it “narcissistic spirituality.” Today it happens when religious practice becomes an exercise in self-indulgence.
He gives the personal example of a time he walked into a synagogue and passed a man deep in meditation. Eyes closed, the man breathed in and out, soaking in the Rabbi’s call to “become the Sabbath peace.”
Lurie accidently stepped on his toe. The man opened his eyes and snarled, “Hey, watch it, buddy.”
Does that strike you as a gesture of peace? When we religion becomes focused on the self, it loses its connection with God. We begin to ask what God can do for us, rather than what we can do for the world.
Ask Not What God Can Do for You
Authentic faith begins when we ask not what God can do for us, but how we can do God’s work here on earth. We find that faith when we look for God not only in ourselves, but in the deeds and needs of others.
Consider this beautiful story told by the Nobel Prize winning author Jorge Luis Borges. Entitled The Approach to Al-Matussim, it is a fantasy written in the 1930s.
The narrator has become an outcast among the lower classes of India. In his dealings with the poor, he begins to see traces of kindnesses and tenderness that seem out of place. They are light intruding into the darkness.
He imagines that they must be a reflection of someone else–of a perfect person–from whom “this clarity, this brightness, emanates.” He calls that person al-matusim. He becomes a detective, searching for this mysterious presence by following its reflections in others.
How Do We Find God?
That is how we, too, can find God. We discover God’s presence not in ourselves, but in the hands of hearts of others. We experience God in the faces of those who visit us when we are ill; who comfort us when we have experienced a tragic; who challenge us when we are complacent; who love us when we find it hard to love ourselves.
“God does not live in one place,” a great Rabbi taught. “God dwells wherever we let Him in.”