Cover image for Our lives as Torah : finding God in our own stories
Our lives as Torah : finding God in our own stories
Ochs, Carol.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 224 pages ; 24 cm
Searching for meaning -- Forming our story -- Committing to love -- Enduring suffering -- Undertaking our work -- Claiming our body -- Engaging in prayer -- Living in community -- Confronting death -- Encountering God.
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BM723 .O36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this powerful book, Carol Ochs shows us how to develop a personal theology by examining our life stories, learning to recognize God at work in them, and bringing them into conversation with Torah. Using timeless biblical texts as lenses to see the present, she helps us understand who we are and who God is for us by exploring the tightly interwoven basic elements of our lives--our love, suffering, work, bodies, prayer, community, and experiences of death.

Through the process of seeing our experiences in relation to Biblical stories, we begin to recognize our lives as part of the ongoing story of the Jewish people--as Torah. This insight allows us to see these experiences as meaningful, not accidental, and opens us to recognizing God's power in and through all that happens to us. Rather than a collection of random events, our lives are part of the Jewish people's ongoing adventure. Armed with our personally shaped theology, we can face this adventure of living in the vanguard of history with awareness and confidence.

Author Notes

CAROL OCHS is director of Graduate Studies and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. She holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Brandeis University and taught philosophy at Simmons College in Boston.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

These two books advocate a personalized approach to Judaic living and dying. Ochs convincingly maintains that "the Torah is played out over and over again in the events of our lives." To support that theory, she provides a diverse array of stories related by ordinary Jews discovering the presence of God in the minutiae of their daily lives. Paralleling those individual accounts with both Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish culture, the author is able to present a contextual blueprint for Jews endeavoring to establish a more intimate relationship with God. A thoughtful celebration of the gift of God in love, in work, in communal life, in joy, in suffering, and in death. Solomon, a prolific legal and religious writer, reexamines the traditional Jewish approach to suffering and dying, offering a more spiritually attuned alternative to end-of-life issues. Instead of the conventional legalistic method of dealing with matters of death and dying practiced by members of the Jewish faith for centuries, the author advocates a less rules-oriented perspective. Supporting this brand of "spiritual Judaism" with an assortment of modern sources, he includes a variety of viewpoints, ranging from the Orthodox to the liberal, grounding his invigorating personal philosophy firmly in both contemporary and established Jewish thought. A spiritual option for faithful Jews grappling with the multiple complexities of suffering and dying in a high-tech culture. --Margaret Flanagan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ochs, coordinator of graduate studies at Hebrew Union College in New York, posits a creative thesis: that interpreting our lives as sacred texts, "as if they are Torah," shapes them into experiences as revelatory as the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. That outlook can help us understand why we live, gives coherence to our daily lives and "allows us to recognize how often we stand on holy ground." She extends the metaphor by calling all our important relationships "covenants" with our spouses, our children, even our work and our bodies. To live by the revelation that God is as present in our lives as at Sinai, each of us needs a "working theology" that encourages a positive view of daily events. Ochs defines theology as a way of life, a system of thought and action that answers three basic questions: Who am I? What can I know? What can I hope for? Ochs argues that stories comprise the central component of our theologies, and biblical and contemporary stories reflect our own quests for meaning. Chapters on love, suffering, work, our bodies, prayer, community and death illustrate aspects of life that can be infused with God. Ochs attempts profundity and sometimes achieves it, but it is often cloaked in dense and circular language that obscures her point. Despite that shortcoming, her book can open the way for readers who want to understand life's journey in a new yet ancient context. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One SEARCHING FOR MEANING WHAT INSPIRES US to begin our quest for meaning? We all have many experiences, positive and negative, that could motivate us: discovering love, suffering loss, feeling a sense of wonder, feeling empty. Or we may achieve a level of mastery over our lives that frees us to wonder if life concerns more than we have imagined. But such mastery alone may not be enough. We may be led to search out meaning when we hear our child raise a question we ourselves have asked but that we somehow bury. And sometimes it is none of these circumstances that inspire us to search, but rather something we might consider mysterious--a feeling that we have been "called." JENNIFER Jennifer was a social studies teacher in a private college prep school. She loved her students and found the work very rewarding. She felt that if she worked hard she would naturally progress in her career, and she was relatively unreflective about other people's experiences of unfairness and injustice.     In her sixth year at the school she was suddenly told that her contract would not be renewed for the following year. Because her reviews were excellent, she was totally unprepared for this turn of events. Her department chair made it clear that the decision was not his and that he felt terrible about it, but the principal was bringing in a long-time friend to take over her classes. The private school faculty was not unionized, so Jennifer had no choice but to use the remaining year looking for a different job.     As urgent as that task was, there was something even more pressing. She needed to figure out how she could have been an effective social studies teacher while avoiding any visceral connection to the injustices and abuses of power she saw around her. She was urged by friends to use her accumulated sick leave and simply stop coming to school. She felt anger toward the administration, but then she thought of her students. Sick leave was not the answer. But how would she be motivated to show up every day for classes when she knew that being an effective teacher had little to do with job security? Her students would, at some point in their lives, experience defeat as she just had, but they would still need to maintain their own standards. She realized that there could be no simple equation between what we do and what we receive; our doing and being must be grounded in something more significant than immediate reward.     Fairy tales and fables have morals that are tacked on too quickly, she thought. Life is more complex than that, and perhaps we will never see what it all means. But there was a more profound story that could give her perspective on this incident in her life. It was a long time since she had just read the Bible, and she wasn't sure she had ever read it with the deliberate purpose of making sense of her own life. But she felt called to the story, so she began reading the text that could help her discover who she was, why she was there, and what she should do with her life.     Jennifer intuitively recognized that theology is practical, not a hobby we can take up in some imagined future or "when we get less busy," because to live a meaningful life we need a working theology right now, provisional though it may be. Although its components stay relatively constant, some aspects of our worldview--which ones, we can't predict--change more and with greater frequency than others. Why Create Our Own Theology? Why does the meaning system we inherited from our ancestors no longer work for us? One factor is the increasing rate of change, visible from one generation to the next. Our grandparents' lives probably had much more in common with their own grandparents' lives than we have with our parents'!     In part, this rapid change results from scientific breakthroughs that have greatly lengthened life expectancy for most people. At the same time, inventions and developments in the twentieth century have influenced the way we look at the world. The youngest among us remember a world before cell phones, the oldest a world before electricity was ubiquitous. The time in between has seen distances shrink, first with the introduction of automobiles, then air travel, jetliners, and space travel. Communication by mail and telegraph gave way to the telephone and then, in short order, to radio, television, fax, e-mail, and the Internet. Still photographs moved, then started talking, then took on color. Handwritten documents and duplicates yielded to typewritten papers and carbon copies, photocopies yielded to computer printouts, scanners can make handwriting machine readable, and the machine can translate the content into hundreds of languages.     Meanwhile, psychological theory has us questioning our own actions and motives--even our accidents--while most recent research tells us that the fault lies not in our stars but in our genes (to misquote Shakespeare). Is it any wonder that given the dizzying rate of change, we find it increasingly difficult to discern meaning in our own lives by unquestioningly embracing an inherited theology?     Early in Genesis, we read that Adonai said, "My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years" (Gen. 6:3). Knowing that our life span is limited, we are constantly aware of death. We have internal clocks reminding us that we won't live forever, or even indefinitely, so we determine how long we can spend on schooling, what age we must reach to see our children into adulthood and independence (not the same question as how long we might still be fertile), whether we should retire and if so, when. All such issues and questions are raised for us anew because our concept of time differs vastly from that of our parents and ancestors.     Our concept of space has changed along with our concept of time. We are now familiar with every part of our planet, and we are exploring our solar system and galaxy. The picture of Earth as seen from space has altered our ideas about our home. At the same time that we recognize the beauty and infinite worth of our planet, we human beings now have the power to destroy it. God made a covenant not to destroy the world: So long as the earth endures, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Summer and winter, Day and night Shall not cease. --Genesis 8:22 But today we are under no such constraints. We can abolish the summer by plunging us all into a nuclear winter, and we can bring on unending night. So even though the psalmist could say God established the earth on its foundations,     so that it shall never totter. You made the deep cover it as a garment;     the waters stood above the mountains. They fled at Your blast,     rushed away at the sound of Your thunder,     --mountains rising, valleys sinking--     to the place You established for them. You set bounds they must not pass     so that they never again cover the earth. --Psalms 104:5-9 we have the capacity to make the earth totter and, undoubtedly someday, to make the waters cover the earth once again. As we see boundaries so strongly affirmed by the psalmist broken through, we are still trying to address the human capacity for destruction. No one story in the Hebrew Scriptures matches in moral horror what we witnessed in the twentieth century, and no theology from the second half of the century can fail to take the wars and Holocaust of the first half into account.     But even though our overall worldview is called into question, the human condition is sufficiently constant that we can still be moved today by the biblical narrative that dates back millennia. The story of the Flood, described in Genesis, gives us one way to think about the breakdown of the meaning systems we inherited from our ancestors. Until Noah's time, everything is shut up behind its proper boundaries, but then the fountains of the great deep burst apart and the floodgates of the sky break open. As all the limits disappear, the ark and its inhabitants float above the crashing flood, carrying the seeds for a new construction of the world. Reading the description of the biblical Flood gives us a hint of what the breakdown of an old worldview might be like.     Every generation feels some need to question, reappropriate, and reshape the meaning system of its ancestors. The theology that preceded the destruction of the Temple, for example, was life-givingly transformed so that Judaism could survive the end of Temple worship and the entry into exile. Our urge to rethink the fundamental worldview we inherit--a challenging, even frightening prospect--is actually suggested repeatedly in our texts, which encourage us to "sing unto Adonai a new song" (Pss. 33, 40, 96, 98, and 144), to add our own voices to the songs we address to God. Some of these are songs of praise; others express our dismay, weariness, fears, and doubts. We can use the musical image to understand that we need many voices to achieve harmony. Indeed, music can affect us deeply, changing how we feel about the world and allowing us to reexamine our theology. Developing a Personal Theology The task of this book is to help us as we flounder while the old paradigms break apart; it is to help us find our own ark, floating above the chaos, that holds the bits and pieces of personal experience out of which we will piece together a coherent whole; it is to help us realize that we cannot neatly fence off our daily lives from this "construction zone." The book helps us make our quest for meaning explicit, suggests ways of approaching it, and offers some questions and techniques we can bring to the process.     Theologizing may satisfy our curiosity or help us build up our critical intellect, but its purpose is the practical one of defining and maintaining our relationship to God. Theology cannot substitute for this relationship, but theology can encourage it by helping us fight fears, sharpen our focus, and make conscious our experience of God's presence in our daily lives. In this effort, theology is eminently practical, shaping our expectations and teaching us how to be open to perceive the world in a new way.     Our personal theology is not subject to debate with others, though not because it is "perfect." On the contrary, it is always provisional and constantly being corrected as it is shaped by our experience and reshaped as we live longer and undergo change. We arrive at it and modify it through our life experiences, not through our speculative abilities. At the same time that our theology helps us form our beliefs about reality, these beliefs influence how we experience the world and how we interact with it.     As important as our theology may be for ourselves individually, it also has import for all of us. Together we are trying to figure out what it is to be human, who God may be, and where God can be found. Such a task lies beyond the individual, so each one of us must contribute our personal insight, perception, memories, and reflection to the larger whole of humanity's self-understanding. Similarly, we are nourished and strengthened by those who came before us and increased the repertoire of ways to understand reality that we can try on, modify, adopt, or discard. Our urge to make sense of our lives grows out of our feelings of loss, pain, and despair, and out of our need to know what we can hope for. People may also raise theological questions in the face of joy and gratitude: "What must reality be like, that I am so blessed?" For many, happiness feels natural--an occasion for joy but not for intense reflection--while for others, discovering love, wonder, or a sense of purpose leads them to reexamine their theology. TAMAR Tamar had been telling the same story about herself since her twenties, but now that she was well into middle age, it was time for a re-vision. The story of a twenty-six-year-old can no longer be the story of a woman who has married, raised her own children, and is now rethinking her life. But how do you change your story? Her first inkling that she was in for a radical shift came when her grandson, Shawn, asked her if she remembered her own first day of school. What began as a story for Shawn continued on in her own mind long after the child was in bed. Shawn was her link to the future; how, Tamar wondered, did she want the future to know her? What lessons could her life offer this vulnerable child? From the vantage point of the future, her life seemed very different from how she had always looked at it.     She found her thoughts over the next few days so fascinating that she decided to write them down. Who am I? she asked herself in wonder; What has my life been about? As these questions accompanied her on her daily walk, she realized that her life centered on loving relationships. What has all that loving taught her? How has it shaped her? What does it mean?     It began, as it does for almost all of us, with her love as a child for her parents and siblings. There was nothing simple about that love, she now realized, because she spent all of her adult life learning how to love the family she was born into. What effect did birth order have? her parents' relationship to each other? the stock market, even?     In her twenties, with her birth-family relations still decades from resolution, she married and began her own family. She read somewhere that she would never have as long a relationship with anyone as she would with her parents and siblings, and that struck her as inherently unfair. The years she spent building her own family while trying to forget the intensity of her growing-up time were no match for birth-family relationships, with their twenty-year head start. Marriage offered a magnificent challenge: three years of being a twosome followed by the birth of her daughter and son. But in and through the next thirty-two years of raising her children, and seeing them married and watching them become parents themselves, her relationship to her husband remained a major theme.     But where was God in all this? It was a question she learned to ask only recently, when a visiting lecturer suggested that it was the basic question to raise in all situations. She imagined Shawn as an adolescent (thankfully some years hence) asking her with scorn, "But what did you do?" She thought of her checkered work history, of reinventing herself while reentering the job market as a beginner. But she pushed the accusing question out of her mind in favor of the genuine questions, What did I accomplish? What did all these jobs do for me and for others? What did I love doing?     Two years earlier, when her doctor chided her for not exercising enough, she began her daily walks. We take our bodies for granted when we're young , she thought, but aging brings us to an awareness of our physical selves with renewed appreciation . But then she corrected herself: we never take our bodies for granted . As a short child, she was always made to sit in the front row of the classroom, when all the really interesting stuff was going on in the back of the room. Her body became a mystery and an embarrassment to her from early adolescence on. A few wonderful, less self-conscious years, and then her body carried life. Where was God in all of this? Easy, she thought--it was in the wonder of cocreating life, her daughter and son. It suddenly struck her with a start that her body transformed her theology before her intellect did. As the miracle of a new life was growing within her, she felt an almost indescribable sense of her connectedness with God in cocreating. Thirty-two years later, though, she still couldn't put the feeling into words.     But her body, and even the bodies of her friends, changed her theology in other ways as well. Marci was an older friend she first met when their husbands worked together; Marci was the first friend (though not the last) to get cancer. Marci never asked Tamar "Why me?" So the answers Tamar formulated were her own desperate struggle with the trials and suffering of illness and, ultimately, with the idea of death. A long parade of friends, relatives, and colleagues departed this life following Marci's death; she recalled going through her address book, crossing out the names of the deceased.     It was different when she was a teenager and her grandmother died. That death was mediated by her parents, who prepared her and taught her how to act and answered questions she hadn't even asked. But Marci's death hit close to home; as an adult herself, Tamar was faced with somehow making sense of her mortality. But as she was asking herself Why do we die? she realized that she would first have to answer the question, Why am I living? ROSE Rose's husband, Lonnie, died of an aneurysm at forty-eight, without any warning. The shock and pain of it all left Rose immobilized. She knew she had to take care of the children, but her grief was overwhelming.     Two years after Lonnie's death, while she still had no energy or joy in life, her friends tried to persuade her to see a psychotherapist. She brushed the idea aside but did go to see her doctor, who did a routine physical, only to discover that she had a cancerous growth. The doctor suggested her tumor might be a response to her husband's death, maybe an unconscious wish to join him. Rose bristled: she knew she had two children to raise, and she was determined to live!     Faced with Lonnie's death and then her own illness, she stopped working. Eventually, after her health returned and her children were packed off to college, she allowed herself to explore the questions she had put aside during her mourning for Lonnie and her own illness and convalescence. (Who knew it would take years? She thought she would be done mourning when her eleven months of reciting Kaddish , the prayer for the dead, were up.) Even now, every twinge, sore throat, or muscle ache raised the specter of a more malignant danger. Never could she take her body for granted again. Well, had she ever? She thought of friends, family, and synagogue members, all so loving and supportive during her deep troubles, and she felt grateful for their presence, their caring. But she could not accept their "answers," because they weren't her own; she had to think things out for herself.     While the children were still at home, she didn't dare ask, "Where is Lonnie now?" or "Where was God through all of this?" Seeing her offspring happily involved at college, she fought off the temptation to call daily so as to reassure herself that they were safe. Instead of calling, she would write imaginary conversations in her journal. By the time her daughter was a senior and her son was a sophomore, she felt genuinely liberated, ready to raise the questions that once seemed too threatening. She could now ask herself, What does my life mean?     To address the question, though, she realized she would have to break it down into bite-sized pieces. Who am I? Is there anything left of the hopeful girl who so loved nature that she studied biology to help her form a deeper relationship to the natural world? She had been away from her field too long to return to it. When she tried to read a scientific journal, she felt like a novice in a field she barely recognized. What to do?     The rituals at the time of Lonnie's death and the healing services during her bout with cancer provided great comfort, but where did Judaism fit in? Was it part of her personal questioning? Could it help her make sense of what she had lived through? Part of her felt it was self-indulgent to worry about such personal matters. With an economic crisis looming and "police actions" sprouting all over the globe, who was she to raise questions about the meaning of life based on her loss and suffering?     Fortunately she recognized the charge of self-indulgence for the temptation it was. If each life weren't so uniquely valuable, she wouldn't still be missing Lonnie. Also, neither the vastness of the multitudes caught up in the horrors of war nor, by comparison, the seeming unimportance of her personal concerns precluded meaning. Actually, she couldn't envision anonymous masses and large numbers; what makes us people is our lack of anonymity--our stories! God didn't create nine billion people. God created Adam and Eve, and later God chose one individual, Abraham, to guide a culture and a civilization.     Stories--that was how Rose would begin. In spite of the painful memories she would now be addressing, her excitement grew. She was undertaking a unique task. No one but she could make sense of her life. MARK In his boyhood, Mark believed in a God who allowed only good things, so he found himself forced to ask where God was when his father walked out on the family, his mother was institutionalized for bipolar disorder, and his stepfather used him for a punching bag. Later he could recognize that he erred in his premise. God can be present even in the midst of bad occurrences.     Neither he nor his wife, Ilana, a Holocaust survivor, professes to have any idea of why evil can happen, but both of them have concluded that God remains present, loving, and caring. As a result, Mark and Ilana no longer compound their suffering by believing that they have been abandoned by God. They find true comfort in the famous verse from the twenty-third psalm: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are with me." At the same time, they have come to recognize that the horrors and misfortunes they underwent were not punishments from God for any supposed wrongdoing of theirs.     These theological reflections led to immediate changes in how Mark and Ilana felt about themselves and about God. Instead of turning from God in guilt, anger, or even bitterness, they can turn to God for comfort, support, or refuge in times of trouble.     Does theology change what is happening? Yes, but not in the simple sense of making illness and evil go away. Instead, we come to realize that our lives are colored less by events than by our reaction to the events and that changing our theology transforms our reaction.     Two Holocaust victims who recorded their beliefs, Etty Hillesum and Viktor Frankl, forcefully exemplify this principle, but less-calamitous times have also yielded people asking and answering the fundamental working question: Where is God in what is happening? The awareness that God is present, and that we need to discover how that presence helps us, changes our entire quest. Rather than looking for a way out of our trying situation or yearning for revenge, we seek out what we can do with what has happened in our lives. Move Toward the Light A basic rule on the spiritual way, a rule much at odds with the practice of psychotherapy, is ignore the darkness and move toward the light--the light being God's presence in and through the dark times. If we move toward that presence, we can deepen our relationship with God and thereby transform how we interpret what has occurred.     Our most urgent job in the face of suffering is to ease it. For Joseph, in the Book of Genesis, that meant letting God's presence shape his actions (rejecting Potiphar's wife, dealing thoughtfully with his fellow prisoners). By contrast, he could not be relieved of his pain by divining the various motives behind his brothers' actions. Learning the motives (his favored treatment by their father, Jacob; his place in the birth order; his own pride; even the death of his mother) did nothing to ease his suffering. After his father's death, Joseph not only perceived God's presence but even figured out the larger purpose of his own being, long before he could understand the good of all he had undergone.     Of course, the effort to explore the dark can prevent its recurrence, but we should wait for the appropriate time, not try to do so while the patient is bleeding to death ("He died, but we couldn't stanch the wound while he was working out the reasons his brother hated him so"). In our own dark times, we are bled of hope, meaning, and self-worth. Locating God in such times restores our inner balance. Theology Is Everyone's Task All of us should be theologians. In a way, all of us are, but we do theology in a largely unexamined way, taking a bit from here and a dab from there, without asking if the two pieces really fit together. The writer Mary Oliver helps us recognize that we already have an unconscious theology: "Try to live through one day believing nothing is significant, nothing is governed by the unknowable, the divine. See how you feel by the end of such a day" (1999, p. 79).     Consciously recognizing our theology also helps foster our growing relationship with God, allowing us to view daily events in a positive light. The following story is told by philosopher John Wisdom (1961): Two people return to their long-neglected garden. They find that amid the weeds, a few of the old plants show surprisingly vigorous growth. One concludes that a gardener has been coming and taking care of the plants, while the other, noting the weeds, believes no gardener has come. On looking further around the garden, the first person finds more and more evidence to confirm that a gardener has indeed been at work, while the second becomes convinced that not only has no gardener come, but a malicious visitor has been systematically destroying the garden. The first states, "A gardener comes unseen and unheard. He is manifested in his works, with which we are all familiar." The other counters, "There is no gardener." The difference in what they say reflects a difference in how they feel toward the garden, even though neither of them expects anything different from the garden.     The difference in how the two feel about the garden affects how they interact with it. When we know that a flower bed is someone's loved possession, we walk through it with care and appreciation. But if we believe it to be abandoned, unclaimed land, we do not treat it with the same diligence. We see that kind of difference in many aspects of our lives--for example, in distinguishing between chronicle and history. In our day books, we chronicle events without interpretation or hierarchy of importance. In our diaries, on the other hand, we weigh the events, discern patterns and meaning, and arrange them in the order of their significance to us. A similar thought is expressed by theologian John Dunne: "Your story could be told in many different ways, depending on the kind of future you thought it was leading to" (1969, p. vii).     Judaism doesn't leave to chance what kind of future we anticipate. We are educated about our past, made aware of God's faithfulness, and taught our projected future; in other words, we are given a framework in which our individual stories take their place. The psalmist shows how remembering God's past faithfulness becomes a warrant for future hopefulness. Psalm 22 begins: My God, my God,     why have You abandoned me;     why so far from delivering me     and from my anguished roaring? But in the fifth verse, the psalmist recalls God's beneficence to our ancestors: In You our fathers trusted;     they trusted and You rescued them. To You they cried out     and they escaped;     in You they trusted     and were not disappointed. Yet still the psalmist worries, for there might be exceptions to God's concern: But I am a worm, less than human;     scorned by men, despised by people. But finally, the psalmist is comforted in personally recalling the presence of God: You drew me from the womb,     made me secure at my mother's breast. I became Your charge at birth;     from my mother's womb You have been my God.     Locating God in our own story changes it and changes what we imagine the outcome of the story can be. The psalmist goes on to graphically portray a sea of troubles-- Many bulls surround me,     mighty ones of Bashan encircle me. They open their mouths at me     like tearing, roaring lions. --but then turns to the God familiar from earlier encounters-- But You, 0 Adonai, be not far off;     my strength, hasten to my aid. Save my life from the sword,     my precious life from the clutches of a dog. --pledges to spread God's name-- Then will I proclaim Your fame to my brethren,     praise You in the congregation. --and charges each one of us: You who fear Adonai, praise God! ...     Adonai's fame shall be proclaimed to the generation to come;     they shall tell of God's beneficence     to people yet to be born,     for God has acted.     We create our theology using many of the components of the biblical tradition, applying it freshly to our own experiences. The Role of Memory Each of us is charged to remember, to commemorate, to help others locate God in their personal history. "Forgetfulness is exile," Reb Nachman of Bratislava declared. ILANA Ilana found a powerful analogy to the exile brought about when we forget God's presence in our lives. Her father died when she was in her early teens. After the immediate intense grieving, she found herself trying to remember the exact nature of her relationship to her father. Twenty years after his death, Ilana found herself unconsciously calling her own daughter "my little ray of sunshine"; she suddenly remembered that her father had used this precise phrase to refer to herself. Those years of forgetting had cut her off from his love for her, and in now remembering, she reclaimed the gift of his love.     The Haggadah tells us that "we must remember what Adonai did for me when I went out from Egypt," in order to remind us of the love and intimacy we have personally experienced.     So now we set out on the adventure of theology. We recognize that our theology is something we urgently need to stanch a wound or to help us find our way. It is also something we contribute to our people's collective understanding of our relationship to God. With courage and a high sense of adventure, we set out. Copyright © 2001 Jossey-Bass Inc.,. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

ForewordRabbi Lawrence Kushner
Searching for Meaning
Forming Our Story
Committing to Love
Enduring Suffering
Undertaking Our Work
Claiming Our Bodies
Engaging in Prayer
Living in Community
Confronting Death
Encountering God