"Presents a powerful path toward healing, a God-practice that has served many for aeons.” —Stephen Levine
“Rabbi Goldhamer and Melinda Stengel have written a very important book for those involved in healing. Their work is clearly at the vanguard of the change in medical paradigms which is at the center of today’s healthcare crisis.” —Andrew Freinkel, M.D., Integrative Medicine Specialist, Stanford University Medical School
This wonderful book by a Rabbi and a practicing Catholic shows how to evoke and directly experience the healing force in the universe known variously as: God, the ineffable, that-which-is, life force, ch’i, etc. It draws on universal principles of physical healing that are part of, yet transcend all religions.
Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer and Catholic psychotherapist Melinda Stengel are well known in the Chicago area for their healing work. In This is for Everyone, they bring to a larger audience many simple but powerful healing prayer and meditation techniques—from the core of Jewish mysticism—that have healed them and many other people from conditions conventional medicine alone did not cure.
Many people who get this book for themselves come back for more copies to give friends.
See Excerpts & Info on this page for selections from the text and reviews.
Table of Contents
Each chapter is organized into three parts. The first part is written by Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer, and teaches a Universal Principle. The second part is written by Melinda Stengel, and explains the same idea as a Liberating Concept. The third part is a “How To” section in which Rabbi Douglas explains, in simple steps, one or more practical techniques you can use to activate healing energies latent within you. The book begins at the simplest of levels, then builds on the understanding and experiences generated in the early chapters. Click on the Preface or Chapter 1 below for samples.
1: God is a Force in the Universe and in Us
Universal Principle: God is within us
Liberating Concept: Asking God; God does not want us to suffer, we can ask God for anything
How to Do It: How to bring God inside; How to activate the God within: Candle Meditation
2: Learning Faith
Universal Principle: Do it and faith will follow
Liberating Concept: I can learn to have faith
How to Do It: Dream Angel Meditation
3: The Greater Mind
Universal Principle: The Greater Mind
Liberating Concept: The Greater Mind for me!
How to Do It: Spiritual exercise to reach the Greater Mind
4: Practicing the Presence of God
Universal Principle: Prayer is an art that must be practiced
Liberating Concept: Healing, spirituality, and faith are available to everyone with practice
How to Do It: Meditation on Proverbs 3:5
5: Healing Prayer
Universal Principle: Healing Prayer is for everyone
Liberating Concept: I can do this!
How to Do It: Healing Prayer
6: The Commandment to Rejoice
Universal Principle: Joy brings healing
Liberating Concept: Joy takes work, too!
How to Do It: Meditations to bring joy
7: Let Us Make Man in Our Image
Universal Principle: Every person is created in the image of God
Liberating Concept: I can be more like God even in the mother role!
How to Do It: Two healing meditations
8: Alternative Meditations
Universal Principle: The Power of the Name of God
Liberating Concept: (YHVH) works for everyone!
How to Do It: Two meditations for heart failure
9: Our Prayer Group
Universal Principle: The power of group prayer
Liberating Concept: Group prayer: The whole is worth more than the sum of its parts!
How to Do It: Preparing for group meditation
Appendix: Emotional Healing and Joy
“This is for Everyone presents a powerful path toward healing, a God-practice that has served many for aeons.” —Stephen Levine, author, Who Dies?, A Year to Live, Breaking the Drought
“A superb and easily readable text on spiritual healing. . . . the first book I have read that really makes healing through prayer and meditation accessible to skeptics as well as believers of all faiths. It should be useful for classes on spirituality, as well as for individuals who want an introduction to the concepts and techniques of Jewish mystical healing.” —Rabbi Shohama Weiner, D.Min., President and Spiritual Director, Academy for Jewish Religion
“. . . the authors’ ecumenical approach and practical how-to instructions should appeal to a broad readership.” —Publishers Weekly
“Rabbi Goldhamer and Melinda Stengel have written a very important book for those involved in healing. Their work is clearly at the vanguard of the change in medical paradigms which is at the center of today’s healthcare crisis.” —Andrew Freinkel, M.D., Integrative Medicine Specialist, Stanford University Medical School
Complete Publishers Weekly Review
An unusual pair of collaborators have produced this manual for curing illness through prayer and meditation. Goldhamer is a Reform rabbi in Skokie, Illinois, where his congregation consists largely of deaf people. Stengel, a Catholic, is a social worker in private practice who teaches at Northwestern University. In 1982, Goldhamer was told that he had rare disease that required amputation of his leg. Refusing to accept this prescription, he sought out an Orthodox rabbi who taught the value of healing prayer. After seven months of regular sessions during which he learned to pray with intensity and total focus, he was cured. Several years later, Stengel, suffering from depression and anxiety, was successfully treated by Goldhamer, who asserted that the therapeutic power of prayer and meditation cuts across all religious boundaries. They decided to make this universal approach available to everyone. The material is presented in nine chapters, each following the same three-part format. Goldhamer leads with a “Universal Principle.” Stengel then explains this as a “Liberating Concept.” Finally, the rabbi offers a “How To” section in which he sets forth the actual techniques of prayer and meditation. These involve candles, special breathing, visualizations and repetitions, sometimes based on mystical Kabbalah concepts. The text includes stories from the Bible and Talmud, as well as examples of cases in which spiritual healing achieved cures. Skeptics may raise eyebrows at some of the book’s more fantastic claims about miraculous healings, but the authors’ ecumenical approach and practical how-to instructions should appeal to a broad readership.
During a profoundly dark, painful period of my life, when one of my children had been very sick for a long time, I did something I would never have normally done. I asked a rabbi if he ever met with, taught, prayed with, or guided someone who was not only not a member of his congregation, but not even Jewish.
He looked puzzled for a moment and then replied, “Melinda, this is for everyone.”
“For everyone?” I asked.
“Of course. There are universal principles that transcend all religions and there are special prayers for physical healing that have worked for many people. I can teach you.” He definitely had my attention.
“Oh, but I have a really bad attitude about God and spirituality. I just can’t put belief in an all-loving God together with all of the terrible suffering in the world.”
“I believe that God does not want for you to suffer,” the Rabbi said. “And, there are ways to learn to have faith plus special prayers and meditations to ask for what you need and want. I will teach you.”
I almost yelled, “You mean it’s okay to ask God? I am not spoiled or selfish or too attached or controlling, or any of the things I have been told my whole life!?!”
“It is okay to ask. In fact, God wants you to ask,” was the wonderful reply. Those were the most liberating words I had ever heard. Maybe I could believe in this kind of God. And I could actually do things to increase my faith!
During some of the darkest, worst days of my life, he said to me, “Melinda, this works.” And, it does. It works for Rabbi Douglas, who has dedicated his life to this study and practice. And it works for me—who began with a truckload of doubt and a bad attitude. And it has worked for many others, some of whom share their stories in the pages that follow.
This is a book about actually experiencing God through healing and learning faith. You will learn universal principles that are part of, yet transcend all religions. You will learn specific ways to experience God and effect healing through eliminating the “space” between you and God.
In 1972, I was ordained as a rabbi by Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. I was ordained not only because I passed all the academic requirements that are necessary to be a rabbi, but also because I showed the seminary that I was committed to Torah and to the Jewish people. I still am committed to Torah and to the Jewish people, in my own community and around the world. This is my life. But, if it is possible to have a greater commitment, it is my commitment to God and to all people, regardless of their religion. I believe that if someone accepts that there is a Divine Force, and if she or he becomes one with this Power, then more than ordinary things can happen. Melinda and I have tried to illustrate this in our book.
The reason I have used many Jewish meditative practices is because I am familiar with these meditations. I use them in my daily life and in the lives of the people who visit me regularly. These meditations work with Catholics and Quakers and Jews and others. They are for all people. I am also confident that other meditative practices of other religions are equally good. The principle of this text is to teach that everyone who understands and practices the unity of God and makes the unity of God an integral part of their life can, together with their physicians, affect spiritual and physical healings that they never thought possible.
The most important thing Rabbi Dresher, my teacher, taught me was to pray with kavvanah—as I explain in chapter one. Our tradition also teaches not to make our prayer a “fixed” prayer. Rabbi Dresher encouraged me to pray differently each day. I remember he often said, “Even the same prayer has to be different every day. When the same is different, it is no longer the same.”
This book is filled with meditations. Learn them. Practice them. Do them. But don’t do them as I do them. Do them as you do them. Make them your own. And as you make these prayers and meditative exercises your own, you will become closer and closer to God—until you and God become one. Then, with faith and with the Greater Mind, there is no limit to your prayers.
Rabbi Dresher also taught me something even more important than faith and meditative exercises. He taught me the importance of being a good person. Being a good person does not only mean saying the right things and speaking the right prayers. Being a good person means doing good things on a regular basis.
This means sharing your money regularly, every week, with people who need money. This means sharing your time regularly every week with people who need your time. This means sharing your knowledge regularly every week with people who would benefit from your knowledge. This means becoming like God.
In the many years that I have prayed with many people, I have seen that it is not enough to do the right meditations in the right way with the right kavvanah. It’s not enough to pray with faith and with joy and in the Greater Mind. People who pray and who want God to reside within them should pray with faith and joy and the Greater Mind. They should practice regularly. They should also practice the Presence of God every day. This means we should try to be kind and compassionate to those we love and even to those we don’t love every day. In this way, our souls become fertile ground for the Spirit of God. And when we do our meditative exercises, their efficacy will indeed be greater.
God is a Force in the Universe and in Us
Universal Principle: God is within us
I was raised and educated in Montreal as an Orthodox Jewish person. I was taught that God is reached through mitzvot, which means through commandments (good works) and through prayer. I have since learned that good works and faith are not enough to reach God, to unite one with God. They are important stepping-stones that put us in an environment to reach God. But beyond good works and faith, there is one step that we have to take in order to connect with God. The purpose of this book is to teach that one extra step.
We must first know that God is in the universe, a natural force of love and intelligence. Then we must learn specific ways to bring God within us, to activate God within us. To know God, we must experience God.
I learned this through a remarkable series of events that took place twenty-four years ago after I was diagnosed with a painful, potentially fatal illness. These events led me to a new understanding of God and prayer.
One winter day, twenty-four years ago, I had severe pain in my leg. Saying, “You needed to go yesterday,” my doctor sent me immediately to the hospital. At that time my only companion was Ritchie, my dog, and he was unable to help me pack, so I packed alone. That day, I entered the hospital.
The doctors tried to eliminate the blood clot in my leg through medicine, but that didn’t work. I had surgery for it and was in the hospital for a long time. The recuperation was very slow. I walked with a cane for years because the pain was so severe. The pain and the circulatory problems increased and, after a second surgery, the recovery was even slower. It was extremely frightening and frustrating.
My brother, who is a psychiatrist, suggested consulting medical texts. I was a student at the University of Chicago at the time, and in that library I discovered that the syndrome I had is called Klippel-Trenaunay. This syndrome is called an “orphan disease” because it is so rare. There were only twenty-two cases reported during that year. Money is not spent on research for that reason. To my horror, the sources at the University of Chicago Library also revealed that the worst treatment for this disease was surgery!
My condition continued to worsen so Peggy, my wife, and I went to Northwestern University Hospital in 1982. The head of vascular surgery said that my left leg would have to be amputated soon because gangrene would set in within the year, and my right leg might also need to be amputated. I was devastated and frightened. I prayed the traditional way, the way I had been taught to pray, but it seemed that either God said no or there was no efficacy to my prayer.
I could not accept God saying no, so I continued to pray. One night I was watching Christian television. Now you might think it odd for a rabbi to watch Christian television, but I watched because the ministers were inspirational teachers in the art of giving sermons.
I learned this from my mother. She was fascinated with preachers of all religions. Even though she was Orthodox, she was a universalist and regularly taught me that God is the same God for all people.
When I went to Hebrew Union College to study for the rabbinate, for example, my mother handed me an old shoe box. I was puzzled by the gift until I found within the box scores and scores of old sermons written by Bishop Fulton Sheen, Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, and Rabbi Harry Joshua Stern. So, I was brought up with a reverence for preachers and preaching. And it wasn’t odd, after all, for me, a rabbi, to watch preachers on Christian television.
This particular night, however, there was a preacher who was talking about healing prayer. This was a new and fascinating concept for me. So I called him and explained my need. I told this minister that he seemed like a fine man—indeed, he inspired me. But I also told him that I just was not comfortable with praying to Jesus, because Jesus was not part of my tradition. I asked if he happened to know a rabbi or a Jewish educator who had similar thoughts on healing prayer. Amazingly, this Christian preacher knew of a Hasidic rabbi in Rogers Park, not far from me.
I subsequently met with Rabbi Daniel Dresher privately and regularly for almost seven months until I was cured. To some extent, we prayed the traditional Jewish prayers—many of the words were the same as in the Siddur (Jewish Prayer Book). To my great delight, Rabbi Dresher opened my eyes to a new kind of prayer—added a crucial internal dynamic to the prayer. He taught me Kavannah.
Kavannah is a Hebrew term. It means to do something with a mind that is totally focused, not perfunctory, not with the mind wandering, not just saying the words, but with focused attention and intention. To pray with kavannah means to pray with the intention completely focused and to pray from the heart or soul. I found praying with kavannah to be profoundly inspiring.
After seven months of praying with kavannah, I did not need the cane again. I was completely cured—much to my doctors’ astonishment and my joy.
I have learned more since that time through studying and praying with and for people and seeing the healing results. One of the most influential books I read during my early learning was written by a Christian healer named Agnes Sanford. Remarkably, Mrs. Sanford’s teaching is in many ways the same as Rabbi Dresher’s. She emphasized the same crucial elements and enhanced my learning and skill, becoming a spiritual guide to me through her many books. Here was a devout Christian speaking the same words as a devout Orthodox Jew. They came from totally different cultures, and both of them convinced me that the principles of prayer and healing are universal—that is, they are included in all religions, yet transcend all religions.
When Melinda first came to me seeking spirituality, faith, and healing, we began to discuss the universal principles that transcend any particular religion. We saw that Catholicism has one set of rituals, practices, and ethics. Judaism has its own set of rituals, practices, and ethics. Each belief system and religious community—including Buddhists, Protestants, Muslims, Quakers, and all the others—has its own practices.
Each of us was taught a different concept of God. Melinda was taught that God is reached through atonement, penance, goodness, suffering, and through Jesus. I was taught that God is reached through prayer and good works. We also saw that there are principles that transcend our individual communities.
So, in my studying and learning with Rabbi Dresher, I added the internal dynamic of kavannah to my prayers for healing and was completely cured in seven months. Jewish scholarship maintains that the word kavannah may mean intention, concentration, devotion, purpose, right spirit, pondering, meditation, mystery. The word kavannah connotes all these things. Praying with kavannah eliminates the space between us and God. God is activated within us. We ignite or inspire the Divine Force to come together with us, and this effects physical healing.
What I have experienced is that there is a God—but this God is unlike anything human. If we say God is good, or smart, or gentle, that He or She sees, we do this because we use our normal, intellectual, cognitive tendency to give human attributes to God. In my work through the last fifteen years, I have seen that God is not like this at all. From my experience, God is like a force, an ineffable force, that cannot be explained intellectually and must be experienced to begin to be known.
If we can begin to pray to the God within us, instead of looking to God who lives in the heavens, we can begin to eliminate the illness within us. So our task is to discover the God that exists in this universe and bring this Presence within us. Praying with kavannah is the extra, all-important step—beyond faith and good works—to activate God within you.
Then, when we know God is within us, we can learn to bring the spark of God within us, out of us. Then the God within and the God without become One, as we and God become One. This is what is meant by the special Hebrew prayer, Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” This prayer is a key prayer in the Jewish faith. It affirms the existence of one God and that this one God must be worshipped regularly. The Jewish people have the duty of reciting this prayer regularly two times every day, in their regular prayer quorum (minyan). In addition, many Jews recite this prayer upon retiring every night. It is also the prayer that should be on the lips of every Jew at death.
This prayer also finds its way into the Christian tradition. In the Gospel according to Mark, Mark goes to Jesus and asks him what is the most important prayer. Jesus answers, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Mark 12:29)
Judaism teaches that it is not enough to just recite the prayer. We have to recite the prayers with the proper kavannah. It is a Jewish tradition that when we pray the Shema, we cup our hands with our eyes closed, so that we visualize the Divine Light of God while reciting this prayer. This is called kavannah.
It is a general principle of Judaism that the fulfillment of religious duties requires kavannah. This means that when we perform a religious duty, such as saying the blessing before the meal, or praying the Shema, or kissing the mezuzah, or entering a home, we must do this religious duty with all our heart. That is, when we do this religious duty, we must not be thinking of something else. So, when you kiss the mezuzah, for example, or say the blessing before the meal, or recite the Shema, your mind must be focused on the words that you utter and your heart must be involved in what you are doing. You must do this mitzvah with all your heart. This is what the rabbis mean when they say that the fulfillment of religious duties requires kavannah: Duties must be fulfilled with intention (not just going through the motions) and devout concentration.
The Hebrew Kabbalah uses mystical meditations—visual meditations and auditory mantras—that are called kavvanot. These spiritual exercises cause us to focus with concentration and intention on the Presence of God. You can use these mystical meditations—some of which are included in this book—to bring God into you. God is like a well or marvelous energy that we must learn to tap to bring within us.
The major textbook of Jewish law, the Shulkhan Aruch, written in sixteenth-century Palestine by Joseph Caro, also uses the Hebrew term “kavvan” to indicate true prayer. In Oraych Chaim in “The Laws of Prayer,” the Shulkhan Aruch maintains that when you pray, you must pray, thinking as if the Presence of God is before Him, ridding yourself of all foreign and troubling thoughts, until your only thought is that you are before a great king, who is the Ruler of the Universe. And the Shulkhan Aruch goes on to say that this method of Kavannah prayer with all your heart. Kavannah means to empty one’s heart of every other care and regard oneself as standing before the Presence of God. This is the true method of pious people who spiritually isolate themselves and meditate.
I used these methods of Jewish prayer and studied other religions, including the famous Ibn al-Arabi of Islam, and I saw that these approaches are universal principles, shared by all faiths.
The first universal principle I learned when I prayed with kavannah is that the traditional idea that God and Man/Woman are separate does not promote healing. As said earlier, we have to discover that God is in the universe first and then bring that God within us so that we can become one. We have to bring Her within us so that we can become one. I say “Her” because we have to think of God as the feminine power within us. This feminine aspect of God is the Shekhina. God has many manifestations, and the Kabbalists believe that the manifestation that is most immanent to us is God in Her feminine aspect. This is the immanent Presence in our world. We have to learn to Practice the Presence of God, to practice the Shekhina of God.
In our Sabbath evening and morning worship services, some of our prayers refer to God as “She.” Occasionally, a member of our synagogue will ask me if I am only introducing the word “she” to achieve a politically correct situation. Jewish theology in the early part of the First Millenium used the feminine nature of God, the Shekhina, to explain the immanent nature of Her being. It was the Shekhina who accompanied the Jews in exile, and it was She who manifested Herself in the ancient Temple. Yet, it was the male aspect of God who transcendentally stood on Mt. Sinai, bellowing out the first two commandments in a voice so loud and strong that Moses himself had to read the next eight, because the people became frightened. This transcendent male deity is called the Hakadosh Barukh Hu, the Holy One, Blessed be He. When the Messiah comes, the Jews believe that the feminine aspect of God and the male aspect of God will merge and “the Lord shall be One.”
The Shulkhan Aruch maintains that when we pray, we must feel and think as if the Shekhina is before us.
We see a similar concept in Talmud, Shabbat 22b, which teaches us that the light from the menorah testifies to the Shekhina residing in the world. It is also teaching that the Shekhina is always near, and it is for us to focus on Her and to invite Her into our lives. Also, Proverbs 20:27, like the Talmud, identifies God and light.
We must actually experience God in us. We and God are One, everything in the universe is One. There is no separation.
The term “Light” is favored by the mystics—Jewish and non-Jewish—to describe the various manifestations and emanations of the Divinity. Rabbi Joseph Albo in his text, Sefer Ikkarimn, identifies light and God because
1. The existence of light cannot be denied.
2. Light is not a corporeal thing.
3. Light delights the soul.
The Jewish Kabbalist Joseph Ergas in his famous book Shomer Emunim, also identifies light with God because
1. Light spreads itself instantaneously.
2. Light per se never changes.
3. Light is essential to life in general.
Light illumines all physical objects and can penetrate all transparent objects. In the Christian tradition, the Scriptures identify Jesus with the Light. “I am the Light.” (John 8:12)
The magnum opus of Kabbalistic literature, the Zohar, in part I (50b-51a), uses a candle as an image for divine unity. This Zoharic passage is related to Proverbs 20:27, “The Light (candle) of the Lord is my soul.”
Rabbi Dresher referred me to all these sources, encouraging me to understand that if we want to be “heard” by the Light of the World, we must, as the Shulkhan Aruch states, stand before God’s Presence, and we must also invite God within us. We must take this Biblical proverb and we must use this text to eliminate the space between us and God.
As a practicing rabbi, I often ask my Sunday school children where they think God is. Some claim God is in the heavens, others maintain that God is everywhere—north, south, east, west, up, down. Still others maintain that God is within us.
When I was a boy—even when I was a young rabbi before I met the Hasidic rabbi, Rabbi Dresher—I used to imagine God as a compassionate being who, when addressed, would respond in a compassionate way. I always imagined what Cecil B. DeMille showed me in the movie, The Ten Commandments: When Moses went up the mountain and spoke to God, God spoke to him and gave him the Torah. Our Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition teaches this, that God handed the sacred law to Moses. When we image that picture, we visualize the Deity. We visualize Moses and we see the Deity giving Moses the Torah. This picture contains three representations—God, Moses, and Torah. There is God and there is Moses, and there is a space between God and Moses—albeit this space is filled with the Torah.
Using these sources, I discovered this universal principle that is included in, yet transcends, all religions: If we can eliminate the space that exists between us and God, if we can become one with God, then we can alleviate illness in our lives. This is not done in place of traditional medicine, but is done working with our physicians and other physical healers.
How can we bring God within us? How is this possible? One way we can do this is by a meditation found in the Zohar. This meditation is called “The Candle Meditation.” The “How To” section of this chapter will explain how you can do this meditation.
Liberating Concept: Asking God
God does not want us to suffer, we can ask God for anything
This is a story of how a Catholic-raised gal came to be teaching and writing with a rabbi and about her experiences with healing meditation and prayer.
I never would have dreamed that I would be doing this. I am a fairly traditional psychotherapist and, until now, have always been a private person. The change came when the prayer and meditations worked for me in such a spectacular way. I told Rabbi Douglas that he should find a way to share this with more people, and he asked me to teach and write with him. Basically I am here because the prayer and meditations this book teaches worked for me.
My journey to spirituality began with a 1950s Catholic upbringing. On the positive side, Catholicism gave me the desire to be a good person and to help others. But, even as a child, I could never put the belief in an all-loving God together with the terrible suffering in the world. Suffering was the result of sin, we were taught—if not my personal sin, then the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Suffering was necessary in order to get to heaven and, therefore, part of God’s plan.
Since that time, Catholicism has changed enormously. Now my children in school are learning, among other things, to have a positive relationship with God—one based on connecting with God and becoming better people.
Two years ago, my son graduated from eighth grade. At the High Mass, in a packed church with four priests on the altar and all the candles lit and the incense burning, Father Edward Harisim began the Mass by saying, “We honor that many people here come from different religions. We may call God by different names, but God wants unity for all and we celebrate being one family.”
A number of years ago, when I was a beginning therapist, a client had a terrifying psychosis. Sitting with this woman’s suffering, I had to conclude that no one could have done something bad enough to deserve this—and what kind of God would so terribly punish this poor woman because of someone else’s sin!?! It didn’t make sense. Even if heaven were magnificent, it could never be worth the suffering right there in front of me.
About the same time, I read Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. In that book, one of the brothers, Ivan, ponders the nature of God and heaven. He thinks that heaven can’t be worth the price of the tears of one abused child. The suffering of just that one child is enough for him to say that he was most respectfully returning the ticket of admission to heaven. As Ivan said: “But then there are the children, and what am I to do with them? That is the question I cannot answer. . . . It is entirely incomprehensible why they, too, should have to suffer and why they should have to buy harmony (of heaven) by their sufferings.”
That question was unanswerable for me, too, but my mind would not let it go. What does the suffering of children or the mentally ill have to do with heaven? Unsatisfactory answers to these questions left me with a bad attitude and a spiritual hole for the next fourteen years. It was not that I gave up the search, but I didn’t know where to look. I deeply wanted spirituality but did not have a clue how to get it.
And then, about four years ago, after I had worked many years with people who were suffering, one of my children got very sick and I experienced terrible suffering first-hand. The worst pain in the world comes when something bad happens to one of your children. Words can hardly express that pain, but the words that always come to mind were spoken by a parent of a young deaf child who had had meningitis and could no longer walk. This Dad described the feelings as anguish and despair. Yes, those were the true words.
After two years of extensive searching, we finally found the right treatment for my child’s constant headaches. My own depression and anxiety, however, stuck with me.
It was an excruciating time, but this painful crisis propelled me to do a life-changing thing. This was to go to see Rabbi Douglas three years ago.
I had known Rabbi Douglas professionally for fifteen years. My work as a psychotherapist in private practice and as a parent-counselor at Northwestern University has included many deaf people, and Rabbi Douglas’ congregation was founded for deaf people and their families. Clients and friends often talked about this man’s everyday small and large kindnesses. People would say: “I talked to the Rabbi and he did this,” or “I talked to the Rabbi and he said that,” or “I talked to the Rabbi and he helped me with this,” or “The Rabbi called me yesterday to see how I was doing,” and on and on and on.
Henry James once said: “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.” That described this rabbi. Rabbi Douglas is the kind of person so many of us wish we could be.
I occasionally went to services and marveled at his faith and joy. His faith in God both amazed me and, to be very frank, made me quite jealous. I would say to myself: “That man’s got something I want.” But I didn’t have a clue how to get it. Well, eventually I found out how to get it, and that’s why I’m in on this book with Rabbi Douglas.
One thing that misery can do is make people do things and take chances they never would take under ordinary circumstances. I asked Rabbi Douglas if he ever taught, gave guidance to, or prayed with someone who not was not only not a member of his congregation, but not even Jewish.
His answer astonished me.
I remember that he looked really puzzled for a moment and then said, “Melinda, this is for everyone.” As if—wasn’t that obvious?
Well, actually, no. It wasn’t obvious, given my childhood religious education. And it probably wouldn’t be to most people, given the religious education most of today’s adults got as children. Like most religions of the day, the Catholicism of the 1950s was built on the “us and them” philosophy. The “us’es” (we) were going to heaven and the “thems” (they) were going to hell. Because of childhood experiences and my values, I couldn’t buy in: I could never have a belief system or spirituality that was based on excluding anyone.
So, no, it was not obvious to me. But I could believe in the kind of God Rabbi Douglas seemed to know. He taught me several universal principles that are both part of all religions and transcend each one of them. This concept gave me a new way to spirituality: This is for everyone.
I went into Rabbi Douglas’ office every week with my doubts, especially about a God who required suffering in order to get into heaven and avoid eternal damnation. If that were God’s plan, it just didn’t seem fair. Had any of us asked to be in this situation, with our poor, inadequate human brains and psyches in the first place? Samuel Butler said, “Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” A perfect description.
When I was growing up, my relationship with God was based on the fear of going to hell. This was a “punishing Father” God who noted my tiniest sins. It was a great motivator to behave myself, but it did nothing for me spiritually. Albert Einstein spent his life pondering the physical and spiritual universe and concluded that he could not imagine a God who was but a reflection of our human frailty.
We tend to conceptualize a God modeled on our parents because that’s how our minds work. We take information and fit it into what we already “know.” From the time of birth, our minds are constantly trying to understand the world. In the book, The Interpersonal World of the Human Infant, researcher and psychiatrist Daniel Stern shows that from birth on, the human brain has a central tendency to form and test hypotheses about what is occurring in the world. Even infants have sophisticated cognitive abilities to process and understand information, including the ability to abstract, average, and represent information preverbally.
The very way that the human mind works makes it inevitable that we are constantly searching for meaning. We’re neurologically programmed to work to understand, and we’re always building on what was learned before. Children think about God as “parent-like” because they already have the model of “parent” in their minds. And, since children are psychologically egocentric, they believe that they are the cause of everything and are responsible for everything that happens. It is no wonder that we carry guilt for events and feelings from our young childhood and expect punishment from somewhere.
Einstein also said: “Strange is our situation here upon earth.” I agree with him one hundred percent. We’re all just trying to make sense of this crazy life. Each religion grapples with these issues and tries to make sense of what happens to each of us every day.
So, when Rabbi Douglas and I talked about suffering, and he said that he believes that God does not want us to suffer, and that suffering is not part of God’s plan—these were some of the most liberating words I had ever heard. It was the first truly Liberating Concept I learned from Rabbi Douglas.
Moving beyond thinking of God as a punishing father, I could envision God as both female and male. During the Healing Prayer, I connect with the deep “feminine” aspect of God and myself—the love I experienced when cradling my babies. At other times, it feels right to refer to God as “He” and “Lord.” These concepts simply express qualities that are in all of us regardless of gender.
This book presents a way to move beyond thinking of God as a punishing or rewarding parent or as strictly masculine or feminine. From my personal experience, this move takes nothing more than the ability to approach this with a “beginner’s mind,” to allow yourself to think about the universe in a different way and then to observe if this new way works for you. That is the only “proof” of any kind of belief.
I had no faith when I walked into Rabbi Douglas’ office. One of the most remarkable things that Rabbi Douglas taught me is that a person can learn to have faith! That is the Liberating Concept that will be discussed in chapter two.
How to Do It
How to bring God inside; How to activate the God within
How can we bring God within us? How is this possible? We do this in many ways. One way is to do so by this meditation found in the Zohar.
When I do this meditation, I can experience God’s light within me any time of the day. Don’t worry if this doesn’t happen right away. It took me a while before I could learn to experience the Light simply by attending to it. It is important to practice, practice, practice.
Put a candle in a candle holder, light it, and face the candle. The candle represents the Light of God. God is Light in many religious traditions.
So, now there is the candle and there is you. And as there is a space between the candle and your body, so there is a “space” between God’s Light and you. And if you want to practice the presence of God, you have to eliminate the space—you want to be one with God. So in this meditation, you invite the candle to come within you. Visualize the candle coming closer and closer toward you. Keep your eyes closed when you do this, so you can better visualize the movement of the candle.
As you visualize the candle coming toward you, recite Proverbs 20:27. “The Light of the Lord is my Soul.” Recite this proverb as a mantra, an intensely focused sacred expression. Your mind is focused only on the candle coming inside you. You are using kavannah.
As you repeat the mantra again and again, notice that the separation between you and the candle diminishes. The candle is the Light of God. You want to eliminate the separation between you and God. Bring the image of the candle within you and say the mantra until you are filled up with the Light of God. Until you and God are One.
Throughout the day, whether it be at the water cooler or taking a break from your reading assignment, or during your lunch hour, whatever you may be doing, image yourself filled with the Light of God. This will give you a connectedness to God that will inspire you all day.
If you would like to say the mantra in Hebrew, the Hebrew words are, “Ner Adonai Nishmat Adam.”