A Steeper Cliff

A Steeper Cliff 

The escarpment of Sunday loomed as one of life’s steeper cliffs. At 10:00 a.m. that morning, Jerry was scheduled to give a talk about his book, God: An Autobiography as told to a philosopher. By now he’s done that quite a few times in venues around the country. But this time he was to speak at Temple Judea, my temple.

Inescapably, it would involve the coming together of worlds I had carefully kept apart, the way one can prefer to keep one’s friends apart because one holds them close in different and – one fears – incompatible ways.

When I met Jerry he was a typical male agnostic, a serious man fully prepared to take life’s moral imperatives to heart and to act with care in the real world. He was not seeking to know stuff that he hadn’t personally run up against. And he hadn’t run up against God.

When we fell in love, he did meet with an experience that had not been part of his inventory of the real things that real people encounter. It opened his mind and heart to those farther dimensions. The incredible encounter that ensued — with a voice that sounded like God’s and said it was God — launched him on a journey whose significance gets more manifest as he follows it out.

What’s my part in all this? Unlike Jerry, whose philosophic specialty was epistemology (theory of knowledge), I’m not naturally a doubter. My weakness goes the other way. As I often put it, “There’s nothing I don’t believe!” Ghosts? Aliens? Bigfoot? Past lives? Not a problem. But all that has for me the character of escapism, of entertainment. The other-worldly communications I enjoy mostly tend to sound alike:

God is Love;

We’ll see our pets in the next world;

each of us is divinely terrific;

we are all essentially One;

the afterlife will fully compensate for every trouble I have,

including losing my cell phone in Colorado.

So, while I like to browse in the New Age counter in bookstores, the messages get a bit tiresome in their Hallmark Card sameness. I could write this stuff if you paid me enough.

Jerry’s encounter was not like that. I don’t know how to describe it in brief compass, but the God he conversed with … sounded like God! Even if you’ve never (to your knowledge) heard the voice of God, when you hear it, you can tell. I am not one to throw myself in front of Chariot Wheels of that size with the intent of blocking their onward course, so of course I had the sense to provide such intelligent listening and encouragement as I could.

But I was rather careful to keep this part of my marital adventure in the background with regard to my membership in a local Reform temple. My joining a temple was a first for me and I only joined because Jewish identity doesn’t come with the territory in Bucks County. When I moved here from Manhattan, I could feel it slipping down off my shoulders and starting to hang on me slightly askew. So I joined up, in my way, going regularly to weekly Bible study (“Torah Study”) and being sporadically part of other things too.

Actually, temple membership has provided quite a trove of experience for me, in its darks and lights alike. It’s come to form the concrete background to a more uninhibited delving into what I think this Jewish thing means. One thing I have thought is that Jews were and are God’s pilot project, which means that their existence as a distinct people needs to be conserved.

So here I am in this intermarriage and my man is having conversations with God that occur outside the Jewish project. So what do I do? Nothing. I do nothing. I keep the two worlds separate.

That had been my plan and it suited me fine. So what went wrong? Our temple leadership found Jerry’s God: An Autobiography on the net and proffered an invitation to tell about it in the Adult Ed venue, despite Jerry’s own residual doubts about the appropriateness of such a talk within the temple precincts.

So how’d it go this morning? Jerry eschewed all “literary” and rhetorical devices. In a straight way, he communicated the marrow of God’s self-revelation, quoting extensively from the Q & A that forms the bulk of his book.

And how did they take it? From the outset, they listened intently, schooled by millennia of first-hand acquaintance with an unfinished, multi-faceted, reactive and expressive God who has forged a covenant on the rough ground of history with a people who preserves the unbroken threads of intelligent memory with respect to their covenant. Nothing in the Jewish sense of God is overturned by Jerry’s message.


no matter how you try,

you can’t keep your friends apart.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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