A Review of Toba Spitzer’s “God Is Here”
At the outset of first-time author Toba Spitzer’s divine new book, God Is Here, she alludes to organized religion being a restaurant where someone hungry will sit down to eat, first checking the menu. In looking at the menu, though, many people may find that nothing winds up looking all that appetizing and will ultimately decide to leave the restaurant. Spitzer — who is an openly lesbian Jewish rabbi — concludes that the problem is that we have too many outdated “metaphors” for whom God is. What she means by that is that we have ideas embedded into language that we use interchangeably. So, when we say, “time is money,” this is a non-literary metaphor for saying that time is a precious commodity, and we should use it wisely. Likewise, “time flows like a river” is a metaphor for how time stretches out endlessly. Thus, one metaphor that we use for God — “God Is a Big Person,” someone who rewards and punishes — might be the sort of thing that will turn some Jewish people (and Christians, to whom this book is also aimed) into atheists who cannot believe that someone has had something terrible happen to them because they offended “God as Punisher” in some way.
I may or may not be doing justice to the conceit of this book, but it is really an extraordinary look at reframing how we view the Divine or Something Else that is out there. By using stories from her personal life as well as from the Hebrew Bible, Spitzer uses imagery such as “God as Water,” “God as a Rock,” “God as a Cloud” and — more recently and scientifically — “God as Electricity,” to confront readers of thinking about new ways and new metaphors for experiencing God (which she refers to as It seemingly to avoid assigning gender, male or female, to God). This is a truly remarkable book that will make readers think about engaging with God in new and less offensive ways. While I’m not sure if this book will turn an atheist into a Jewish follower or Christian, if you are already from a Jewish or Christian background and are struggling with your faith, this might be the sort of thing that you will need to read to reset and recharge you. It should be noted, too, that this is the type of book that might not be best consumed by reading it only once. This is a resource that someone can come back to again and again, to try some of Spitzer’s prompts to turn these metaphors into something physical and concrete. One suggestion I might consider trying is writing my own obituary — it’s a good way to set goals for what I might want to achieve.
There’s probably not a lot more that needs to be said about this book, aside from “go read this now.” However, I should mention that it came into my life at a rather remarkable moment in Canadian history (and I am a Canadian). I’ve been grappling a little bit with my spirituality lately because I live in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. I don’t know if American or international readers of my work realize what’s going on in this location, but, as of this writing, a group of hundreds of truckers has convened in this location, occupying it for the past two weeks now to, in my mind, pressure for a change in government undemocratically. At various points during these past two weeks, these “truckers” or “protesters” (if you want to call them that) have defecated in people’s backyards, stolen food meant for the homeless, honked their truck horns collectively for 24 hours straight with no respect for the 6,000 or so residents who live in the area, and have also flown Nazi and Confederate flags. This is a deeply troubling time for me. I’m trying to work and generally live my life in this chaos, and I have to admit, for the first time in my life, I had to call on another individual to walk me to the grocery store and back yesterday because these Fascists are harassing people in the street and in stores for wearing masks to protect people against COVID. Meanwhile, the police and various civic leaders are doing next to nothing, either because the city has been overrun and the police are outnumbered or because the police have been corrupted and compromised. Ottawa has never seen anything like this before.
That’s what makes a book such as God Is Here so crushingly important to me. It reminds me that there is a God, and It is near, even in the middle of the mess I’m in. The book gave me new ideas for recasting and looking at God’s spirit in new ways. The suggestions are usually quite clear and do-able, and, again, this is probably a book that I’ll have to come back to at some point when I’m not as busy to really engage further with it. It’s kind of too bad that I only have a Kindle Advance Reader Copy of the book, as this is the sort of thing that would probably be best reading as a physical volume, making it easier to bookmark certain passages and be more accessible to revisiting some of the activity prompts that Spitzer has come up with. In any event, I feel that God Is Here is a tremendous, powerful book that reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor’s best writing, simply from a Jewish perspective. I can’t recommend reading this book more, especially if you’re grappling with the ways God has Being. If you are in a moment of crisis or despair, as I currently am, this book will lift you up on an eagle’s wings (there’s a metaphor for you) and make you feel good about being religious all over again. God Is Here is ground-breaking, and I can’t wait to revisit again.
Toba Spitzer’s God Is Here: Reimaging the Divine will be published by St. Martin’s Essentials on March 8, 2022.
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