What is God – Part 10 – God as Presence

In the last posting, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the idea of God’s Voice.  Another metaphor which works equally well for me, maybe even better, is that of God’s “Presence.”  No matter how much I try, I could never express this idea better than the poem from the S’lichot Service, “The Thread:”


Something is very gently,

invisibly, silently,

pulling at me – a thread

or net of threads

finer than cobweb and as

elastic.  I haven’t tried

the strength of it.  No barbed hook

pierced and tore me.  Was it

not long ago this thread

began to draw me?  Or

way back?  Was I

born with its knot about my

neck, a bridle?  Not fear

but a stirring

of wonder makes me

catch my breath when I feel

the tug of it when I thought

it had loosened itself and gone.


As I have said quite a few times, there is an experience of transcendent mystery that keeps me turning towards Judaism, which acts as a guide in my efforts to be a good person and a good member of my community.  One way to characterize this is as a presence of the Divine, as captured in these words from the Gates of Prayer:

The greatness of the Eternal One surpasses our understanding, and yet at times we feel His presence.  Overwhelmed by awe and wonder as we behold the signs of His presence, still we feel within us a kinship with the divine.  And so we turn to You, O God, looking at the world about us, and inward to the world within us, there to find You, and from Your presence gain life and strength.

And in one of the loose translations of the Ma’ariv:

O God, how can we know You?  Where can we find You?  You are as close to us as breathing, yet You are farther than the farthermost star. . . . Even so does Your goodness pass before us: in the realm of nature, and in the joys and sorrows of life.

Many of us associate this type of experience with being in natural settings, as we appreciate the beauty and awe of the world:

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light.  For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


If God exists as an actual entity, we must believe that to be true only through an act of complete faith, as He stopped talking to us directly about 2,500 years ago.  But if God is a way to talk about a mystery that we can’t understand, but can still appreciate, then all we need do is look for the metaphors that fit best with our experiences.  At times, I experience the presence of something Divine.  That is enough for me.

Dan Swartzman has been teaching in our Adult Education program for many years.  Dan is a professor at UIC, where he teaches ethics, law and nonprofit management.  He and his family have been members of Temple Sholom for 23 years.

For part 1 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/05/07/what-is-god-part-1/
For part 2 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/05/30/what-is-god-part-2-is-god-a-person/
For part 3 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/06/14/what-is-god-part-3-god-as-a-metaphor/
For part 4 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/06/28/what-is-god-part-4-creator/
For Part 5 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/12/what-is-god-part-5-you-are-holy-because-god-is-holy/
For part 6 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/19/what-is-god-part-6-god-as-a-metaphorical-helper/
For part 7 go to: http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/26/what-is-god-part-7-god-as-rulemaker/
For part 8 go to: http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/08/09/what-is-god-part-8-god-as-light/
For part 9 go to:  http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/08/16/what-is-god-part-9-god-as-voice/