As he stood stammering in shul one morning, he realized that he was much more comfortable with ‘his God’ (Elokai) than he was with the ‘God of his fathers’ (Elokei avosai).
When alone in a park or forest, speaking words of hisbodedus, or even under the blanket trying to work out the kinks of a stressful day, ‘his God’ – his personal, privately developed relationship with his Father in Heaven – felt near and natural, full of patience, love, and guidance.
Yet when standing in a minyan, siddur in hand, reciting ancient holy words in an ancient holy tongue that even after decades of davening, he scantily understood (especially when read at anywhere near the pace he had to, to make even a semblance of keeping up with the minyan), the ‘God of his fathers’ – the traditional, passed-down Masoretic conception of the King of the Universe – felt distant, inaccessible, and perhaps a little disappointed with him for his short attention span and weak reading skills.
It wasn’t that he demurred from that aspect of the relationship; he wholeheartedly accepted it as true and essential for his and the world’s spiritual wellbeing. It’s just the ‘God of his fathers’…wasn’t.
The vicissitudes of history, somewhere down the line, had sent the train of his family’s spiritual legacy – connecting generation to generation from the giving of the Torah on Sinai – careening off the track. Oh, they knew they were Jews – they just didn’t know what Jews (really) were.
So, in his mid-20’s when he finally awoke from his train-crash induced coma and desperately flung himself onto the caboose of one of the still chugging trains, it was all news to him. Hebrew. Thrice-daily praying. Studying the Torah. He did it all to the best of his abilities (when factoring in his cerebral and moral desuetude), but it never came naturally. Learning a language as an adult is not the same as learning it as a child. The same can be said for absorbing a reality paradigm or cultural norms.
Throw in his natural introversion (he never was much into ‘group’ anything, never mind prayer), his societally instilled anti-organized religion bias, and his burgeoning ADD; and the synagogue experience was – and often still is – for him one of obligation, endurance, and ennui.
On the other hand, ‘his God’ was the natural extension of a long-running inner dialogue, a whispering inner voice that had subtly showed him the synchronicity of life and guided his footsteps on a winding path back to his true heritage, where yes, He also assumed His more formal identity, but never closed the cozy, informal ‘back door’ through which He’d guided him home.
There were times when ‘his God’ and the ‘God of his fathers’ managed to merge (as, of course, they are in fact truly one). He’d slow down in his siddur reading to a pace that he knew what he was saying. He’d try to mean what he said (which wasn’t hard, because he did), and most of all try to remember Who he was talking to – none other than the same loving Father to whom his improvised prayers came so naturally. Then it would click, and the ancient words were no longer foreboding and forbidding, but the utterances of his timeless soul.
Of course, the spell would always too quickly break. After all, he couldn’t stand in prayer for three or more hours (the pace it would take to do this) could he? People were starting to look at him (which tested him alternatively with embarrassment and pride) – and, did I mention, he had ADD?
So today he accepts that he may never become a ‘synagogue Jew’, but he continues to suit up and show up, try his best, and feels very grateful for ‘his God’- wherever he may find Him.