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Stumbling Toward the Divine

A depressed but wisecracking journalist trots the globe to “test-drive” various faiths

Sojourning with Buddhists in Kathmandu, Weiner is drawn to the first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, “All is suffering.” (Buddha, he helpfully explains, literally means “ ‘the Awakened One,’ or more colloquially, ‘the Guy Who Woke Up.’ ”) But the strongest attraction for Weiner seems to be the practicality of Buddhism — specifically, its do-it-yourself nature: “ ‘Be a lamp unto yourself,’ the Buddha famously said. I find this liberating — and terrifying. What if my wattage is insufficient?”

Weiner also flirts with Wiccans, or witches, a type of neo-pagans who venerate nature and practice magic and ritual. But ultimately all that questing leads him back, with considerable trepidation, to Judaism. He decides to investigate Kabbalah, a set of esoteric Jewish scriptures that discuss the nature of the universe, because it offers “a Judaism of the head and the heart.” He spends several weeks in Israel studying under Yedidah Cohen, a British anesthesiologist who immigrated there to live in the land of her faith, and David B. Barrett, an American artist who now teaches Kabbalah. In particular he discovers (and appears to have internalized) tikkun, the Jewish spiritual practice of fixing the broken world by first repairing our own consciousness.

When Yedidah teaches Weiner how to pray, the author predictably experiences “performance anxiety” over the practice. But then he concludes, with Yedidah’s help, that it’s acceptable to grasp the gist of the undertaking, which is intention.

And that’s largely how Weiner wraps up his search for God: “ultimately, the choice is ours.” He resolves to construct his own God: “His foundation is Jewish, but His support beams Buddhist. He has the heart of Sufism, the simplicity of Taoism, the generosity of the Franciscans, the hedonistic streak of the Raelians.” In Man Seeks God, Eric Weiner finally jettisons his “flirtations with the divine” and returns to a sentiment articulated by one of his favorite secular authors, the philosopher William James: “Truth is what works.”

Joan Mooney is a writer and reviewer based in Washington, D.C. She previously reviewed Mark Matousek’s Ethical Wisdom and Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life for AARP The Magazine.

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