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Asking the Clergy: How can we become more pleasing to God in the New Year?

From left, Rabbi Mendy Goldberg of Lubavitch of

From left, Rabbi Mendy Goldberg of Lubavitch of the East End, Sanaa Nadim Islamic of the Society Interfaith Center and the Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr. of Church-in-the-Garden. Credit: Rabbi Mendy Goldberg; Newsday / John H.Cornell Jr.; Church-in-the-Garden

Long Island gyms and organic food stores will no doubt be busier than usual this week as New Year’s health and fitness resolutions are put to the test. This week’s clergy discuss how spiritual fitness can also help you reach the goal of a “new year, new you.”

The Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.

Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden

I think one has to understand that everyone has a connection to God. The acknowledgment of this connection becomes the basis of what is known as faith. Faith is the relationship of hope in the divine that we cannot see, yet the assurance that the divine is present in our situations. However, many find the concept of faith a point of inquiry, if not the subject of outright skepticism, with which they may struggle.

I believe God delights when a person engages his or her faith understanding. We all should be examining and working through our faith. In the Bible, it says, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who seek God.” (Hebrews 11:6) This suggests that those who seek God would be pleasing God all the more by engaging their faith and the works of faith that result. Faith should inform our daily actions. Works of faith demand that we endeavor to love and care for one another radically, to seek justice and break down structures and systems of oppression, and to live our truths and respect others in the process.

We make tangible the presence of God among us when we act in faith, and assuredly, God is pleased.

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg

Lubavitch of the East End

“One who is pleasing to his fellow men is pleasing to God. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men is not pleasing to God.” ("Ethics of Our Fathers," Chapter 3) As we learn in the Torah, all of us are made in the divine image, and thus we have an obligation to care and honor our fellow human beings. When we do so, we are in essence loving God and being more pleasing to God as well. Just as a parent’s greatest pleasure is to see all of their children get along, it gives God the greatest pleasure to see all of his children getting along.

The holy Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria), a Kabbalist in the 16th century, initiated the tradition that before Jews pray daily for our own requests, we must affirm that we love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves. Moreover, Jewish teaching tells us, when you pray for someone else, your prayers are answered as well. When we think and care about others, God thinks about us.

As we begin the New Year, we should take a moment to think about what we can do to help others, whether it’s a sibling, a neighbor or a stranger. Together we can change this world with one random act of kindness.

Sanaa Nadim

Chaplain, Islamic Society Interfaith Center, Stony Brook University

God is merciful. And we seek his forgiveness. But this pursuit is insufficient. One must also strive to please God. A verse in Holy Quran asserts that The Day of Judgment is “a day where neither wealth nor offspring will be of any avail except he who comes to God with a pure heart." God elevates a pure heart above all else. In our search to meet this mandate, we can work toward a pure heart by emulating the Lord's compassion and mercy.

The Islamic tradition nullifies your belief in God unless you love for yourself what you love for your fellow human beings. Mercy and compassion undercut the boastful aspects of the ego. Negative thoughts, which fuel selfishness and isolation, flourish in a soul lacking in compassion. The absence of compassion creates a dwelling without love.

The Islamic tradition asks us to worship God as if you see him in your heart. By bringing God within your heart, you have neared a pure heart. And this is pleasing to God.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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