Man in Search of God

Deciding Which New Spiritual Leaf To Turn Over

By Jay Michaelson

Published May 08, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine
By Eric Weiner
Twelve, 368 pages, $26.99

Eric Weiner
chuck berman
Eric Weiner

I’ll be honest: I normally hate books like this — memoirs of spiritual tourism, jauntily retold by trustworthy but neurotic narrators who are careful never to be more knowledgeable than the reader. I have read about two dozen of these things, some best-sellers and others obscure little books, and I find them unfulfilling, irritating and pointless. Again and again, they make the same fundamental mistake: You can’t “get it” if you’re a tourist, if you only spend one or two weeks in colorful foreign locales rather than do the hard, long-term work on yourself. The premise of these books, tied to their commercial proposition (“Make it accessible!”), undermines the hope that their protagonists’ searches will be fulfilled.

So, when I received Eric Weiner’s “Man Seeks God,” tellingly subtitled “My Flirtations With the Divine,” I didn’t expect to like it. And yet, while I’m still not convinced, I found it better than most entries in this genre, for reasons that I think are fruitful to explore.

First, Weiner gradually unveils the fact that he does have more at stake than the typical spiritual tourist: He has suffered from depression his whole life. This fact, familiar to readers of Weiner’s previous book, the best-selling “The Geography of Bliss,” gives his search a certain poignancy. He’s suffering, and he’s articulate enough to know it. He’s not comfortable in his successful, basically secular New York Jewish life, and so even when the characters he meets are worthy of ridicule (UFO enthusiasts, wacky kabbalists), he holds back. After all, they seem happier than he is. This vulnerability and this stake are crucial, and establish a lot more credibility than the ability to make a joke.

Which leads me to Weiner’s second advantage: the awareness that, in his words, “smart-assness is an impediment to spiritual growth.” That insight comes on page 297, and I wish it had been in the foreword, but it’s still an important truth. As a writer of “spiritual” books myself, I know the temptation: If you always make jokes, if you always undermine sincerity, you can stay cool. Spirituality is not cool. It requires self-revelation, self-examination and, yes, a willingness to be honest, sincere and direct.

So while Weiner may flirt, he also is willing to go all the way. He gets naked with the Wiccans, cross-dresses with the Raelians, davens with the kabbalists and is generally willing to be put through the paces by his short-term teachers of Sufism and Buddhism. He even tests the claims of mantra meditation by reciting “Yabba dabba doo” in lotus position for half an hour. (It worked; he chilled out.) Maybe he’s just this game in order to get good material for the book, but I admired his spirit anyway.

But I think what most attracted me to Weiner’s book shows up in only the last few pages: Finally, some insight. Without getting corny about it, Weiner does in fact find himself a spiritual home, in — surprise, surprise — a spiritually inflected Judaism that doesn’t take itself too seriously.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.