Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Icon Writing #11: We're done!

Sorry for the delay in getting this post out. Helena and I finished our icons last weekend and I get to pick up mine from her place, hopefully Saturday and then get it blessed. It's been a busy last few days preparing for the family gathering on today, Christmas Day, and I still have a little bit to do for that, but first, the icon update.

After abandoning the whole borders idea, we still had to use the ruling pen (with watered down red paint inside! terrifying!) to put down the lines for Jesus' halo. This is Helena at work:


(PS: Not sure how these videos are going to work ... )

My icon, ready for varnish under the glow of a lamp

Helena's icon, ready for varnish, under the lamp
Shiny, eh? Well wait, there's more. The magical transformation that occurs with varnish. Watch the magic (sound effects are all mine):


I feel I could write something about the transfiguration of the icon at this point, but the excitement level is still a little too high to be contemplative. The icons are set to dry and cure for at least 24 hours. We headed out afterward for a late lunch and a movie so Helena didn't have to smell the fumes all afternoon.

One more post after this to show the icon being blessed and in its new abode. There is apparently a tradition that the first icon you write is yours. What I'm not clear is if that's the case for all future icons of different saints. I mean, Rev. Paige has quite the collection in her office....

Saturday, December 14, 2013

God's love stories ... because there are a few...

And I've been meaning to post them ... so here they are:
I have a couple more but they are on the theme that I've been trying to settle my mind around: incarnation. Maybe more on that later this week.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

10 books

There is this meme going around Facebook about listing 10 books that have stayed with one in some way. Nobody tagged me, and even if they did, I wouldn't put it on Facebook because I have never been a fan of chain letters, or guilting people into doing something (unless of course they are my little brothers, in which case all bets are off).

In other news, I've been reflecting on incarnation thanks to some amazing sermons at my church (December 1 and 8, 2013) but haven't found words for this yet. Or time to really dwell with it. And so I haven't posted.

No progress on the icon either. But I have almost finished the giveaway paintings.

Here's my list of 10 books that have stayed with me in some way. With commentary. Naturally.

  1. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
    Would it be crazy to say this was my scripture growing up? Not really. I come back to it again and again, and as I mature different moments and thoughts resonate with me.
  2. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp
    Seeing God everywhere and letting God within. This was one of those books that change how I see the world. I stopped writing down the list earlier this year, but I'm feeling a call to take it back up again.
  3. Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
    Although I still haven't forgiven him for making it a allegory about Jesus, I still look through to the back of wardrobes. Especially old ones.
  4. Brothers in Arms and A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
    (tied) BiA is my outright favorite of the Vorksogian stories and ACC is the most memorable for the dinner party scene. Worth reading the whole series just for that scene. Honestly. [The  book to start with is A Warrior's Apprentice which has the best opening scene ever.] Also, I seem to get a little manic (but not as bad as Miles Vorkosigan) for a few days after reading a book from this series.
  5. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    Depressed me for weeks when I read it in college, hence fulfilling the "stayed with me" part of the meme. Not sure I'd dare to read it again.
  6. The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins
    Read the books one after the other after seeing the first movie, and because of the books' message, I can't watch the second two films. I feel too much like one of the spectators. This has even extended to The Hobbit film which I've decided not to watch the second two parts because its just a how-many-goblins-can-we-kill-while-running film. The goblins are treated as Other, Less-Than and are thus fit to be killed for entertainment. Oh yeah, Suzanne Collins has ruined me for certain kinds of films.
  7. Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, Henri Nouwen
    The book I wish I could write.
  8. The Eagle and the Raven, Pauline Gedge
    Britons vs. Romans. Awesome mythology, descriptions and kick-ass female characters. Love this book, which I first read as a young adult and now am feeling the urge to go find it and read it again.
  9. In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity, Oskar Skarsune
    For pointing out how Jewish we Christians are, or were, in a super-compelling, non-conspiracy-theory, scientific way. (Which might shed light on some other books I've read on the subject.)
  10. Psalms for Praying: an invitation to wholeness, Nan Merrill
    OK, not quite the Bible, but it's a part of it, rewritten so that the enemies spoken of in the original setting of the psalms are our dark sides, and God is always referred to as Beloved.
All links go to Amazon because its just easy to find them that way, but feel free to get them (especially the Bujold and Collins ones) through your independent bookstore (like Mysterious Galaxy for San Diegans and folks in Redondo Beach).

What are your 10 books?

Friday, November 29, 2013

What's this EfM thing?

Frequently during my 31 days of blogging, I mentioned EfM or Education for Ministry. Although the school year is well underway, I thought I would write about it.

It's a four year course for lay people. The course has recently (finally!) undergone some revision, including new texts, but I think the basic outline is the same:
  • One year Old Testament
  • One year New Testament
  • One year church history, theology and tradition (up to American Revolution)
  • One year continuing church history, theology
It looks like these last two are the most overhauled, as I checked out the new texts and it looks like they've finally made it to the 21st Century.

But that's the worst I can say for my EfM experience. 

The best was learning to be part of a new small group, of learning to discern together, and to support each other through our faith crises.

And yes, each of us in the group struggled with a part of the Scriptures or theology as our mostly child-formed theology met some scripture or philosophy that at the least was unsettling.

I'm still trying to reconcile with a God that seems to condone genocide.

You know, unsettling stuff like that.

EfM also taught me how to see God in action in my life through learning how to our spiritual autobiography. I learned different forms of theological reflection and prayer.

I actually miss theological reflection.

I went because my Sunday School/confirmation classes were sketchy-non-existent at best. The bible studies were for the most part shallow, although great company.

So I got that intellectual fix and so much more.

Oh and it is for lay people in the Episcopal Church to continue, or uncover, their lay ministry. Not to become priests! (Although a few discern a call.)

The next year won't start until September 2014, so if you're Episcopal, be sure to ask around next summer!

For those who aren't -- is there an equivalent for you denomination/faith? If so, please share!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

500th Post!

Here it is, my 500th blog post here on Provoking Beauty.

Before I announce the winner, I thought I would share what I think is in store for this blog in the months ahead.
  • more Judaism reflections
  • more exploration of early church and what that means for my worship experience today
  • a series on the Magnificat, one line at a time (anyone want to guest post?  I plan to do 2 "lines" a month)
  • a finished icon (!!!)
  • more on God's blessings and healing the world
And the winner is:

Lory and my Mum!
(as they were the only two that entered!)

Maybe next time I should have that piece of art finished so folks might be inclined to enter. The goal is to get the two pieces done this weekend, but first I have to go cook a Thanksgiving feast!

Oh and has free e-cards to send over Thanksgivukkah! There's a really pretty blue one, but I don't think I have permission to post it here. Go take a look and send one to a friend :)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Icon Writing #10

And we're not done yet. (Did that spoil the ending?)

No first both Mary and Jesus needed facelifts:

blurry photo, sorry

Actually, we've secured a bit of a CD so that the compass doesn't dig a hole into those beautiful faces.

We laid the gold leaf onto the halos. Not without mishap. I ended up with several holes where I'd either didn't put the glue on or it lifted somehow.

tattered halo

Again, I turned to our past workshop teacher, afraid that if I put glue down it might ruin the gold already there ...

Meanwhile, while we waited for her to email us on her day off (sorry, Paige). We prepared to lay down the red outline of the halo. It's putting diluted red paint into a ruling pen and then drawing the compass in a partial circle.

It's terrifying.

Especially when we couldn't get the consistency right and in our practice arcs the paint just glomped out.

But Helena finally got it right and away we went.

End of Day November 23. Hubby took this photo with his  much better iPhone.
Yeah, they're not very visible.

Hubby's iPhone had a flash, which is why he took the above picture because by this point it was dark and we were working under lamplight.

Sunday afternoon, we took Paige's advice in the very careful patching of halos, had to mix more Hair color because the paint had dried out again, and then outlined Jesus' hair and Mary's veil to give a smooth edge.

Helena's icon - super fine lines around her veil!
And then we ran out of light again.

My icon at the end of Sunday

The 500 Post giveaway is now closed. I'll announce the winner(s) of my giveaway on Thursday (yes, Thanksgiving). And no, the winner is not getting an icon. It's still not finished yet.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jumping off the bandwagon ...

... while everybody is jumping on it. It's kind of baffling me.

I grew up watching "Doctor Who". I was upset when it was pre-empted by cricket. I grew up with the Doctor of Tom Baker, and was faithful to the program until it was canceled (and/or I emigrated to the United States and couldn't get it any more, but I think it was already canceled by that point).

I was so excited when it was resurrected with Christopher Eccleson in the title role.

And it was awesome.

Up to and including Matt Smith.

Got the life scared out of me by "Blink".

But somewhere it went wrong. It didn't help that BBC America forgot to mark a bunch of episodes as new so I missed a few David Tennant episodes, but I kept watching. When the Ponds exited, so did I. Not because they were the companions and there are no other but because I was fatigued. Watching Doctor Who stopped being something for fun and began to be a struggle to watch. And I persevered through the writers torturing Amy Pond. I think that's what made it uncomfortable to watch.

And it was suddenly clear to me that Doctor Who's companions rarely get out unscathed. And that the Doctor's ethics started to get shadowy. And I didn't care what happened next any more to the doctor. I can't even pinpoint what made it jump the shark for me...

But here it is, the 50th anniversary of the series and people are coming out of the flipping woodwork to proclaim how excited they are to see this film (and even buying whole video sets to catch up) and I'm like: you were Who fans and I didn't even know it?

Panem and circuses, people.

/end rant

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How I stopped feeling so exhausted

I was feeling exhausted at work, which at first I thought was because this is the first time I've worked full time in a long time. But the exhaustion didn't go away after a couple of months so I did some reading especially as I was already taking Vitamin D per my doctor's advice.

And let me start out here by saying: if you're feeling exhausted, there's a reason for it. The one I'm about to share that was mine, may not be yours. I am sharing my experience and am not a doctor! 

I read that one of the things to feel more awake is to protect your Circadian rhythms.

We have two neighbors who live behind us who like to keep their exterior lights on all night. It is like a full fluorescent moon every night.

So I tried an eye mask to fully rest the eyes and it seems to be working. My exhaustion is pretty much gone with the occasional days of still feeling tired and there's even some energy left at the end of the day.

Before I started trying to protect my circadian rhythms I'd have to have a double expresso before work (and I'm supposed to be avoiding caffeine) in addition to the small amount of caffeine that's in my morning iced chai (it's 50/50 2%milk/tea) and still be exhausted come evening.

In the first week of trying this, I dreamt vividly all week and still felt a little weary walking home in the evening. I even had a meltdown in the second week when I couldn't get the eye mask in place. Talk about being overtired!

Another thing: don't fill the weekend with activities. Even though I slept well, after a busy weekend, I started the week tired -- and I started the week with coffee. I think walking at lunch helped offset that but I yawned most of the day.

After some weeks into the new practice, I'd have to say that it's been successful. Yes, there are days when I'm tired at the end of the day but I can attribute that to a busy work day. I don't always sleep with an eye mask on now, because I discovered that I do occasionally need some light.

I am glad this is working for me because if it didn't, I was definitely going to see my doctor about it. I'm sharing this because if you suffer from exhaustion, these simple tips might help. If they don't and you can't figure out the cause (such as a colicky baby or 2am feedings) please see your doctor!

I'm moderating comments on this post. I am not dispensing medical advice either here in this post or in the comments as I am not qualified, but just wanted to share my experience.

Don't forget to leave a comment at this blog post (linked here) to win a piece of art!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Getting close to 500 posts

In a few days my 500th post on this blog will go live.

I've noticed that the thing to do is to have a giveaway and do a retrospective.

So first the giveaway. It will be a piece of art (no, not an icon!) that I have made. I had this idea (may even have blogged about it) which never came to fruition because that happens with ideas sometimes.

So it'll be a 5"x5" canvas piece and will probably look something like this:

But more detailed because I haven't say down to paint it yet.

So if you would like to win it, just leave a comment, maybe about what your favorite post here has been, but it can also be a comment that says: "ooh! A giveaway!" Please be sure to leave an email I can contact you with, if you don't have a profile with an email address.

After 12 midnight on Sunday 24th November, I'll pick the winner!


This blog started when I migrated from livejournal and wanted to share pictures of whatever I was working on. I'd seen other craft blogs, especially the Where Women Create blog parties and wanted to be a part of it.

Even after all this time, I still haven't managed to take good photos of my art and my beautiful room? Needs a serious clean out.

I attempted to reboot my blog at the beginning of 2012 to form a community but perhaps I was unwilling to be vulnerable enough to let it all hang out there and so I blogged about faith, gratitude and my spiritual journey with side trips into art.

And this is where I am now with a Jewish flavor :)

Top 5 posts:

Don't forget to sign up for the giveaway!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Healing the World: World Vision

I mentioned during the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism about the concept of tikkun olam, or healing the world.

There are many ways to do this, and this might become a recurring theme on this blog, but the first way is perhaps not the most obvious.

I'd like you to join me in sponsoring a child through World Vision. It's an act that makes the difference for not just a single child, but for her family and her village. It'll transform you, too.

It took me a long time to decide to become a child sponsor. I worried about the overhead costs, and how much benefit it would really have. (Rachel Held Evans did too, but promise me you’ll come back and finish reading this post!) But then God slowly worked to change my heart.

It was a woman speaker at a conference (I wish I could remember who -- it was in Orange County) who talked about meeting the child whose photo was on her fridge. It was fellow bloggers who wrote about traveling to these places where child sponsorship had made such a huge positive impact. It was my church’s sponsorship of a World Vision child and I was the one who got to update the bulletin board about her.

After discussing the financial commitment with my husband, I went to the World Vision website and decided to choose a girl because I knew via the Millennium Development Goals that girls are most adversely affected by poverty.

Her face popped up on the screen and I knew in an instant she would be the one I’d sponsor. 

It’s only been a couple of years, and already the village has been improved via a water project and she’s enjoying school and we write each other about our gardens. The transformation in me is only just beginning ....

Will you join me?

I couldn't find any fancy images to share ... so here's a link to the World Vision donation page.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dare to Be Joyful

This Sunday I'm leading the adult Christian education session at Good Sam through a book that profoundly impacted my life: how I see the world, and how I respond as a follower of Christ. I started this back in April with three sessions, and now in November will finish with the last two videos (the author’s publisher released a DVD study), plus a catch-up session, with some additional new material for those who came in the spring.

The book is Ann Voskamp’s "One Thousand Gifts", a New York Times best seller.

My mum introduced me to the book and it took a while for me to actually start reading it. It's Ann's journey of gratitude -- how seeing and writing down God's gifts transforms an ordinary, dull day into one filled with God and his delight and love for us.

Ann's book has changed me. Writing down God-gifts reminds me to look for God every day, even when times are troubled or hard. And when I forget to look? It’s like the light has gone from my day. And when I remember? I can see the gift and respond in love. 

i’ve stopped writing gifts the way Ann does and continues to do. I find that rather than scribbling down the words or snapping a photo and then moving on, I want to stay in the moment, make it last.

So now I watch a butterfly flit across a courtyard or leaves cascading down a wall from a leaf-blower without having to think “Oh, I must remember this and write it down” or scrambling to dig out my iPhone.

I am just there with the moment. With God.

Watch the trailer [] and come try it out on Sunday, around 11:15am-ish.

(I posted a version of this back in April.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Icon Writing #9: in which not very much icon writing was done...

... as Helena caught up on her painting of white spots, I hung out with Mary and baby Jesus...

and discovered that our premixed hair, parchment, etc colors had dried out.  So I sat and mixed paints  ... and squealed as carbon black went everywhere!

Helena insisted I replicate the look on my face:

then we went and had lunch and decided not to do a border (sorry, Paige) and so we painted the edges of the board.

But I did do one other thing, can you spot it?

To be fair, it was only a little bit of outlining.

Next time, (hopefully next week) we'll do the gilding and swing the halo, although I think I said we were going to do that last time

Friday, November 8, 2013

Washed in the water

This was originally part of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism (see here). But then I came up with too many posts, so I've saved it for a Faith Friday.

This isn't a current Jewish practice that I know of, but did you know that converts to Judaism went through a baptism to cleanse them of all things pagan? And that the early Christians borrowed the practice for their converts? (Source: In the Shadow of the Temple)

Neat, huh.

Water is still used in parts of Judaism for spiritual cleansing. If you remember, Leviticus is squicked out my menstrual blood and childbirth. Giving birth to new life is also considered holy, so the mikveh is used, the woman immersing herself in living water.

Many Christian groups have moved from a baptism by immersion to sprinkling water on the head so in this the two faith traditions today have largely moved away from this commonality.

I'm still geeked about it as a (to me) discovery.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


This was part of the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism (here) but I came up with yet another post that pushed this one out, even though I like this post immensely.

The psalms are at the heart of Christian monastic practice. As an Associate of the Order of Holy Cross, I am a little hooked on the monastic way of life. For those of you who are new readers of my blog, I keep a rule of life which means I pray morning and evening, among other things.

While one could very safely say that the Torah is at the heart of Jewish practice, the psalms have a place too. I got a thrill seeing my favorite psalm used in the Saturday morning liturgy.

That would be Psalm 150 which is my favorite because: a) it's short; and b) the tones used by the Mt. Calvary monks used to chant this are just lovely. I'd chant it quite happily around work, except there seems to have been this compulsion to add a verse on the Trinity to the end of every blessed psalm. You know, just in case Christian monastics forgot about Jesus. [/end sarcasm]

It's not that I suddenly resent the addition of a Trinity verse at the end of every psalm. It just makes it awkward to share/chant while working at synagogue -- because you know how when you know the words to something really well, it just flows out of you?

Yeah, that. Not necessarily good to chant just anywhere.

The psalms, for me, illustrate just how human the Bible is; in that the prayers to God are raw and real: "God I suck because I haven't been following your way, forgive me", "God, I miss you, why can't I feel your presence". "God, you are a thing of wonder", "God, I haven't forgotten how you have walked through history with us", "God I'm being persecuted, save me and punish them for doing that to me, and oh yeah, really make it hurt. P.S. I think you're wonderful."

But always, always, whether a psalm is mournful, happy, or cursing, always the psalmist ends in praise to God.

Because everything begins and ends with praise.

How do you feel about the psalms?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

God's love stories... post 31 days

I waited too long, a couple of the blog posts I wanted to share fell off my feedly stream. I'll see if I can find them, so to save the rest of them....

Most of us tend to operate solely within the isolation of our faith communities (this is totally normal and understandable). But in that isolation we tend not to ask tough questions of ourselves, our beliefs, and our traditions. Getting to know someone for whom faith looks differently helps us take the first step out of the comfort zones of the faith communities and the traditions we know and cherish. It’s along these edges that we can most experience spiritual growth, because we’re doing the hard work of asking ourselves, what do I believe? What does my religion espouse? What does my scripture actually say? 
The #31Days blogging challenge is over (am writing this ahead of time but I've finished all my posts for this) and here are few blogs I read during this time. A few of which who were already in my feedly:

What God stories have you discovered lately? 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reviewing the 31 Days Challenge ...

I thought it might be interesting to review what it was like to participate in the 31 Days challenge ...

I didn't write on a daily basis. I knew I wouldn't have the time nor energy for that.

I wrote in batches, maybe five or six posts at a time, I wasn't really keeping track, some of them typed straight into Blogger (which means I need to do a back up somehow) and some in the Notes app of my iPhone. It sort of reminded me of the days when I wrote novels while working. I can still crank out the words!

I finished writing my 31 posts two weeks before the last day. Which gave me the flexibility to insert other posts if something came up -- that happened a couple of times in this particular challenge and you'll see the posts that got "bumped" in coming weeks.

There were a couple of posts where I got stuck as what to write, and they got pushed further back into the month, and one of them just ended up being a really short post. Most of them were without pictures (not including the little theme image I made).

Moving forward, I think keeping the pace of seven posts a week is a little crazy-making, so I think I shall settle on four a week. (Famous last words.)

I'm also going to need to put together some more theme images ... because these improve visibility when it gets shared on Facebook, so I shall have to put my thinking cap on about those.
But for even that to be successful, it means sitting down once a month and planning out what to write. This is something I've done before but not to particularly great success. The issue is though -- write about what? There are more "Encountering Judaism" style posts, especially how Christianity does/could interact with Judaism.

And you need to know how I'm doing learning the Sh'ma, right? (Answer: getting there...)

Of the blog posts that you've read, what kind of post would you like to see more of?

I'm also going to need to put together some more theme images ... because these improve visibility when it gets shared on Facebook, so I shall have to put my thinking cap on about those.

Some participants in the 31 Days challenge create e-books out of their efforts. I'm not sure that this is something I want to do or if this is something people would want, as I only had a small handful of dedicated readers, unless it was simply as souvenir for myself, or to form the basis of an honest-to-goodness book, and the jury's out as to whether I want to put in the effort on that.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jesus: Jewish or Christian?

This is the last post in the #31days series, although this might technically be post #32, depending on whether or not you count the index post. You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

Sometimes Christians forget Jesus was Jewish ...

... is Jewish ...

... and will be Jewish ...

His words of wisdom have been compared to Hillel, the Jewish sage from 1 BCE, particularly in the area that loving God and loving your neighbor are paramount. His criticisms of those in the Temple, remind me of Jewish thought today: if it's a choice between keeping one of the commandments or saving a life, you save the life.

And yes, some of his sayings are quite unJewish, like turning the other cheek and bread being his body...

The question is for me, as a Christian: how do I pray to a Jewish Jesus? A Jesus that both called the Jewish people to repentance and to go back to the way God wanted things (to love God, love your neighbor) and radically saw Judaism moving in a slightly different way?

What changes in prayer? What stays the same? Can I imagine Jesus in a tallit and kippah? With the skin, eyes, and hair of a Mediterranean man? Are visualizing externals even important?

All over the world Jesus has been portrayed as African, Native American, Chinese, Indian, Peruvian, etc...  He has long since transcended his physical appearance and what matters instead is His heart, His love for us.

That said, sometimes, I think that I might be missing out on part of the message by not having knowledge-able enough ears to hear His words as He first said them.

For my Christian friends, how would you pray to a Jewish Jesus?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shabbat in the evening...

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

One of my new duties as the senior rabbi's assistant is to help with the Introduction to Judaism class.

I got to chatting with someone about how they keep Shabbat. They have friends over for dinner and there is a place for both ritual (like the candle blessing) and conviviality.

This is how the earliest Christians gathered: to bless and break the bread in commonality with the Jewish tradition to which they still belonged.

His description of a Shabbat dinner inspired a deep longing in me. Putting together a dinner is quite possibly the least fun ever for me, but if the point is ritual and the blessing of being in community together then it is less about stressing out about food prep and more sharing and enjoying.

The question is whether I will follow through, like I haven't really done with answering my home phone with "Shalom."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Woman of Valor, Eshet Chayil

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

Rachel Held Evans' book "A Guide to Biblical Womanhood" and her blog first introduced me to:

(A) the (generally) evangelical Christian belief that Proverbs 31 is a model for the Christian wife and mother at home;
(B) that this is not how Orthodox Jews use this text.

I can say it no better than this interview Rachel had on her blog, so please read it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Art journaling .. in a siddur?

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

OK, how cool is this:

when I was buying siddurs for myself: one for Shabbats and weekdays and the other for the High Holy Days (which maybe now I'll be able to read as not everything is transliterated in the latter prayer book), I came across this edition:

Sorry, these are less than brilliant pictures. I used my iPhone to take them in the early morning before heading off for the day.

This is the journal edition. The introduction says it's aimed at youth, but I think this is a brilliant idea for all ages to use, and in fact, the Episcopal Church should steal this and use it for the Book of Common Prayer.

This journal edition of the Mishkan T'filah isn't identical to the prayer book of the same name. It has sections and pages removed to make space for the journaling.

My current plan is to write my responses in pencil on the page, and then to go over the top with pen illustrations. I've tested a bunch of pens for bleed so I think it'll look quite pretty when it's done. Sometimes there are question prompts (as in the picture above) and sometimes the page is just left blank (well, lined) for your response.

Stay tuned in future weeks or maybe months, to see some of my art journaling ....

If you're interested, you can order it from CCAR Press.

(I was not compensated for this review. I just think it's pretty nifty. And actually, I think the NFTY people (North American Federation of Temple Youth) may have had a hand in it.)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Where is God's kingdom?

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

Once upon a time, I would have answered that question with up in heaven, beyond the clouds. I would have answered it that way fairly recently.

But since EfM (Education for Ministry. I go on about that course a fair bit, I should write about it after these 31 Days are done).

Anyway, since EfM and further reading, my understanding of God's kingdom's location has changed.

Jesus in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) said the kingdom of God is near. He meant the fulfillment of God's kingdom being restored on earth, and he meant it in an apocalyptic, end of this Age sense.

In the Jewish tradition, it is up to the people of Israel to be co-creators of God and restore God's kingdom here on earth. In Hebrew, this is known as tikkun olam, healing the world.

Recent Christian thinkers, like Brian MacLaren, have echoed the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John where He declares the kingdom of God is here.

So while two days ago we talked about how the two faiths were once the same, now different; here we see the two faiths coming together in agreement.

In this, we can band together and do something about healing our environment, taking care of the poor and widow, freeing the enslaved, and becoming a peace-natured people.

Hey, I didn't say it would be easy.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Our Father, a Jewish Prayer

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

Did you know that the Our Father, also called The Lord's Prayer, is Jewish?

And not just because Jesus was Jewish (but yes, he is).

It's a prayer christians may say while alone but most commonly we say it as a part of corporate worship: whether it's a Sunday service or as part of a bible study or small group session.

It is not my Father in heaven, but our Father.

According to Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Jewish prayers are written to be prayed together. Hence the "our"...

Also as John Dominic Crossan pointed out in a way less vitriolic book "The Greatest Prayer", the Our Father is written as much good Hebrew poetry is.

Take a look at the psalms: how the second half of the verse restates and changes the first half ...

Listen to my words, Lord,
    consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
    my King and my God,
    for to you I pray. (Psalm 5:1-2)

And then look at: "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" and other parts of the prayer.

Each line is as Jewish as it is Christian. Nothing in it (although I could be wrong) is contrary to Hebrew wisdom and Christianity gains from the depth of tradition here, older than two thousand years. 

I see this prayer, in a sense unique to Christianity, as another connection to Judaism, another claim to kinship, to relationship.

And that is beautiful to me.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Holy Spirit, holy, holy ...

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

The first Hebrew word I learned (putting aside words that turn out to be Hebrew in origin and I just didn't cotton on to it, like, you know, Hallejulah...) was: ruach.

The breath of God over the waters of creation. The Holy Spirit there at creation. I learned it in EfM as we studied the book of Genesis.

Holy Spirit.

Holy holy holy.

The Sanctus has been prayed in Christian services for a very long time. It is in Catholic, Episcopalian, Orthodox liturgies:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
So imagine my surprise when during the Bat Mitzvah service (my first Jewish worship service) and I hear:
Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.
Everyone lifts up on their toes with each word. I feel slightly unbalanced and my eyes skip to the English translation ... holy, holy, holy ... could it be? The English translation in the Mishkan T'filah (Reform siddur) goes:
Holy, holy, holy is Adonai Tz'vaot! God's presence fils the whole earth. Source of our strength, Soverign one, how majestic is Your presence in all the earth! Blessed is the presence of God, shining forth from where God dwells...
That words used in Christian services have their root in Judaism? That we are closer kin than either side cares to admit?

I think there is so much potential here. For me in my personal faith journey and maybe beyond that. Who can say where God will lead?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What is belief?

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

We're going to heark back to the Sh'ma today.

Belief, in the Christian tradition, us knowing something is true, with or without sufficient evidence. It is also most commonly stated in the Creeds, which was the early Christian Church's way if defining what was and wasn't heresy. But there is a mystical side to it as well.

The first word in the Sh'ma prayer is ... Sh'ma. It is translated as "hear" or "listen", but according to "Walking in the Dust of the Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life" by Lois Tvarberg, the word means more than being attentive to what God is about to say.

The Hebrew language is rich in meaning. The syllables that make up a word add deeper levels of meaning.

Sh'ma also means believe. It also means act on these words you hear. This makes Jewish belief an active belief: you hear, believe, and act.

Christians would call it living the Gospels. Jews would call it being Jewish. (Although a recent Pew Report would suggest that this definition is a little too all-encompassing.)

Acting in belief isn't easy, even if one isn't raised to, and it is here, I think, that we can support each other in our faith lives and be lights to the nations together.

To become less belief-sayers and more belief-doers and heal the kingdom God created.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Uncovering God the Father

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

In case you hadn't figured it out yet, I am always interested in learning more about the God I believe in.

My first image of God was like those described by many others: a distant bearded God in the clouds, although I often prayed to Him when I was scared of the dark.

In recent years, thanks to EfM, I've learned more about developing theologies on how folks see God, although honestly some of it was a bit head-scratching and I would lament: "Why can't God just be God? Why do we have to describe what God is?"

But we all do to some extent. And I would say that in my personal theology, the least developed part of my understanding of God is God the Father. (Or Mother if you will. Take that, patriarchial society!) The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that is both so faithful to His people and yet ... there's this whole vengeful, genocidal side which is just not pretty or understandable...

And maybe I never will understand but I think as I work and occasionally worship alongside the folks at Beth Israel, I'll get a better, heart-deeper, understanding of God. Adonai. The Eternal.

I am looking forward to that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Finding a confessional attitude

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

I didn't expect to find Judaism helping me out with my rule as an Associate of the Order of Holy Cross.

But as the first Yom Kippur service of the morning began, I found myself taken by the sung prayer of confession. An alphabetical list of sins. In the prayer book "Gates of Repentance" that is used in Reformed congregations for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is summarized in English as:
"Who among us is righteous enough to say: 'I have not sinned'? We are arrogant, brutal, careless, destructive, egocentric, false, greedy, heartless, insolent, and joyless. Our sins are an alphabet of woe."
Except I'm pretty sure we sang all the letters not just the first part, and with each word, tapped our heart with a fist, in a move that's reminiscent of mea culpa.

It is a thousand ways more better (more better?) than the vague confession found in the Episcopal Sunday morning liturgy: "for things we have done and have left undone".

It is more better because these are concrete, vivid words. Words that can bring to mind a past action or thought.

I'm not sure I could do this every day or every week or indeed, once a month, because the litany of sins would be pretty depressing but once a year seems about right.

The music captivated me as well. In reading Wikipedia (I was looking for the list of all the sins--could only find them all printed in a book, alas), I came across this:
It is traditional that both Ashamnu and Al Cheyt are chanted in a somewhat upbeat melody ... This may seem unusual, as one might have expected a confession of sins to be chanted as a dirge. But an uplifting melody is common in all Jewish traditions.[11] One explanation is that by this confession, "the worshipper is stimulated to a mood of victory and a sense of hopeful living in the face of an unknown and unpredictable future."[12] (Wikipedia, the footnote numbers will take you directly to the footnotes on the Wikipedia page)

In confessing the sin, there is hope. I didn't get Yom Kippur before I experienced the services, but now, I think, I'm starting to get it. And may even participate more fully (what's with me and "more adverb" tonight?).

Oh and my rule? I'm supposed to review my day, Ignatian-style, and look at what I did well and where I failed in being a Christian. It feels more like a building self-awareness way than a penitential thing. In any case, it's been a very shallow review of the day, more cheers than jeers, you might say, not very intentional at all.

I must have grown up in a church where there was absolutely no mention of confession, or the one time we had a fire and brimstone preacher it pissed me off so much, I just completely wrote it off as ridiculous.

Now ... now, I see the potential good in confession.

Monday, October 21, 2013

An odd rebellion

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

I actually got asked the other day, not seriously, I think, if I was considering converting to Judaism.

I'm sure some of you are saying: Girl, you sure talk about it a lot.

There's no denying I'm fascinated by it and love the liturgy but convert? Give up Jesus? So not there.

Besides, if I also chose to keep kosher-style, if not totally kosher, then I'd have to give up bacon.

And shrimp.

So not happening.

What I need to do though is stop announcing that I had a non-kosher lunch when somebody at work asks me where I went. "Um, that hot dog place. Are polish dogs kosher?" or "Italian. I had gnocchi with smoked mozzarella and um, er, um, speck."

It seems to me like an odd little rebellion of mine. Kind of childish really.

And it really isn't polite or kind, especially if my Jewish friend is really missing shrimp or similar. So I promise not to say that any more ... I can say I went to Rubio's, but I don't have to share that it was a grilled shrimp burrito.

Who knew food conversations could be so awkward?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

An introduction to Hebrew...

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

The other day Rabbi/Cantor was recording a Torah portion for one of the B'nai Mitzvah students. I overheard and when she was done, I went into her office and said: "That sounded awfully a lot like the same tune for the V'ahavta." (Well, I said Sh'ma actually, but I meant V'ahavta.)

Turns out that as the V'ahavta is part of the Torah, when you chant it you use the same tropes to chant it as the rest of the Torah. Rabbi/Cantor showed me how it worked in the printed Torah and the very next day she comes in and gives me some gifts:

No, not the challah bread. But a set of Hebrew characters to stick on my fridge, some memory flash cards and a course book on learning Hebrew.  So instead of learning the Sh'ma/V'ahavta by transcribing what I hear, I'll be able to read it -- once I've applied myself to learning it, of course.

Pretty cool, eh?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I love ....

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

I begged for this T-shirt because I love the back so much. (The front has the preschool name on it.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

My favorite verse #3

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

I think the part of the Micah 6:8 verse that strikes me most deeply is: "and walk humbly with your God."

So I sat down and did a lectio divina meditation on the phrase.

Walking with God is not trailing behind an authoritarian figure, not dancing ahead of One who delights in us even as God would much rather I walk with, alongside of. Not someone of who I demand answers.

When I walk with people, I share my heart, my concerns, and my friend shares theirs.

God, share your heart with me.
Let me be in your heart
And I in yours.
Speak, your friend is doing her best to listen.

Holy breath in,
Sacred breath out,
Words shared are already lost,
But I promised to listen
And so I shall.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My favorite verse #2

You can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

So what is it that makes me declare that Micah 6:8 as my favorite verse. Because it shares so succinctly all that we need to do in acting out our love for God:

  • to act justly - fairness is one of the things that I would call a core value (that it's due to being bullied as a child is beside the point).
  • to love tenderly - another translation has "to show mercy". Or as in the prayer Jesus gave us "as we forgive others". A love that transcends our humanity.
  • and to walk humbly with our God. Not to God, but with. Yeah, I want that.
These words of exhortation are elsewhere in the Bible, in different words, from Jesus' New Testament, to Deuteronomy to Isaiah. It's a refrain that God has said again and again to those who believe through various prophets throughout the ages.

And even though it's a favorite verse, it's a hard one to live into. I can judge unfairly with the best of them, refusing to see another's soul while I categorize them. I can lash out at one I'm supposed to love. And there are times that I even forget that God exists.

Yeah, I need this verse.