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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My favorite verse ...

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

My favorite verse in the entire Christian Bible is not found in the New Testament.

No sirree. It's the prophet Micah:

This is what the Lord asks of you, only this: to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

I discovered this verse during my EfM (Education for Ministry) studies and when I became an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross (AHC for short), my EfM mentor gifted me a piece of calligraphy with this verse, written by Br. Roy -- and look! It has Hebrew as part of the design. I think that's kind of neat, that it was there long before Judaism became a part of my life.

Of course, this is the only loving verse in all of Micah... and there's a really neat diagram showing that on Theologygrams. (I didn't know if it would be cool to link the image here directly. Generally speaking, that isn't a cool thing to do without permission.)

I still love this verse though.

What's your favorite verse from the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament)?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Icon Writing #8

Last weekend saw an exciting update on the icon writing front. One in a good way, one in a bad way.

Bad way first. I was adding the "blush" to Jesus' cheek when this happened:

The green splotch kind of pointed at by Mary's fingertips is where the layers of flesh color paint lifted right off as I tried to fix an overdo of blush.

I had to walk away from the icon and let it dry some before repairing it.

You can't even tell I made a mistake!

Here is how my icon finished up. I added a couple of layers of lighter paint on the background, but you can't really make that out in the late afternoon light except on the inside of the halo.

And here's Helena's at the end of the day.

The next is the good way: We are almost done! Next is the halos: gold leaf and red edging! Lots of prayers involved for that.

Showing gratitude and blessing #4: bread and wine

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

My hunch is that just by that title I've prompted frowny faces on both my Jewish and Christian friends. Maybe not.

But you could have knocked me over with a feather at the Shabbabeque this past summer when I saw bread (a large loaf of challah) and wine being raised up during liturgy. Whaaaa---?

Of course I read up about it.

See the thing is, that the earliest of the Christian Eucharist services were not about the atoning sacrifice of Jesus (and honestly, these days I don't know how I feel about that, but that's a topic for future exploration). Instead it was a re-creation of the "table fellowship" (phrase used by Skarsaune in "In the Shadow of the Temple") that the disciples shared with Jesus. They wanted to remember that, to keep that part of their journey together alive.

That last meal together might've been a passover meal, or a Sabbath meal. In any case, Jesus gave thanks (blessed) the bread, broke it and gave it to his disciples. He did the same with a cup of wine.

In Jewish tradition, that cup is called the kiddush cup, and at home or at Erev Shabbat services, this blessing is said:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam... Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine. Praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, who sanctifies us with mitzvot and takes delight in us....
(This quote is taken from "Do It Yourself Shabbat" printed by URJ Press.) Note the slightly different translation of those first six words from my post two days ago. All I gotta say is that the various ways of expressing is letting God out of the box we put him in (like the patriarchical one).

Back to blessing the bread and wine. Now Jesus took this a whole step further by saying that the bread was his Body and the wine was his Blood, which for non-Christians sounds a lot like cannibalism. Christians can't agree whether the Eucharist is meant as a remembrance of that final supper, or some sort of transformative mystery. (Or if you're Episcopalian, chances are you believe it's consubstantiation which basically means it's both bread and body, wine and blood, at the same time. Episcopalians (I'm one, remember) like to hedge their bets. Or, as we call it, take the middle way.)

What is clear is that today's Eucharist is a symbolic gesture of sharing a meal together, of coming together and dining together, of being in relationship with each other, of praying together. And if that occurs because in remembering we are taking our seats with the original disciples and Jesus, or that in saying the words of institution, bread and wine become more holy than they already are (as being part of God's creation) and through Jesus mystically join the church together into one Body ... well, who is to say if one is right and the other wrong, or that they both, in some way, might be right?

Bottom line is this, whatever Jesus said afterward. He first gave thanks. As both Christians and Jews do before they break bread together.

PS. Yesterday's post was a bunch of poor typing: left out words, half-finished thoughts, so I did a quick fix, if you want another attempt at understanding what I was getting at.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Showing gratitude and blessing #3

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

Yesterday, I wrote about how many prayers of blessing there are in the Reformed Jewish liturgy. This is another thing Christian liturgy shares with its sibling (but not as many).

Christians open their service with it, for example. Each of the readings end with "Thanks be to God." In exchanging peace, we are blessing each other and God. We even confess to praising and blessing God always:
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
Tomorrow, I'll write about another common liturgical blessing.

(Yes, this was the post where the idea had been written down and I was left to go "huh? what did I mean by that." This is my best guess!)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Showing gratitude #2

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

In Judaism, being grateful to God, giving thanks to God, is blessing God.

Each blessing in Judaism begins: Blessed are You Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe ...
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam...
There are a lot of prayers in the Reform service that begins this way. (Beth Israel is Reformed Judaism in case I hadn't mentioned that before). These words are used in the blessing before and after the Torah reading, for example.

The words have been running through my head almost as much as the Sh'ma has been.

So when it came time after choir practice at my church to say prayers in the round, I began it with "Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam..." translated it for them, and then gave thanks.

I had been thinking about starting my prayer that way, but was still debating whether or not to do it when the words just popped out of my mouth!

Nobody said anything after our prayers were all done, so I guess they are already used to me working for a synagogue, or they're just used to me. After all, earlier this year, I did give thanks that all my snot was gone (using that word exactly!)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Showing gratitude #1

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

For a few years now, I've been all about gratitude. I'm even midway through presenting a series on gratitude at church (started in the spring and will pick it up and finish some time this fall), using the One Thousand Gifts DVD study (see below).

It first really made its mark on me when I discovered Ann Voskamp's blog "A Holy Experience". Then I finally read her book "One Thousand Gifts" and it was like a door opening wide for me.

The basic theme is this: giving thanks to God for all the blessings in this life. Ann's way is to write them all down, including taking photos where possible.

2012 was the year I wrote down over one thousand gifts that I'd noticed God had sent my way, from moments of natural beauty to moments where life got hard. I started to do this again in 2013, but dropped out a few months ago because I found I wanted to stay in the moment of receiving the gift, not rushing to add it to a list or take a photo of it. So I stopped writing them down.

So was does an evangelical (I think) farm wife have to do with Judaism?

Just this: again Christianity is drawing on an older tradition.

In Judaism (drawing with broad strokes here), one is supposed to say at least 100 blessings a day. That's a lot more than Ann's three a day to reach 1,000 a year! The Reform siddur (prayer book) has a number of these in their services: to give thanks in the morning for a functioning body, to give thanks for the gift of a soul, etc.

And all these prayers start the same way ...

... we'll talk about that tomorrow.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Learning the Sh'ma (part the last, maybe)

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

The last few posts about learning the Sh'ma have been very much cerebral, so now's the time to review the experiential side of things, what it is like to learn and pray the Sh'ma.

(Since watching The Big Bang Theory I've been using big words like above as well as "induration" because my arm hasn't quite recovered from getting a flu shot yet (as of writing this a week or ago). I feel very much like Penny as I'm using the words correctly! These things are important when you're married to a biologist.)

I started learning the Sh'ma while on retreat in Santa Barbara at the Mt. Calvary Monastery and Retreat House. I practically had the place to myself as it was during the week, so outside of the hours of the Great Silence (between 8:30pm until after breakfast with the monks), I spent time working on this.

First came the reflection, which you've spent several days reading (with additional thoughts since), then came listening to a recording of the V'ahavta (scroll down to find the link to the prayer). I thought I could just roll with the transliteration (photocopied from the temple's prayer book, although now I have my own copy!) but having no Hebrew School and not even knowing the alphabet, I could remember those sounds that I've used before at work, but others were, um ....

I wrote out a fresh transliteration of how it sounded to me (and I've no idea if I used the right markings, I just used what worked for me) and used that to learn it. I am pretty sure I am doing this arse-backwards.

B'nai Mitzvah candidates go to Hebrew/Religious School, learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read Hebrew for real, before moving on to learning how to chant using various tropes. I've seen their Torah portion practice pages with different highlighters on it to mark the different tropes used. Their actual B'nai Mitzvah is them leading the service, like the rabbis otherwise would.

Me? I'm just making this up as I go along. Like I said, arse-backwards.

Back to the Sh'ma. The Beth Israel website doesn't have the first line available to listen to (because various tunes are used, but I found one here after my return from retreat.)

I haven't been keeping up with it as much since returning to work, my brain is busy learning my new job, but to boast, as of this date (October 5th) I have the first few lines memorized and I can keep up singing along with the recording and I can almost make it through reading it by myself except there are a few flat spots here and there.

There are a lot of "ch" sounds in it, which isn't as in "chore" but as in "loch". I haven't quite got that down yet, that's probably the hardest sound to get out and not get hung up on it.

I find myself singing the first two lines a lot when I walk to the bus and then to work, and back again.
Hear O Israel, I am the The Lord your God, The Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.
The tune that I learned for the first line wasn't on Beth Israel's website but I found it here. It is really upbeat and brings happiness when I sing it. Not only that but I keep marveling that this is God's Word that I am chanting.

God's very Word.

There is something life-giving about it. I can't explain how or why I feel that way. The Sh'ma is like my favorite chants from the Compline service the monks use. Maybe it's just good music, but I know enough about prayer to know that this prayer is God working on my soul.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Learning the Sh'ma #5

Today, we're going to finish (sorta kinda) looking at the Sh'ma prayer. I am not an expert on this. you can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here.

The last part of the Sh'ma prayer as said in the Reformed congregation I work for anyway, is this:

"Thus you shall remember to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I am Adonai, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am Adonai your God."

I've been translating "Adonai" as "the Lord" in previous installments, by the way.

God brought the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land; out of slavery into freedom. God frees all of us, and all I have to do is remember that the Lord is my God, and remember to love God with all my heart and soul and might, and be holy to my God.

Yeah, I can do that. Well, at least try really hard to remember and to love.

At least, all this is my perspective. I'm sure if I sat down with a rabbi or some learned Jewish friends, I'd get corrected on several points, but you do remember me saying earlier that I wasn't an expert on this, right?

In any case, I've started to learn the Sh'ma, in Hebrew. I'll let you know how I get along.

Ooh, and one quick learning from "The Shadow of the Temple" before I go: Skarsaune wrote of a hypothesis based on Pliny's report on persecuted Christians and knowledge that in the 1st Century C.E. synagogues introduced the Sh'ma into their worship. The hypothesis being that the Christians also adopted this.

If this hypothesis is true (and I need to do more reading) then I am learning a prayer that the early Christians prayed. Which is pretty dang awesome, in my book.

And then I remembered that one time back in Australia where I attended a Rite 1 service at the Cathedral. There were 10 Commandments in that. So I look up the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and sure enough, in the Holy Eucharist Rite I there is a place to recite the 10 commandments and then repeat the Jesus phrasing of the first part of the Sh'ma ("You shall love God with all your heart...") with the "and love your neighbor as yourself" bit. So, not the whole Sh'ma, but the beginning, kinda.

Somewhere I have a copy of the first version of the Book of Common Prayer from the 1500s (a reprint, obviously), but haven't been able to lay my hands on it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Learning the Sh'ma #4

This week is all about the Sh'ma. I am not an expert on this. Also, you can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here

Can I pray the following and mean it?

"Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead: inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

Don't have kids, so am off the hook on the first part. Check. :)

As for the rest of this part of the Sh'ma, I feel like I don't have to read it literally. Moses (and God) don't want us to ever ever ever ever EVER forget these two instructions of knowing the Lord is our God and is one, and to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and might.

And if that means, repeating the Sh'ma all the time, at home or away, waking or about to fall asleep, so be it. And if there's a chance that one will forget even then: put it on one's hand and forehead and on the doorposts of one's house.

In other words, really really really really remember this at all times. No matter what.

It's a challenge and I may have to do something about writing it on my bathroom mirror so I see it when I look into it (which is not how Orthodox Jews do it) if I start to forget it.

But that reminds me of the time I was waiting in San Diego airport to fly somewhere, and this young man puts on his prayer shawl and starts wrapping this leather strap around his arm and bound a little box to his forehead. I had absolutely no idea what he was doing at the time but found it fascinating to observe.

And now I know, he was reciting the Sh'ma.

One more part to the Sh'ma to go and I'll write about that tomorrow.

PS. This isn't really about Judaism, but I highly recommend the guest post over on Rachel Held Evans' blog called: "Ask an Interfaith Couple..." Mainly because part of their answer struck me now that I'm working outside my faith zone as it were:
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?
I'm hoping that is what is and will be happening with me.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Learning the Sh'ma #3

(Previously on "31 Days of Encountering Judaism" ... I talked about wanting to learn the Sh'ma and started sharing why I could pray this prayer and mean it." I am not an expert on this. Also, you can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here)

The next part, though, is trickier. (BTW, the translation I'm using is initially from the Reform Mishkan T'filah siddur/prayerbook but then I used my Bible app and I don't remember which translation I used. Oops.)

"Take to heart these instructions which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead: inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

Let's start with the first line: "Take to heart these instructions which I charge you this day."

If we constrain the context to the prayer itself, I am comfortable with it, as described yesterday. However, that might well be proof-texting.

Within the context of Deuteronomy, Moses has just delivered the commandments in the chapter before (Deut. 10), and there are 600+ rules that are to follow the words that are in the Sh'ma. Rules that include not being able to eat shellfish or wearing mixed fibres. Huh.

Both Jesus and Hillel say that all the laws boil down to loving God with all our heart, all our soul and all our might, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. (Yes, Hillel said it first, sorry fellow Christians.) This is even said in Deuteronomy 11, before Moses repeats the part about telling your children and writing them on doorposts.

"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today -- to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all of your heart and with all of your soul -- then I will send rain...." (Deut. 11:13-14a)

and again in Deut. 11:22: "If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow -- to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him --"

Moses, Hillel and Jesus all agree, these are the most important instructions/commands and are the purpose of all the Law. So I can agree to keep to the purpose of the Law. No worries.

Um, writing this out turned longer than anticipated, so tune in tomorrow for my reflection on if I can pray: "Impress them upon your children .... doorposts of your house and your gates."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Learning the Sh'ma #2

I want to begin this by first saying: I am not an expert on this. Also, you can find an index of all the 31 Days of Encountering Judaism here

Yesterday, I wrote about why I wanted to learn the Sh'ma, which is possibly as close to a statement of belief as Judaism gets.

I realized I agreed entirely with the first line: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one." Yes, God is my God and God is one God, not many (and not three either -- don't get heretical about the Trinity on me!)

I thought I was good to go on this (and as I've written some of these posts in advance, this is a two week later update). As part of my job, I helped out at the launch of the "Introduction to Judaism" class, getting people registered and handing out books and such, and lingered for the first half of the class, where I learned that "Yisrael" is for the people of Israel, those of the Jewish faith.

There are a couple of ways I can reconcile with this and move forward.

First, Christianity has already co-opted being inheritors of the kingdom, being the new people of Israel, which unfortunately dismisses a few thousand years of Jewish belief. So that isn't going to work.

The second way is this: that Christians were once a Jewish sect, and in that sense have inherited being a part of the people of Israel. Now we disagree about messiahs and a few other things, but Christians have also inherited the diversity of ideas and theologies that are within Judaism. [There are three main streams of Judaism: Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist, and there are variations within these too. These days the main streams of Christianity are: Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical/Non-Denominational.]

And there is a third way. I feel at home at Beth Israel. As I feel a part of this community, then I am a part of being the people of Israel.

Phew. Now I can chant about Israel.

The second part goes as follows: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might."

Jesus says these words in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27).  As Christians we follow them, or try to. It isn't exactly an easy instruction for us humans to obey but that doesn't mean one shouldn't try, or that I shouldn't pray it.

By the way, in case you didn't know, Jesus is quoting Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5). Given that I only recently found out that he's quoting from the Torah and not being divinely gifted with a brand new way of living by God, I feel that's worth emphasizing.

Jesus quotes Moses (who is the one who has been talking face to face(ish) with God). Because he is a Jew talking to another Jew (a Pharisee) about what is the most important commandment from God. Jesus wasn't the only one to point this out. Only a generation before, the sage Hillel had declared the same thing.

As for the rest of the Sh'ma? More tomorrow.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Icon Writing #7

You may remember that Helena and I took a couple of weeks off in order to find a weekend where we could do an entire day and start and finish our icon's faces and hands in one sitting so the color would be consistent.

At least this was the plan. We ended up continuing again today (Sunday) after church.

This is where we left my icon two weekends ago:

Here they are at the end of Sunday.

Want to see how we went from Kermit to Mary and Jesus? Keep on reading... (well, looking, this is image intense)

Time to stop for lunch! I made French Canadian quiche. (a Quiche Lorraine but with ham steaks Canadian bacon instead of bacon. Geddit?) Made the pastry from scratch too.

That's where we left it Saturday afternoon. The next day Helena joined me at church and sang in the choir even :)

(yeah, new haircut for me!)
We both commented on how our faces seemed to have mellowed overnight. The strokes were less visible. I don't know if the paint was sinking in or it wasn't really fully dry the day before.

The main thing I wanted to on Sunday fix was Mary's skeletal hands. I'd sent an email to Rev. Paige for help as to how to fix it.

So we went from these:

to these:

Proving that even if you make a major mistake you can fix it in this acrylic paints method of icon writing. (Not sure if this is what Paige meant, but I like it.)

(ain't they sweet?)

(because I had difficulty telling this and the next one apart: this one has just the highlights added)

hands and facial features outlined
Putting in the outlines is so redeeming ... the messy edges just vanish underneath the paint!

I don't have a picture of Helena's because she was still working on it when I left this afternoon. I  got far enough ahead to do some wee fixing of the dark blue areas and adding the "doo dads" which are applied with a toothpick!!!

If all goes according to plan, we may be finished by the end of the month. We're coming awfully close to laying down some gold and swinging halos (eep)!