renewal (or what I, as a Christian, have learned by honoring my religious Jewish roots)

Yesterday, at sundown, the sounding of the shofar signaled Rosh Hashanah, literally head of the year; to be followed, at sunset on Friday, September 29, by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The central themes of these annual High Holy Days of Judaism are repentance for the sins, personal and communal, of the past year and reconciliation with God, others, and one’s self.

As a Christian, I long have acknowledged my eternal debt to Judaism from whence cometh Jesus of Nazareth.[1] And, o’er the years, reflecting on the High Holy Days, I have become profoundly aware, perhaps even more than through the Christian penitential season of Lent, of my constant need for spiritual and ethical renewal so to love God, others, and myself more faithfully, freely, fully. Moreover, I have come to understand that renewal is elemental to all relationships and chiefly expressed in mutual responsibility, literally the response-ability to act benevolently one with another.

This came to mind during my morning’s Bible study. I’ve been rereading the Book of Exodus; today, one of many encounters between God and Moses.[2]

Moses at Mount Sinai (1655), Jacques de Létin (1597-1661)

For forty days and nights, Moses was on Mount Sinai listening to God and receiving the Commandments. The people, growing anxious in the absence of Moses, appealed to Aaron, Moses’ brother and spokesperson, to make a visible symbol of the divine presence to comfort them. A golden calf was fashioned.

The Adoration of the Golden Calf (1633-1634), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

How easily, I believe, humans become confused, attaching their affections to a symbol and not the reality to which it points. And God, in anger, disowned the people, referring to them in speaking to Moses as “your people”, and deciding to destroy them.

In this harrowing moment, the response-ability of God and Moses was mightily manifest. God, the Almighty Judge, didn’t act against the people without first telling Moses. Moses didn’t leave the mountain at God’s command, but remained as an attorney for the defense; yet neither explaining nor excusing the people’s actions, but rather reminding God of who God is: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel…”

Moses reminded God that God, beginning with Abraham, made a people and when that people fell captive in Egypt, God sent Moses to save them and, in saving them, proving that God makes and keeps promises to God’s people. God, being reminded, recanted, revising the divine plan of action.

God and Moses, in their faithful exercise of mutual responsibility, were renewed; each and both. God in remembrance of the divine identity as Liberator and Moses in his re-awareness of his vocation as God’s instrument of liberation.

Taking this personally, I am led to see afresh how I, as human, oft, when anxious and confused, take my thoughts and feelings, my desires and needs and, making them supreme, fashion them into my gods. Not if, but whenever this happens I cannot fail to note how unbenevolent I become toward others, verily, toward my truest self, and, thus, need renewal – always and in all ways.

 

Illustrations:

Moses at Mount Sinai (1655), Jacques de Létin (1597-1661)

The Adoration of the Golden Calf (1633-1634), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

Footnotes:

[1] Without Judaism, there is no Christianity. For this reason, I believe that for a Christian to be anti-Semitic is a malevolent expression of self-hatred.

[2] Exodus 32.7-14 (my emphases): The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely. They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them. They have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

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6 thoughts on “renewal (or what I, as a Christian, have learned by honoring my religious Jewish roots)

  1. Paul,

    I want you to know I read this to your brother Tim as I sit by his graveside. My Mom wanted this bench I’m sitting on so we could reflect and renew, so that’s exactly what I did before and after reading your words. I have lots of collections of stuff, Bears, LEGO bricks and Starbucks coffee mugs. But none of those things make me feel closer to God or replace my faith. However, I have at times been so driven by those “things” that I lose sight of God and need to be pulled back and “renewed”. Renewal allows me the “response-ability” to do what God is directing me to do, as opposed to what Loretta wants to do. As I move further away from “things”, I spend more time outdoors in beautiful settings having conversations and listening to God. I wasn’t sure I was going to come to the cemetery today, our 32nd anniversary, but as soon as I drove through the gates I felt a sense of calm, of peace and even of resilience. I’m glad I came. Though Tim is gone in body, God has made a way for me to carry on by relying on Him and my memories to sustain me. I’m happy to be sitting here, reading your words to Tim, and letting God know that I’ll continue to work on my benevolence to others, particularly with those with whom I disagree. Though I’ll be leaving Tim behind as I walk away, I’ll leave here renewed, grateful for all that I shared with Tim and knowing that I still have much work to do for God and blessings to receive from him.

    Tim and I love you and are grateful for all you have brought and continue to bring to our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loretta, I had a feeling, a thought, a sense that you might go to Tim’s gravesite today. I can picture you there…

      That you would choose to read my words to your beloved husband and my beloved brother moves me deeply and powerfully AND tearfully.

      Thank you.

      Love you, always

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was supposed to be somewhere else this evening, to get my tshirt etc for Sat’s Alz walk, but I was too peaceful sitting on the bench for hours. I purposely waited til I got to the cemetery to read your blog and I thought Tim would enjoy it. I love that cemetery so much it’s an amazing place to reflect with my grandparents, aunts, cousins & now Tim. Today was the first time I hung out for an extended period. It felt good to my soul to read your words cause he thought the wold of you. He’d be saying “that was deep my brother!!”.

        Love you back…

        Liked by 1 person

      • The image in my mind of you sitting amongst the remains and gravestones, marking the earthly beginnings and endings of your loved ones, your grandparents, aunts, cousins, and Tim, calls to mind Hebrews 12.1, in that you are “surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses” – all those you love who have gone before you and now watch over you in heavenly prayerful support. Beautiful!

        Love

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow thanks!! Wasn’t familiar with that scripture!! It was just different being there yesterday!! I’d never felt as comfortable at a cemetery as I did yesterday. I could have stayed there all day. I was so at peace. That’s why I loved your words so much, because I really was renewed in that environment!

        Much love!

        Liked by 1 person

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