Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What About Judaism?

I reverted to draft several of my posts from this year that dealt with my spiritual journey.  I felt a bit uneasy about having these personal thoughts in the virtual world.  I felt... embarrassed (?) for not having a firm grasp on my religious or spiritual life as a thirty-something adult.  But upon further reflection, I decided to repblish them.  They are reflections of where I've been on the journey, not a declaration of my final arrival.  Rather, I'm finding that my spiritual journey continues....

It's interesting.  At the completion of the Called and Gifted small groups program I blogged about earlier, I started reading a book on deliverance and was signed up to receive intercessory prayer... a talk during the meetings made Satan a possibility to me.  But I couldn't finish the book.  I found that blaming Satan for my own weakness of character, my own having missed the mark, is a copout, much like turning over my salvation to the sacrificial gift of Jesus on the cross.  Rather than being personally responsible for my own actions, I merely aligned myself with the good or bad powers that be and let them duke it out.  Also, a list of potential activities/experiences in the book that claim to have possibly let the influence of evil into my life included visiting non-Christian sanctuaries and practicing yoga.  Um, ok.  So our very own popes have been guilty of the first infraction due to their attempts at interreligious dialogue, eh?  And I only hear this nonsense about yoga from people who have never tried it for the physical benefits.  Just because it happens to come from a Hindu tradition doesn't mean it's impossible to do certain poses or breathe in a way that is non-Christian!  This sort of narrow-mindedness brought me back to a level of even-headedness.

I swapped the book for another, on forming intentional disciples of Christ.  The first chapter read like a textbook - something I actually found enticing, given my extended academic history.  What I read was the percentages of people converting into and out of Catholicism, and their reasons.  And what resonated with me was that it made no difference in the bigger scheme of things.  I am coming to the end of reading a series of books on mystical experiences in the world's religions.  I read the Bagavad Gita with interest, though it was certainly a foreign concept to understand the different manifestations of "God" in non-Christian language.  I read the Tibetan Book of the Dead.... correction, I read half of it.  The introductory chapters were very insightful.  The actual meat and potatoes were a series of instuctions and descriptions of realities for those transitioning from this life to the next.  It was so cumbersome that I felt I was reading the same thing over and over again.  I read the Tao Te Ching with a lot more excitement, and everything in it resonated with me... everything except the lack of a personal God.  I read half of the Essential Rumi, and even though I enjoyed the imagery in his poetry, to be honest, I got bored.  I stopped without finishing the entire book.  Then I read the Essential Kabbalah, and again, I was fascinated like with the Tao Te Ching.  Only this time, God was there!  I finished the whole book with delight.  I am now on to rereading The Way of a Pilgrim, a book I ready many years ago, for the Christian rendition of mysticism.

But the reason I bring this up is that the timing of these various books, along with the books and talks stemming from the Called and Gifted workshop, slowly etched a solid realization in my heart. Religion does not hold Truth.  Truth cannot be contained in any one religion.  It cannot be contained period.  It can merely be alluded to, but as soon as we begin to describe God and ultimate reality with words, we do God a disservice.  The Essential Kabbalah said as much, too.

On a whim, as I do every now and again, I viewed a few YouTube videos about conversion to Judaism.  I like to hear other people's stories about their spiritual journeys, and I hadn't spent much time with Judaism before.  I became intrigued.  Later that night, I looked up some basic information on Reform Judaism on my smart phone, as I was waiting for Maya to drift off to sleep.  I don't know why I hadn't given Judaism more thought in the past.  I know that I was always attracted to the simplicity of the theology - that the Jewish God was not Trinitarian.  But being opposed to circumcision on ethical grounds (and from an attachment parenting perspective) I have long assumed that Judaism just wasn't going to work for me.  For one, I wanted any potential conversion to be something we could do as a family, and I knew expecting Alex to get cut was not going to fly, not that I even wanted him to.  Plus, if we ever had a son, I wouldn't cut him, so I just couldn't belong to a religion that expected something I considered cruel.

And then I read that Reform Judaism does not require circumcision of its converts.  It's as if the one stumbling block to even looking into the faith has finally been removed for me.  Once I didn't have that consideration blocking me, I was able to read about the other aspects of Reform Judaism that I am finding very enthralling.

Aspects of Judaism in general that I find interesting (even if some are very small):

1. Mezuzah (a tiny scroll found at the front door of a Jewish home).  In movies I've seen Jews touching it as they entered or left and then putting their fingers to their lips.  This always reminded me of the holy water font in Catholic churches, and I long wanted something like this at my front door, some symbol, some way of reminding myself of God's centrality in my life in this way.

2. Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I respect the way Jews truly honor the Lord's Day, while only few Christians do.  I like the idea of setting aside this time for God and family and nothing else.

3. The importance of study.  Studying the Torah is central to Jewish life, at least to Jews who are not mothers to young children!  Given my extended history of study, the idea that this can be a part of my religion is exciting.

4. The centrality of the family.  As much as I respect the Catholic notion of having various vocations, including the religious celibate life and the single lay celibate life, in addition to marriage, family is where the heart is, after all.

5. The undeniable oneness of God.  I simply cannot get this in a Christian denomination.  No matter how the Trinity is explained, it muddles the oneness of G-d for me. Essentially, G-d cannot be explained, and the Trinity is a human attempt at explaining G-d.

Now, specifically within Reform Judaism, I find the following to be further aspects of interest for me:

1. Circumcision for converts is not required.

2. There is no creed that all Jews must adhere to!  There are broad guidelines, but outside of the basic belief in a single God and the Torah being instructive for our moral life, each individual is to discern faith. Judaism is about practice, not belief.  I love this, because one cannot help what one believes.  However, one does have control over what one does!

3. Torah interpretation is left to individual discernment. Which mitzvohs one follows are likewise left up to one's own discernment.  This includes to what degree one keeps kashrut (kosher).

4. Women and men are more equal - both can be rabbis, for instance.

These aren't all inclusive considerations by any means, just based on my introductory understanding of Judaism and Reform Judaism in particular.  Essentially, I wanted the freedom that comes with Protestantism in terms of discernment of how God wants each individual to live their life, expressed most liberally within Quakerism.  Yet I also love the ritual and mystery I grew up with in Catholicism.  At first glance, it seems that Reform Judaism may be able to provide a bit of both.

I found a synagogue nearby and hope to make it to service this Shabbat.  Alex is down with it, so we'll see.  I've been disillusioned with a faith in the past after visiting their communal worship space. But maybe I've grown in my expectations.  Shalom :)

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