Sunday, July 21, 2013

God by any other name is still God

On Friday evening Sweetie and I attended a traditional Shabbat dinner with my new employers.   Strangers to the group, neither of us knew what to expect. I felt sure, however, we would be welcomed like family because that's the way I felt from the first time I met the K's.

Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, begins a few minutes before sundown on Friday. In Hebrew Shabbat means "resting"symbolizing how God rested after creating the world. Observing Shabbat is mandated for Jews in all parts of the world. "We have remained true to the Shabbat in every place, culture and circumstance of our 4,000-year history has visited -- from the glorious days to the blackest of night." Something that's lasted for 4000 years has got to have the backing of the Divine One, don't you think?

It's been so long since I've attended a social function, and forever since I've gone to dinner with people I don't know. Yet when L asked us to join them, I felt a stirring of excitement. My Episcopalian roots might call that the Holy Spirit.

I gave myself permission to feel the presence of God rather than note the differences in religions. In fact, the first thing I noticed was the lack of differences. The table was set with candles, bread and wine, not unlike the Christian altar prepared for Eucharist.  The sanctity of the Sabbath began as the women gathered around the table to light candles. I read that the women light the candles as a way of bringing light back into the world after Eve did her thing with the apple. Since I recently read a kinder, gentler version of the "demonized" mother of sin, I choose to disregard this reason for the women's part of the service.

I admit that when I heard the women did the prep work, while the men continued to socialize in the living room, or in this case discussed  how the Jaguars would fare this season, I had the tiniest of chips on my shoulder.  To my delight, it didn't feel at all like I expected. It wasn't like the men sat in the board room while the "little" women served up their coffee.  Instead I realized it is an honor to be the one(s) to add the light that will welcome God into the room. With heads bowed and  eyes closed, the women reverently drew the light towards them as they prayed.
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe.
Being with these women at this holy dinner, spoke to the part of me that is seeking the companionship of women of faith. Spiritual women who keep the fires of love, peace and hope burning.

Once the men joined the group, kippahs (yarmulkes) were passed out. I learned that whenever there is a big celebration in the Temple, a wedding or Bar Mitzvah, monogrammed yarmulkes are passed out, like monogrammed favors at a wedding reception. This means most Jewish families have a stock pile of extras.  My camera battery was taking its own Sabbath, so I have no picture of it, but when I looked across the table at my Sweetie, I saw a wise and stately figure, as if being Jewish was second nature to him. Of course, like a wolf in sheep's clothing (perhaps, not the best of metaphors), just because he looked like he'd been reciting Hebrew for years didn't mean he'd ever held the Torah in his hands.  I'm still getting used to Sweetie's Santa persona. Think this (without the pipe):

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
[The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.] He had a broad face and a little round belly,That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

... in a yarmulke.

With the men in the room, we were elbow to elbow. I listened carefully to the prayers, imagining them to be similar to the ones my Lord spoke at his last supper. As our host, S, read the prayers, I watched his three-year-old son D who is referred to as Rabbi in his pre-school.  D stood on a chair next to his father, doing his best to recite the prayers along with the other men. I couldn't fail to notice the smile on his face.  I dare say he radiated joy.
 “Let the little children come to me," said Jesus, "and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matt. 19:14

Next, like in any Christian service, the wine (grape juice) was blessed:
Blessed  are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who creates the fruit of the vine. (Amen)
before we drank it. Then the homemade Challah was uncovered and blessed.

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Kind of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth. (Amen.)

After S cut the Challah, he dipped the first piece in salt, to signify (in my non-Jewish interpretation) how the blessings of life (bread) are often accompanied by trials and tears (salt). In other words, the Challah and the salt could be the Jewish version of the 1980's sitcom theme song - "you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the Facts of Life." After the blessing, the bread was passed around the table, declaring in a dignified way "Let's eat."

The service ended by extending Shabbat Shalom with each other, hugging, and cheek kissing. It appears the Episcopalian "passing of the peace" that began after the prayer book was modified in the 1970's is not a new thing. Jews have been sharing a kiss of peace for thousands of years.  

And like any good religious observance the Shabbat service was followed by food. Good food, and lots of it. Yes, Sweetie and I were the only Christians in the group, but I couldn't have felt more at home.

In church today, my priest spoke of hospitality.  From the Greek, hospitality in the New Testament means "love of strangers." Be it a stranger, a sinner, a black boy in a hoodie, a girl walking on Philips Highway, a homeless person down on his luck,  a drug addict, your mother and father, or yourself, loving is the heart of Jesus' message.  If I close my eyes, and draw the light of the Shabbat candles toward me, I can picture Jesus sitting at his mother's table as the sun dipped below the horizon on Friday night. Perhaps like D at our dinner,  he smiled from the inside out as he learned the prayers, sang the songs and welcomed guests to the holy feast. Perhaps, Jesus knew it would be the women at his tomb who would kindle the light of His resurrection before the men arrived. Perhaps the salt of Eve's tears shed in the garden,  or the tears Mary would cry at the foot of the cross, foretold the pain Jesus would endure, and the agony that the world would know in the name of of religion, not the Divine one from which we all come.  It is no wonder Jesus chose to spend his last meal, the sacred ritual of Shabbat, with his friends. And it's no wonder that a dinner shared with the people you love, or strangers, is the sacrament that calls forth the Holy Spirit no matter what religion one is.

As this dinner drew to a close, with laughter and hugs, and promises to see each other next week, I was reminded of a saying I first heard at a  Shabbat service at a Temple here in Jacksonville:
"Joy shared is doubled. Sadness shared is lessened."
This extended family still grieves the recent loss of two of its patriarchs. In my church our Eucharist is shared by the "communion of saints." I could feel the spirit of these men, as well as the ancients who had gone before, join us as we circled around the table. Even though a stranger I felt the joy this family feels in the presence of their loved ones and God.

I close with these words from Fr. Miguel this morning,
"When you enter [this church], may you feel welcome.
When you leave may you be blessed.
I took it to be the "Amen" at the end of my Shabbat experience.
May it be so. 
Shalom. Peace.
Merry ME


AkasaWolfSong said...

Thank You Mary for a perfect end to my feels like I was a Shabbat with You, Sweet and Kennelly's.

Thank You Sweet Hands of Life for Love!


Constance said...

God is God no matter what place of worship He is part of:)
Very smart of you and loving, to see that.
If only more people understood that.


Unknown said...

Mary, What a beautiful message. We really are all connected in spite of our human differences, and there's love and beauty in all of us. I pray for a time when more of the world sees this truth.
Thank you for this message.

Sorrow said...

My bubbe had a little candle that sat in her kitchen window and she lit it every evening at sundown.
There was a little prayer that she would say, and my yiddish to english isn't working so good right now, but it was about gods Love being a light in dark places..
I am so thrilled to read this, it was like being back in time..
thank you for your sharing..