I started a graduate school program at the beginning of this year. Last year when I thought my marriage was salvageable (it’s not), I applied and was accepted to a masters in counseling program at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest here in Austin. It is a beautiful place and community so obviously in God’s good grace that I chose to begin the program despite my ongoing marital issues.
As a compromise, I chose to only sign up for one class instead of three. What does the Big Book say? Progress not perfection? I signed up for a course with a very long title but that is generally referred to as American Religion. The point of the course is to prepare future counselors, chaplains and spiritual directors to be able interact and serve those who are of a different faith than their own.
In nine weeks, we have covered the basis for religious freedom in America, American Protestantism, American Roman Catholicism, African Americans and Latino Christianity, the Church of Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yeah, I know. It’s a lot to cover in such a short time and often my classmates and I feel as if we are trying to drink from the fire hydrant during lectures.
But it is great. For three hours, I don’t think about my personal life. Except for how my own religious upbringing has impacted my worldview, which never ceases to amaze me. Especially this week’s lecture on Judaism.
I feel the need to say right now that I don’t know that much about Judaism. I promise to do my very best not to offend anyone or get anything wrong but, if I do, I ask you right now to forgive me.
Our professor was especially enthusiastic this week because Jewish-Christian relations ancient and modern are one of his passions. During the 2.5-hour lecture, our professor really drove home the core concept that God made a covenant with the Jewish people and that this covenant is irrevocable. For Jews, keeping the covenant ensures blessings for themselves and all earth. In ancient times, that covenant was tied to carrying out certain practices in the Temple in Israel.
When that Temple was destroyed, the Jewish people were left in a crisis of identity and faith. How do they keep the covenant without their Temple? What eventually emerged was the belief that living their lives in accordance with and by the study of Torah was how they could keep their covenant.
I will not dare to delve deeply into what Torah is but here’s an article I liked that does. At a very high level, Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament and the word Torah comes from Hebrew and means “instruction” or “guide.” My favorite description from my lecture notes is “a blueprint for all of God’s creation.” A blueprint. Now that’s a word that my Western mind can wrap itself around.
As I was sitting on the floor of my shower this morning, willing myself to get up and get on with my day, the idea of this sacred covenant kept coming up for me. I felt envious of this idea of an irrevocable covenant with God. I longed for my own set of instructions or guide by which to live my life.
Also central to Judaism is the story of the Exodus when God liberated the Jews from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. (Forgive me if I start to mingle my own religious upbringing here.)
I have literally moved from the home that my husband and I shared and, while it has done wonders for my nervous system, I still feel as if I am living in a foreign land. I often joke that I feel as if I am in the witness relocation program. I have been liberated but I also often feel like I am lost and wandering in the wilderness. Sometimes I feel like I’m waiting for God to come down from heaven and personally hand me my own set of Ten Commandments. As if the original ones weren’t good enough.
What I started to think about this morning was, “what is my personal covenant with God?” Clearly, he has had a lot to share with me as evidenced by the everyday miracles I have been witness to. His desire for me show up through the many teachers in life like my kids, my dental hygienist, my yoga teachers, my therapists and my girlfriends. And, yes, even my mom.
What if all these sometimes spiritual but often mundane bits of advice and ordinary acts became the sacred rituals of my life? What if flossing my teeth EVERY night became holy? What if packing my kids’ lunches became sacred? What if dragging my ass to yoga or – better yet – sitting in a chair and WRITING A BLOG POST was part of how I kept my own covenant with God?
The best part of what I learned in class the other night was that because the covenant between Jews and God is irrevocable, if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, God does. Once they return to him, God always welcomes them home and their covenant remains intact.
I believe that God keeps this covenant with all of us. We each have our part to play in the blueprint. I may not floss my teeth every day or I might go months without writing a blog post but anytime I do God is waiting there to welcome me home.