There is no security this side of the grave. –Harlan Ellison
Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. –Marcus Aurelius
Joy is an overflowing, an explosion. Something enters a person’s life for which he could never be prepared and his previously tidy self erupts in song, dance and joy. Approach the Divine with a calculated mind and there is no window for joy. Embrace the infinite beyond mind and let joy surprise you.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Meditations on Happiness
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I know in one sense, God does not require us to live happy or satisfied lives and certainly, many of His servants, the Prophets and the Apostles, did not live happy lives. In fact, most of them died under less than optimal circumstances. Nevertheless, Paul did say:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:12-13
This tells me that our circumstances don’t have to dictate our perception of life or of ourselves as long as we rely on God as the source of our strength. Of course, in verse 14, Paul went on to say, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles”, so for Paul, having a community to share his experiences with was not out of the question.
I’ve been considering matters of community and connection along with learning and growing closer to God. For some time, I have desired to study and worship with my wife and, since she’s Jewish and doing so is not an option in a Christian format, I have sought to meet her where she is and to honor God in a synagogue setting. Also, and this should be obvious to anyone who has been following my blog posts, I find Jewish theology, philosophy, and mysticism fascinating and indeed, a window into the soul of the Messiah, so deepening my understanding within a Jewish context is also something I desire.
But there’s a difference between wanting and having and there’s a difference between ideals and human beings. While I find a great deal of meaning in many of the writings produced by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman and the Chabad as well as religious Judaism in general, I am also aware that there are real people with real lives behind what I read and study. No religion or group of religious people is perfect and if we are human, we are flawed. Those flaws can get in the way of reaching community, fellowship, and purpose and sometimes desiring community with people can be confused with desiring union with God.
In yesterday’s blog, I discussed the roadblocks preventing me from achieving my stated goals, but maybe I’m confusing the ideal of what I want with the reality what I’m encountering. I may also be confusing how God sees and judges me with how human beings see and judge me. I am aware that many of the traditional values held by Christianity are incompatible with Judaism, especially based on how both religions have evolved over the past 2,000 years or so. Yesterday, I quoted a Jewish person who brought this to light, at least on the Christian side of the equation.
“Christianity has to realize its error in deviating from what the original sect taught and practices before that connection can be made, before that door can be entered through. Only then will hope be found.” –said by S
I think part of what I’ve been looking for is both the Biblical and Rabbinic ideal in how God is understood and taught, but what I have been encountering is the problematic relationship between Christians and Jews in the real world. It’s also easy to get caught up in the idea that feeling like I’m being pushed aside or pushed away means that I’m not good enough for that group. At least that’s how I see it sometimes.
Given all this, some Christians reading this might wonder why, besides the fact that I am married to a Jew, I pursue the Jews as the keepers of the Bible and the gateway to its understanding? Why won’t I abandon this particular path and pursue a more normative Christian journey? Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book God in Search of Man quotes A. Jeremias, Juedische Froemmigkeit, p. 57 with the answer:
Christian..Gellert, when asked by Frederick the Great: “Herr Professor, give me a proof of the Bible, but briefly, for I have little time,” answered: “Majesty, the Jews.” (Heschel p. 246)
Heschel (p. 255) also quotes from Seder Eliahu Rabba, IX, ed. M. Friedman, Wein, 1902, p. 48 when he declares that the revelation of the Bible is not for the Jew alone.
There is a grain of the prophet in the recesses of every human existence. “I call heaven and earth for witnesses that every man, whether gentile or Jew, whether man or woman, whether man-servant or maidservant, according to the measure of his good deeds, the spirit of holiness rests upon him.”
How like the words of Paul in Galatians 3:28. Heschel further demonstrates why I look east to Jerusalem with my questions about God and punctuates my dilemma in wondering how I will ever get an answer.
Never before and never since has such a claim been expressed. And who will doubt that the claim proved to be true? Has not the word spoken to the people of Israel, penetrated to all corners of the world and been accepted as the message of God in a thousand languages? (p. 243)
Our problem, then, is how to share the certainty of Israel that the Bible contains that which God wants us to know and to hearken to; how to attain a collective sense for the presence of God in the Biblical words. In this problem lies the dilemma of our fate, and in the answer lies the dawn or the doom. (p. 246)
I know ideally (there’s that word again) that I should seek to please God and not people (Acts 5:29; Galatians 1:10), but as Paul pointed out in Philippians 4:14, it would be good to share myself with others. However, reality, whether “dawn” or “doom”, is what it is and given my particular theological preferences and the nature of a perfect world vs. a real one, I may have to accept that although drawn to the gates of Judaism, I am not always welcome in Jewish communities because of my faith. In that I must also realize I am still “good enough” as the person I am, even though I must stand apart from those people and from my goal. That part about being “good enough” is hard for me to understand though, in light of the value of continual self-improvement and especially knowing that no one is righteous (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).
It’s rather premature to declare my experiment a failure, but I may end up having to accept truncated results. While human beings have limits and construct barriers, God does not inhibit us from approaching Him with an open and contrite heart. Even in Judaism, it is acknowledged that God has not rejected the Gentiles (although how they believe God sees Christians is another story) and of course, the very heart of Christianity opens the door for the nations to have access to God, specifically through the person of Jesus Christ.
In the end, community or isolation, acceptance or non-acceptance, I can still pray, I can still read, I can still study, and I can still write and share who I am and what I am learning during these “morning meditations”. If anyone deems them of value, I am certainly grateful, but more than people, I must share who I am with God, not that He doesn’t know me already, but because part of a relationship is to share yourself with the other. Being a writer, this is how I best share and communicate what I experience when I immerse myself into the pools of God’s perfect wisdom. Again, Heschel has something to say on this point.
The Bible is holiness in words. (p. 244)
If God is alive, then the Bible is His voice. (p. 245)
Almost 400 years ago, John Donne wrote that “no man is an island”. I suppose in general, that’s true. At other times though, I can see myself as a single, tiny bit of flotsam floating on an infinite sea waiting for God to toss me a line and bring me to His shores. A better metaphor, given the approach of Sukkot, is to say that I’m that imperfect and incomplete booth or tent, empty of guests and exposed to the harsh elements, who also is sheltered by the roof of Heaven.
A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.” –Isaiah 40:6-8