Wednesday, November 3, 2010

To the Lord your God

I am reading a little book by Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath. Winner is a convert from Judaism. From the introduction:
It is now going on seven years since I converted from Judaism to Christianity, and I am still in that blissed-out newlywed stage in which you can't believe your good fortune and you know that this person (in this case Jesus) whom you have chosen (or, in this case, who has chosen you) is the best person on the whole planet and you wouldn't take all the tea in China or a winning Lotto ticket or even a nice country estate in exchange.

Still, I miss Jewish ways. I miss the rhythms and routines that drew the sacred down into the everyday. I miss Sabbaths on which I actually rested. I have even found that I miss the drudgery of keeping kosher. I miss the work these practices effected between me and God. ....
The book is about those "spiritual practices" she misses and believes have value for Christians. Again, from the introduction:
All religions have spiritual practices. Buddhists burn sage and meditate. Muslims avail themselves of their prayer rugs. Christian tradition has developed a wealth of practices, too: fasting, almsgiving, vigil-keeping, confessing, meditating. True enough, Christians in America—especially Protestants in America—have not historically practiced those practices with much discipline, but that is beginning to change. in churches and homes everywhere people are increasingly interested in doing Christianity, not just speaking or believing it. Here is the place where so-called Jewish-Christian relations become practical. if the church wants to grow in its attendance to, in its doing of things for the God of Israel, we might want to take a few tips from the Jewish community.

There are, of course, some key differences between how Jews and Christians understand the doing of practice (differences that are perhaps most succinctly captured with Paul's words: "Christ, and him crucified"). The Jewish practices I wish to translate into a Christian idiom are binding upon Jews. Jews are obligated to fulfill the particularities of Mosaic law. They don't light Sabbath candles simply because candles make them feel close to God, but because God commanded the lighting of candles: Closeness might be a nice by-product, but it is not the point.

Christians will understand candle-lighting a little differently. Spiritual practices don't justify us. They don't save us. Rather, they refine our Christianity; they make the inheritance Christ gives us on the Cross more fully our own. The spiritual disciplines—such as regular prayer, and fasting, and tithing, and attentiveness to our bodies—can form us as Christians throughout our lives. Are we obligated to observe these disciplines? Not generally, no. Will they get us into heaven? They will not.

Practicing the spiritual disciplines does not make us Christians. Instead, the practicing teaches us what it means to live as Christians. (There is an etymological clue here—discipline is related to the word disciple.) The ancient disciplines form us to respond to God, over and over always, in gratitude, in obedience, and in faith. Herewith, a small book of musings on and explorations in those practices. ....
In the first chapter Winner discusses "shabbat/sabbath" [now, for her as for most Christians, Sunday] and what it is that seems lacking:
.... After all, I did spend Sunday morning in church. And I wasn't working that afternoon, not exactly.

A fine few hours, except that my Sunday was more an afternoon off than a Sabbath. It was an add-on to a busy week, not the fundamental unit around which I organized my life. The Hebrew word for holy means, literally, "set apart." In failing to live a Sabbath truly distinct from weekly time, I had violated a most basic command: to keep the Sabbath holy.

I am not suggesting that Christians embrace the strict regulations of the Orthodox Jewish Sabbath. Indeed, the New Testament unambiguously inaugurates a new understanding of Shabbat. In his epistles, Paul makes clear that the Sabbath, like other external signs of piety, is insufficient for salvation. As he writes in his letter to the Colossians, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you. . . with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." And Jesus, when rebuked by the Pharisees for plucking grain from a field on Shabbat, criticizes those who would make a fetish of Sabbath observance, insisting that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

But there is something, in the Jewish Sabbath that is absent from most Christian Sundays: a true cessation from the rhythms of work and world, a time wholly set apart, and, perhaps above all, a sense that the point of Shabbat, the orientation of Shabbat, is toward God. ....

.... In observing the Sabbath, one is both giving a gift to God and imitating Him. Exodus and Deuteronomy make this clear when they say, "Six days shall you labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God." To the Lord your God.
The chapters:
  • shabbat/sabbath
  • kashrut/fitting food
  • avelut/mourning
  • hachnassat orchim/hospitality
  • tefillah/prayer
  • guf/body
  • tzum/fasting
  • hiddur p'nai zaken/aging
  • hadlakat nerot/candle-lighting
  • kiddushin/weddings
  • mezuzot/doorposts
Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath