My parish and a local synagogue are sharing in some services, so tonight I went to Shabbat service, my first time there. Best question of the evening: “Did your family get upset with you when you became Catholic? Did you do it because you got married?” Me: “No, I started out this way. I just seem Jewish because I sort of am.”
—my friend Fran on Facebook
I identify with Fran. I’m not Catholic. I was raised a Methodist and these days I am an Episcopalian. But I do identify.
I have been attracted to Judaism since I was in high school. In college I was happy to be surrounded by so many Jewish classmates. I dated and was very fond of a Jewish woman named Julia during my Claremont Cockroach days. Somehow I managed to not make that relationship work.
In Oklahoma City my first wife Ruth was Jewish. We were married by the Reform rabbi under a chuppah in you back yard. I considered converting. I found the Yom Kippur Kol Nidrei service to be deeply moving. I loved attending Friday evening Shabbat services, but the rabbi made some unkind comments about the New Age movement in a sermon, and seriously ticked off Ruth who was a big time New Ager. My attempts at “But what he was really saying was that…” fell on deaf ears. So that was the end of that.
One time I attended an interfaith panel sponsored by the Oklahoma City Islamic community. I was there to present the perspective of the Unitarian Church, to which I belonged at the time. When I arrived, the host came over to me, extended his hand, and said, “Rabbi Maharam?”
Even today I become somewhat wistful when Yom Kippur nears.
I would not consider converting today. I know where my roots are, and I am where I belong in the Episcopal Church. But, like Fran, I sort of am Jewish.
The Eastern Church has long placed more emphasis on the Incarnation than the Western Church, which early on got caught up in a sort of Platonic spiritualism. I like the perspective Richard Rohr takes on this.
We have created a terrible kind of dualism between the spiritual and the so-called non-spiritual. This dualism is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as a lie. The principle of incarnation proclaims that matter and spirit have never been separate. Jesus came to tell us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t see it until God put them together in his one body.
One of the basic tenets of Christianity is the return of Christ. In Eucharistic Prayer A in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer we say the words:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Other denominations use those words and there are similar words in the other Eucharistic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. But what does “Christ will come again” really mean?
A lot of people over the centuries have taken those words literally. The Apostle Paul initially expected the imminent return of Christ, as his earliest letters attest. His tone changed as time wore on and Christ didn’t show up. Indeed Christ’s failure to return caused a lot of consternation in the early church.
Christ’s non-arrival has failed to deter many people over the centuries, however. Still today people are waiting. I remember after the Six Day War in 1967 my minister at the Methodist church here in Hemet excitedly announced that the Second Coming would now happen at any time.
I’m afraid that such people will continue to be disappointed.
During the season of Easter at Good Shepherd Episcopal, the Prayers of the People were framed by these words set to music:
Love one another as I have loved you.
Care for each other. I have cared for you.
Bear each other’s burdens. Bind each other’s wounds;
so you will know my return.
For me, when we do those things, that is Christ’s return.
I’ve always thought that the serenity prayer as it is normally recited just a tad maudlin and simplistic. The original version was, it is generally but not universally agreed, written by Reinhold Niebuhr. I find it much more meaningful and powerful. You can see it here.
Another version has been around for a few years, but I only discovered it via Facebook in the last several weeks. It’s on the web site The Jesuit Post and it was written by James Martin, SJ. The original post was published 9 November 2012. I reproduce the whole prayer here with some trepidation, as the intellectual property belongs to the Jesuit Post and to Father Martin. But I do reproduce it because, well because I myself need to be reminded of these words.
I love the Malcolm Boyd style Father Martin uses in this prayer.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.
And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.
Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
A New Serenity Prayer © The Jesuit Post, All Rights Reserved
I have been taking an online retreat for Lent. One of the preliminary posts stated, “This is not the spiritual Olympics.” That made me think about how I can be competitive in situations that are really not competitive.
Take, for example, Toastmasters. Yes, we have the best speaker, best table topics, and best evaluator awards each week. We even had an actual speech contest last week. But really, Toastmasters is not about competition. It’s a mutually supportive group where we develop our skills.
Each week our president reads the Toastmasters mission statement:
We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.
Still I often feel the need to compete. But really, why should I be concerned if someone is ahead of me in their projects from the Competent Communication manual, or if someone else gets the best speaker award?
It’s an ongoing process for me.
Some months back my church posted the following on Facebook:
Pray as you actually experience life,
rather than as you might wish it to be.
It’s tempting to act as if things are as we would want them to be, and we certainly ought to be focusing on our goals and moving those things forward. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge where we really are.
Now implementing that, there’s the challenge.
I was not expecting to be writing a second remembrance within the same month, but here I am doing exactly that.
Our holiday letter to my long-time friend Dennise was returned “Not deliverable as addressed — Unable to forward.” An email I sent to her did not bounce, but searches on Facebook and LinkedIn turned up nothing. I hesitated doing a Google search, because of what I feared the result would be. But I did do a Google search.
My fears were founded. In the top ten results were at least three obituaries. I didn’t try to count. Opening two of those obituaries confirmed it was the Dennise that I knew. (How many people with that name spell it with two n’s?)
It turns out that she died in November 2014. Now I know why I didn’t get her usual comprehensive and creatively-written holiday letter last year.
Dennise and I were hired as technical writers at about the same time but completely independently of each other in 1995 at a company called Verity, which no longer exists. We shared an office until we moved to new facilities where our cubes were right next to each other. As it turned out we shared many of the same values spiritually, and we stayed in touch, however intermittently, after I left Verity in 1997.
Dennise was, if you believe in such things, an old soul. She was at her core a pagan, and she joyously celebrated the Winter Solstice. But she loved the liturgy at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and the values the institution stood for. She also loved the Christmas Eve Midnight Eucharist there. Meanwhile I was at the time moving from Religious Science to the Episcopal Church. We had many interesting conversations, both in person and via email.
I will miss Dennise. Let light perpetual shine upon her.