We’re All in This Together

IMG_4026I went to church this past Sunday; I went because it is the Hebrew month of Elul, a spiritual time of preparation for the New Year. I went because the chapel is at the one mile marker of my walking route; it is open air with just a ceiling and pews; no walls to close it in and almost every Sunday when I walk by there is beautiful congregational singing and the voice of a pastor preaching, or bells or communal readings and recitations of faith, and I thought I haven’t been all summer and this is a good time to see if it can help me on my journey to a new moment in my life. And besides, I had a walking friend willing to join me and it is good not to be alone in church (or synagogue).

I didn’t know any of the hymns except the final one, which was set to the “Ode to Joy” melody of Beethoven’s 9th. An aside: Do all those notes above the words in the hymnal really help you know the melody if you can’t read music or can all church goers read music? None of the creeds or confessions of sin worked for me – too Jesus centered but the Lord’s Prayer felt pretty Jewish. I was surprised that there was no reading from the Hebrew Scriptures; I thought there was always one that was then counter levered with a reading from the Christian Scriptures. I was disappointed because I like to see how the two play off each other.

The sermon was text based. The priest (Episcopal) retold the story of a pivotal moment in Jesus’ life – when he says to his disciples: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56…) The disciples tell him that the teaching is difficult and they are not sure they can accept it and some of them actually turn back from following him. Jesus confronts the rest of them and asks: “Do you also want to go away?”

This is what the sermon said to me. And since I am in church let me stay with the metaphor. We all have “come to Jesus” moments; we all have times when we must make decisions and face the hard and the difficult straight on and either work with it or walk away from it. All our faith traditions teach this. You can’t walk through life unscathed. We struggle to be born and like a seed pushing its way through the crusty dirt, we grow by facing those things that are tough for us. Some challenges are so hard, we want to run away from them and some we confront and work with and turn into learning opportunities. Some cause pain; some bring insight; some we just never understand.

There is a beautiful image in the Hasidic tradition that during the month of Elul, God is out there walking in the fields, searching, seeking, waiting, and watching. Elul is the time for me to leave my comfort zone, confronting with compassion and with love the hard, the tough, the challenging, the unsettling. I’m glad I went to church last Sunday.  It helped me in my Elul preparation.  It reminded me that God has many houses and one thing came through loud and clear.

We are all in this together.

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11 thoughts on “We’re All in This Together

  1. Yes, we are in this together and it doesn’t matter what color the lens are on our glasses. Some people wear blue lens and go to church. Others wear green and go to a mosque. I believe some have clear lens and understand that it’s just a perspective to see the world. BTW, I agree with you about the “balance” of the readings in church. I remember there being more “old” and “new” mixed in.

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  2. We are all in this together. But sometimes we feel really alone. Betsy is going in for some surgery today and the results will direct her mastectomy next week. I am taking care of the kids until they go to school then one friend is coming over for breakfast. And another for lunch. Then I am coming back to betsys to give dinner to the kids. Yet I feel alone. Maybe I need to go to synagogue or church today but don’t know what will help. Your words however really touched me. Love ya Sharon

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  3. Howard, the Old Testament reading for last Sunday was of King Solomon invoking the presence of God in the House prepared for God, asking God’s watch over God’s people and vigilance even for those foreigners why turn their prayers to this House. Does that resonate with what you wrote? OMG Out there walking the fields indeed.

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  4. Right on, Rabbi. Beautiful message today, thanks. It is really too bad that so many people today, in a religious context or even a political context, believe that their way is the only way there is and if you are not just like them you are “wrong”. I believe there is more than one way to get to your final destination and also that it would be quite a shame if everyone thought and believed and lived in lockstep. But we ARE all in this together, and sometimes we do seem to forget that. Good lesson.

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  5. Hi Howard! Usually there is a reading from the Hebrew scriptures during the Sunday services, but sometimes Episcopalians relax that “rule” a bit during week day services. Hopefully there should have at least been a reading from a psalm. I was surprised when I went to a Greek Orthodox Church and they don’t even include readings from the Hebrew scriptures on Sundays. I guess there are a lot of differences in and among Christian traditions. I always enjoy the Hebrew scriptures as they usually give one a lot of pause for thought. Anyhow, I’m glad you felt comfortable stopping by an Episcopal Church, and hope you received a warm welcome. I have been enjoying the blogs from my two favorite Beyond Walls rabbis and others who have been posting on preparation for the Jewish holy days coming up. My birthday is in September, and since it was always the beginning of my new “birth” year plus school year, I always saw September as the month to begin anew. Blessings as you prepare for the holy days. This year I’ll be joining in the preparation.

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  6. Thanks for this glimpse of your experience.

    The Lord’s Prayer is a surprisingly Jewish prayer. “For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory” sounds very Christian to us in English, but if you make it “lecha, Adonai, ha-malkhut, v’ha-netzach, v’ha-hod,” suddenly it’s Jewish all over. My friend and teacher Rabbi Marcia Prager is teaching a session on that at the upcoming OHALAH conference in January, and I’m looking really forward to it.

    Wishing you blessings as Elul continues to unfold.

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  7. Howard–I’ve been wanting to respond to this for days. I love this post. I love it for a lot of obvious reasons–your critique of the liturgy, your experience of our places of commonality and where we differ. I was especially grateful for the insight on the LP, which was, theoretically, taught by a Rabbi, so I’m glad to hear that it has resonances even now with the faith in which Jesus was raised. I have no idea why there was no lesson from the Hebrew Scripture–that’s odd. But mainly I’m grateful for the image of you out walking, hearing and experiencing this church, and then opting to go inside and explore. Something of that image is profoundly important to me. The urging of humanity to be connected–I wish we had more of that. This is so good. Thank you.

    PS: Did you know we have five–count ’em–five weeks of that lesson on Jesus and Bread. John’s gospel is lovely poetry but dang. Sometimes I wish JC would just be a little more concise!

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  8. Thank you for your wonderful reflection – I love to hear church being described from another perspective. And you are so right – we are all in this together!

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