The Sabbath of Sabbaths (and a winner!)

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Last night at sundown, Jews around the world ushered in Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 16:29, God mandated this holy day on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar as the day of atonement for sins. Yom Kippur is called the Sabbath of Sabbaths because Leviticus 23:27 decrees it as a strict day of rest.

When I realized the significance of the day, I called one of my Jewish friends and asked if he would take me to Temple with him. “Oh, Laura,” he said. “You don’t want to go to that service. It’s soo long. And it’s all in Hebrew. You’ll be bored to tears.”

So I started reading more about Yom Kippur, falling down so many happy little rabbit trails, delighting in feeding an endless curiosity about the roots of my faith. Jewish traditions are fascinating.

I learned that, according to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, which is the first day of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar and considered the start of the Jewish New Year, God writes names into the Book of Life and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” a fate of life or death. There is a ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as The Days of Awe, in which individuals seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and people, and try to influence the sealing of their fate. This is done through prayer (of repentance), fasting, and giving to charity.

The span of the twenty-five hours of Yom Kippur, from sundown on Tuesday to Sundown on Wednesday, are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.

As I read about the traditions of Yom Kippur, I couldn’t let go of the idea of attending the service. I found a reformed Jewish congregation nearby and called their office (surely this service would be in English?). I told the nice man who answered the phone that I was interested in attending their Yom Kippur service that evening but I am not Jewish. Is that something he would recommend?

“I want to say that anyone is welcome to come to any service at any time,” he said, and I heard a cautionary note in his voice. “But generally we recommend to people who are visiting to come to our Friday Shabbat services. A Rosh Hashanah or a Yom Kippur service would tend to run very long and could be a bit overwhelming. But you are welcome to come any time.”

I acceded defeat.

So I finished up my workday and drove on home, where I read more about the traditions associated with Yom Kippur.

  1. No eating or drinking
  2. No wearing leather shoes
  3. No bathing or washing
  4. No perfumes or lotions
  5. No marital relations

It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur, which symbolizes purity and reminds that our sins shall be made as white as snow. Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

I could go on and on.

I spent some time in prayer, repenting personally and for my community. And when my husband came home from work, we took a long walk in the last receding light of day. The falling sun bathed everything in amber and I felt my soul shift into a holy place. I imagined Jesus in the synagogue with his family—Jesus the boy, Jesus the young man, Jesus my Lord—ushering in Yom Kippur with prayer and song. I felt a rush of gratitude that my salvation rests in his hands, not my own. I felt a rush of gratitude that all these rules have been replaced by grace.

And this morning when I awakened, still flush with the love of this high holy day, even though I couldn’t make this a strict day of rest, I felt rest in my heart. And I remembered what Mark Buchanan said in a panel discussion with Ann Voskamp and Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh: Sabbath is a heart attitude.

And this makes me smile.

Shelly Miller’s new book Rhythms of Rest is all about how Sabbath is a heart attitude. I’m glad to give a copy of her lovely book (along with a couple others in the bundle) to:  Sharon O.! Yay! Congratulations, Sharon. You can email me your snail at laraj@suddenlink.net and I’ll get these out to you ASAP!

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How to really See a Person


We stand at the window and look over the snow-strewn landscape. The dome of our state capitol building gleams in the forefront and its gold leaf shimmers against the backdrop of powdered sugared trees sprinkled on the hills. 
“It sure makes a pretty picture,” I say, writing poems in my mind.  
But this one says nothing, sitting still in the wheelchair, lost inside the head. 
This one had an accident and the legs no longer work. 
And I’ve dealt with angry patients, and patients who lie, and ones who want to do it their own way because they have been loved well. But the hardest ones are these—the quiet ones. So many times I’ve wondered what kind of patient I would be and I let my mind linger there as we settle into the stillness like a snowflake melting into the earth. 
I don’t know that I would have the grace of these people—the ones who suffer my invasions and probing questions. I don’t know that I would be a favorite. 
I think too much. 
I am thinking this as I wheel this one back to the room. I think about how Jesus put himself in my place and how he asks me to do this same thing every day. Some days I am too consumed with myself to do this hard thing that he asks. But today, when I heed this command, my heart becomes glass—a fragile mirror of ice, melting. 
Maybe one moment will not matter. Maybe it will not make a difference inside the accumulation of time that make up the spread of days. But I must live as if it will. So when I look at this one, I am looking at myself; I am looking at Jesus. 
And at least one heart is changed because of the way I choose to see.

Jesus the Party Animal

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her actions. (Matt. 11:18-19)
They thought Jesus was a party animal,” she said, after reading the scripture. “And John was a prude.”
My pastor painted a word picture of a modern day party animal pastor—one who drove a sports car, had “long flowing hair”, and pierced ears. And she said, you have to understandthis is how the religious leaders of his day saw Jesus.
And then she described John as the stodgy old pastor up the way who was a bit consumed by the following of rules. Well, he was a Nazirite, right? No wine could touch his lips and no razor used on his head.
She was speaking in extremes, of course, to make a point, but her illustration sparked my imagination. I drew a picture of the “party animal Jesus” in the margin of my bulletin. Complete with flowing hair and convertible. Jeffrey peeked over my Bible at my artwork and he added an illustrated version of Fingerface in the backseat– glamourized with lipstick and hair that whipped around in the breeze.
The poor will always be with you, he once said. And he shattered their delicate sensibilities. (Matt. 26:10-13). He changed the way the law was perceived (he did not come to abolish it, he said, but to fulfill it.—Matt. 5:17)
He changed everything.
I can’t help but to think that he must have been a lot fun to be around. I bet he laughed a lot.
I thought about this party animal Jesus as I added earrings to my convertible-driving savior. His coming ushered in the new covenant, yes. And even John did not understand. Are you the one? He sent his disciples to ask Jesus while he waited in Herod’s prison.
The stodgy old pastor is made a bit nervous by the sweeping changes that Jesus ushered in. But he accepted them. Even gave his life.
And Jesus? He loved John. So much so, that when he learned of his cousin’s death he withdrew to a solitary place. I imagine no shortage of tears were shed during that time of grieving, shortened as it was by the needs of the people. (Matt. 14:13)
I think about these two men and their love for one another. A love demonstrated by action, sacrifice. And I wonder at the example they have given us. And I wonder why, in the face of change, we have such difficulty following it. 
Linking up with  Michelle today:
And Jen and the sisters:

The Church of the Holy Jeans

I called him from my mother’s on Saturday afternoon.

The boys and I are in town for the night, Dad. I was hoping to stop by tomorrow. What time do you usually get moving?

Come when you can. I’ll make a pot of coffee, was his response.

He did not sound good, and I swallowed my lump of worry. He’s had a cold, he said.

Mom goes to the Kingdom Hall at 9:30. We can make our way over then.

I thought for a minute. I remembered Billy’s post and couldn’t help myself.

We’ll have church, I said.

He was silent on the other end.

We’ll have church, I repeated. We’ll just come as we are.

Ah, he laughed. I’ll wear my holy jeans.

As long as I’ve known him—and that’s all my life—he’s never gone. My aunt once told me that he went to Sunday school as a child. All eight of his brothers and sisters believe.

What happened to their baby brother?

I wonder these things as I drive the streets of my hometown on Sunday morning.

I don’t know if my father believes in Jesus.

All their married life it was just mom and us. Every Sunday morning, every Tuesday and Thursday evening, every Saturday morning…she would dress the four of us up in our finest and drive out the hollow to the Kingdom Hall.

He stayed behind.

Was it them? The Jehovah’s Witnesses? Did he not believe in their ways? It is a difficult path, this I know. Or…is he without faith altogether—godless and uncaring?

I don’t know. I’ve never asked.

Alcohol has been his god for so many years now. I don’t know if he can give faith to Another.

I shake off those thoughts. We head for the outskirts of town.

He had the coffee waiting when I got there. All these years we’ve shared little common ground but coffee is one. He never forgets.

It was dark. The curtains were closed, no lights on, except what radiated from the television and the computer screen. I felt my way to the couch until my eyes adjusted.

The light hurts my eyes, he said.

We settled in on the couch in the dark. My boys were quiet. They listened as we talked, watched me sip my coffee.

I thought about the post again and I began to pray.

Lord, if you want me to say something, You have to give me the opening.

How does one ask their father if he believes in Jesus? How do I step past the familiar dance of avoidance, of small meaningless talk and jump into soul talk with the one whose blood courses through my body?

I couldn’t do it.

I kept praying.

They say I only have 47% use of my lungs, he said.

My breath caught. He talked about the oxygen and how his levels never seemed to go up. He got out his pulse oximeter and let the boys take their pulses and oxygen sats.

I need to quit smoking, he said.

I said nothing. I’ve said it all before.

So I left without saying anything important at all. Except I love you. That’s new too. Somehow it’s easier to say it to this broken-down man than the man I loved and feared as a child.

We left early, so I drove the boys through downtown. I showed them the street where we lived after the divorce. The hill was smaller than I remember, the street more narrow. It was covered in blacktop patches—the perfect picture of the poverty we faced when that was our address. I didn’t drive up to where the house was. It looked too scary. A bad part of town.

We drove over the 4th street bridge and the air was filled with the mouth-watering scent of bread baking. We stopped at Tomaro’s bakery. I bought six pepperoni rolls and two loaves of fresh Italian bread. The boys both ate a roll, still warm from the oven.

I drove slow through the streets, feeling the sorrow of time gone by.

And then we hopped on Rt. 50 and headed home.

I’ll try again next time. Will you please pray? I thank you. This is the hard stuff. But He never said it would be easy.

Guardian

I sometimes see her–catch glimpses in the mirror as I am readying myself for the day. She is but a shadow, a flow of light moving on the periphery. She catches my eye and my breathing stills; heart skips a beat. But when I turn around to greet her, she is gone.

She leaves behind a filmy presence–assurance, comfort.
I know she is there. I feel her presence just as surely as her breath fanning on back of my neck.
Jeffrey feels her presence too. It fills him with dread.
“Mom, is the blanket lighter in that one spot? Do you see it?”
It’s time for the tucking in and we are snuggled together in the dark. I see the shadow he talks about…the light from the street outside shimmers in, illuminating tiny spot.
I hear the fear in his voice, know that when I leave he will pull the covers over his head and sleep this way…cocooned–mummified by fear.
“Do you know the angel of the Lord is here with you? The Bible says, ‘The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him’”.
I pull him close and breathe courage into his skin.
I am scared, he says. And I think it takes courage to say this too.
A long time ago, someone read to me Matthew 18:10.
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
This scripture comforted me as a lonely child…spoke to me a belief in guardian angels. When I was older, I studied the book of Daniel. My belief was strengthened. For, the angel tells Daniel about Michael–the archangel who is the protector of Israel.
Could it be that each nation has an angel-protector? And, if so, is it possible that each person does too?
The Lord says He knows when a sparrow falls from the sky–that I am worth more than many sparrows. He tells me He knows the number of hairs on my head…that He collects my tears in a bottle.

I do not understand the ways of the Lord. I know that Jesus lives in me, I know He is always with me.  I do not think He needs help to do His work…but maybe He sends us comfort through these creatures.

I tell Jeffrey these things. I whisper the constant presence of Jesus over him in the dark with shadows dancing all around.
“He is always with you,” I say.
“But I don’t feel Him,” he responds, near tears.
You have to see with eyes of faith, I tell him. And I tell the story of Elisha, and the chariots of fire. How he and his servant were surrounded by an army from the King of Aram. Elisha told his servant, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
The servant was confused. So Elisha prayed for the Lord to open his eyes. When the servant’s eyes were opened, he saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire.
I feel Jeffrey’s body as I tell this story. I remind him (for we’ve had this discussion before) that there are many things we do not see with our weak eyes. But when we look with eyes of faith, we are reminded of the great power of our God and how much He loves us.
My son is quiet as I finish my tale. He is drifting off to sleep in the arms of his mamma. But it is the Hand of God that will hold him tonight.
When I check on him later I see his face. It is not under the covers as it is on other nights before. His lashes rest on cheeks that I remember as round and full–baby cheeks. As I kneel at his bedside, a shaft of light flows like water across his face.
“Hello,” I whisper. “All angels of Jesus Christ are welcome here.”
Guard him well.