Starting Lent

I had a dream last night that I was taking communion in the Catholic Church.  Although from a mixed family, my mother is a deeply religious person, and as such, I was baptized and raised in the church.  In spite of the fact that I consider myself to be theologically Jewish, I have great respect for the good that the church has done, and the path that it offers for many.  If one accepts that there is an idealized potential in every life, and considers that potential to be the soul, it is with great care that any institution makes recommendations to lead the individuals that will follow it toward achieving that potential.

So, it was with sadness that I noted the resignation of the Pope.  Although, I cannot really find myself in any institution, I do consider it to be a path for many.  Unlike some of my contemporaries who dismiss religion, I have always tried to treat organized religion with respect, even if I don’t always agree with every position.  That said, as I struggled through the emotions of dealing with what is happening to my body, I found myself needing to focus on human beings and their work in order to be proactive.  As I sat in the doctor’s office, I did pray, shortly, for my cousin, that they will find a way to heal her from the stroke, for myself, that they will find a way to heal my body.  Knowing deep down that God could heal me if God chose to, I am still more comfortable with that power being transferred through other people.  I have learned to cringe at the “medical” faith-healing experiments that people sometimes try to perform, and to be very skeptical of the implied sin-disease connection.  Yet, my prayer concluded with, God’s in charge, may God’s will be done.

So, did the Church give up leadership for lent?  Is the Pope expecting the second coming?  I have no doubt that God works through the Pope.  That still does not mean agreement on every point.  He presents one path, out of many for me.

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Still Jewish, I started Lent early on Mardi Gras.  It’s probably the right day for me.  I went to church, sitting and reflecting on sin, and I decided for myself that although I cannot be purified from sin, there are some sins that I can acknowledge, try to let go of, and accept some self-imposed sanctions regarding.

1) failing to care for my body in the best possible way.  It’s admittedly a full time job, replete with many wrathful and anxiety-filled moments.

2) an occasional inability to reconcile with others where I have needed anger to protect myself.

3) frustrations toward other groups of people, where I have sometimes resorted to labeling them without seeing them as individuals.

4) misjudgment of situations.

5) failing to care for the environment in the best possible way at all times.

Resolutions for Lent:

1. 5 days of complete fasting.

2. Restrict heat to a single room when used by using an electric radiator.

3. Restrict water to short showers.

4. Daily walks or runs with my dogs.

5. Learn 5 Hebrew psalms

6. Learn some Greek

7. Set aside a little, every day, for charity

8. Give up soda

I listened to the priest, who has struggled so hard to achieve being a priest, who leads his congregation through mourning, through distress, and through incomprehensible questions, and yet lives a life of little means and subject to much authority and discipline, trying to prepare his own soul, as well as the souls of his community.  I prayed for the direction of the church.  I had liked the philosophical and linguistic background of Pope Benedict very much.  I think the church needs centralized leadership – a representative figure.

The philosophy, theology, and religion class this week had focused on introducing Calvin, with his counter-reform movement.  He apparently expressed in at least one place, ideas of intolerance, and the idea that very few people could be saved.  He may have considered all of humankind quite depraved and incapable of anything good.  With this extreme position, I found myself thankful, that although I prefer the annual communal confession of the Jews, that the Catholic church (at great difficulty to its priests) offers more regular opportunities for confession and reconciliation with God.

We had talked about the difference between precepts and orders.  Precepts are guidelines, and orders are mandated.  The mandated part of a traditional religious life is a part of what I reject.  The other part may be the transparency.  In the human realm, our responsibility and sphere of influence is generally limited to what we physically do.  This is a more Jewish, and practical idea.  When one accepts a religious life, however, every thought and emotion is audited for consistency with God’s will.  This lack of privacy, or inability to give voice to my own transient yet sometimes impassioned feelings without sanction, bothers me.  I think it is a source of tension.  One should have God-awareness, but there should also be human-awareness.

In the end, one comes back to the word “שראל”.  What does it literally mean to be part of the tribe of Israel? What does it literally mean to be a member of those who “struggle with or turn the head of God” (the literal translation of Israel)?  God yet loves us, too.

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