Holiness in Life
Last Jewish high holidays, I once again experienced the sense of G-d as holy and ‘other’, and began my journey of trying to seek holiness in daily life.
I come from a right-wing, fundamentalist Christian background, with people who had all the answers, and yet hadn’t begun to know what many of the questions are. My tradition encouraged a familiarity with G-d and Jesus, and tended to be quite irreverent. As far back as I can remember, I have been drawn to more traditional forms of worship, and am more at home in high church venues, with lots of liturgy, form, history, reverence, and even incense.
I have the privilege to work across various spiritual traditions and find my life enriched and challenged by observing and participating, even peripherally. I’m drawn to experiences that deeply connect with others .... and with G-d as ‘other’.
And yet, I also find connection with G-d intimidating and overwhelming. How do I reverence my beliefs in my life and maintain that connection to the Holy, and still be all right? On some level, I want to call Him “Abba” (Father), and on another, I’m so aware of my frailty and unworthiness. I’m so drawn to the high holiday liturgy that recites “Avinu, Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King). I find that Reform Judaism (with which I have the most contact) handles this tension with better focus than most of the other traditions I’ve encountered.
What does it mean to have a parent G-d, and G-d who is King, and who truly reigns? How does that enact itself in my life? Do we only experience these things when we take time away from life? Is that what holidays are for – to draw us back? How do we maintain that depth of relationship?
And there’s the part of me that’s scared...what might G-d ask me to do? Will it be hard? Will it hurt? How can I live with that? It has been before .... and I was raised on those stories of G-d asking people to do incredible things – the repercussions for disobedience being quite terrifying.
And I know I’m not always strong, and sometimes I’m too rigid and need to be broken to move forward ....
Should I need to protect myself from G-d? Isn’t it odd to frame life that way? It gives me comfort that “He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.”(1)
I was an adult before I was sure that G-d loved me. I have struggled against His/Her guiding hand, only to be happy when I get to the end of my rope, and succumb to obedience. And yet, the next time continues to be a struggle...
I think Lewis says it well:
“I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over – I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.”(2)
So now, being aware helps and I hope to keep growing and knowing more and more on this journey we call life. My daughter challenges me – “do you have to go to church to say thank you?” My friends, clients and colleagues push me deeper. My life continues to weave through the bends and turns of the road, and I’m learning as I go, struggling to grow...
... and trying to find joy in the journey, because “Joy is the serious business of heaven”.(3)
1 Psalm 103:14, The Bible
2 C S Lewis, The Business of Heaven, (1984), September 28th, p 244-5.
3 Ibid, January 4th, p. 18-19.