I’m 67, and I’ve been a Christian since I was 19, almost 50 years now. I’ve made some interesting discoveries and surprising turns in my spiritual pilgrimage; raised Catholic, I “got saved” in a Pentecostal Holiness church as a young sailor in the Navy. By turns in a CMA church and in a charismatic church. Previously an ordained minister in a pentecostal church and currently a very satisfied nothing in a Methodist church.
Doctrinally, it’s been an odd journey, as well. When I was first saved, I was discipled in the faith by devout brothers and sisters who taught me in the ways of pre-trib rapture, and a mélange of Calvinist and Arminian thought. Over the years, I’ve jettisoned the pre-trib and Calvinism. I’ve overshot the Arminians by a long chalk, to the point of being a thorough-going Pelagian (Augustine’s final bogeyman). I make no bones about rejecting the doctrine of Original Sin and believing that the classical Christian understanding of Omniscience and foreknowledge is deeply flawed.
But in all of my spiritual travels, one aspect of my faith has been a constant, always on the periphery of my faith, tagging along with me on my journey. From time to time I would wait for it to catch up with me and spend a little time communing with it. Then I’d go on my merry way, knowing that it was behind me, somewhere nearby, waiting for me to stop again. That co-traveler that has always been with me is the historic root of Christianity, Judaism.
When Wife and I were first married, we both felt a tug in our hearts toward Israel and the Jews, feeling that there had to be a deep connection between we Christians and the tree from which we sprang. As a result, Wife and I made informal and fitful attempts to learn about Judaism. Back in the 70’s, along with the Jesus Movement that sprang up, there was also an explosion in Messianic Judaism, as well.
In our Tidewater area, a messianic synagogue was founded, and from time to time, Wife and I would drive over to the next city and attend Friday night Sabbath services. During this time, we discovered a singing group that we fell in love with, Kol Simcha, and an abiding love for their music has stayed with us.
(Just tonight, I searched YouTube and played an old song from one of the first LPs we ever owned, Shema. When it started playing, Wife started singing with it, not missing a note. Mind you, we haven’t played that album in, oh, nearly 30(?) years, but she didn’t miss a note.)
As well, we took an Understanding Judaism class at a local community college, taught by the rabbi of a local conservative synagogue, and we attended a few Friday Shabbat services there, as well. One Sabbath day, we attended the celebration of Simchat Torah, which was memorable for me. Simchat Torah is the joyous celebration of the Torah, and in that service, there is music and dancing, as the scrolls of the Torah are taken out of the ark and carried in jubilation around the sanctuary by members of the synagogue. During the celebration, one of the congregants asked me if I wanted to carry the scroll, and not knowing the protocol, I declined, saying that I would love to, but by not being Jewish, I didn’t know if I would offend by taking it. He smiled at me and said, “I’m a doctor, I can take care of that right away!”
One Continuous Companion
During this time, I came across a very interesting book in our library that I checked out and read from cover to cover: The First Jewish Catalog. Modelled after a popular counterculture book of the day, it was a one-stop font of Jewish knowledge and practice for young Jews influenced by the 60’s-70’s counterculture who still might have spiritual yearnings but deep mistrust of the institutional synagogues in which they’d been raised. (They were much like the Jesus People of the same period.)
I learned of the tallis and tzitzit, and the practice of using prayer shawls, and what the tallis represented. In Numbers 15:38-39, Moses wrote:
Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, … (ESV)
I was intrigued and inspired by the article about the tallis, the prayer shawl, and how to use it in one’s spiritual pilgrimage. The section on the procedure for donning the tallis/tallit (both are correct) made me wonder about the possibility of personal use of a tallis:
2. Immediately before putting on the Tallit, hold it out before you spread out and say the Baracha [blessing]: Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to enwrap ourselves in tzitzit.
3. After this, bring the Tallit around behind you (like a cape) and, before letting it rest on your shoulders, cover your head with it, and allow yourself to feel totally enwrapped, sheltered, and protected. After this bring the Tallit to your shoulders and wear it. [my emphasis]
Many synagogues have Judaica shops in order to provide their congregations with access to items used in Jewish services, homes, etc. (Tell the truth, how many Jewish bookstores in your neck of the woods?) I called the synagogue where Wife and I attended the Simchat Torah service and asked if it would be permissible for me, a Christian, to purchase a tallis. After a tentative questioning as to why a Gentile would want a tallis, it was decided that, while out of the norm, my intent was devout, and I was allowed to purchase one.
Acting on the advice of the Catalog, I purchased a large one, one that fell over my arms and shoulders. For me, I found, and still find, that the writer was correct, that bringing the tallis down onto my head, covering my face with the tallis while I say the Baracha does make me feel that I am entering into my own private sanctuary with God. Just as the high priest entered into the Tent of Meeting to meet God in the Holy of Holies, I feel that I am in my own portable sanctuary, away from the world and separated to God.
To this day, I have my tallis and occasionally use it.
Next post: realising what I know may not be so.