Etz Chayim – reaching for the Tree of Life

It has been almost a full year since I last posted on this blog. Much has happened. After almost 7 years of ‘wilderness wandering’, we finally have our own home again and are settled, albeit out in the rural wilds of north Cornwall, far away from any kind of Messianic fellowship or congregation. I am so thankful, so surprised with joy to receive such good fortune when we thought all was lost. But still I am terribly isolated and lonely and effectively alone in terms of religious fellowship.

I may have mentioned that I had been in search of some fellowship – any kind, really, but it was a very mixed bag of good and bad experiences.

I really liked the Anglican for its freedom of conscience, although there seemed to be no understanding or interest in the Jewish side of the faith and I had the particular bad fortune of being under a priest who had a real bee in his bonnet about evangelicals. The fact that I was verging on being an ‘ex-evangelical’ seemed not to temper his ire. As far as he seemed to be concerned, I was an idiot for ever countenancing such ideas. If anything, his attitude pushed me back into the fundamentalism I was trying to leave. (Freedom of conscience didn’t extend to evangelicals, as far as he was concerned.)

We also tried an independent Pentecostal group who said they were pro-Israel, but they turned out to be extremely negative, narrow-minded and fundamentalist in every way, and the Pentecostal displays of worship put some of my children off church entirely. After everything we have been through, I can hardly blame them.

In the end, I started going to a Salvation Army while my mother was living with us (only for 6 months as it turned out) and I have continued there although it’s far from ideal. Again, there seems to be no understanding or interest in the Jewish roots of Christianity, and the occasional anti-semitic sermon is never a surprise. It takes a lot of energy to keep looking, so for now I am staying put. I can’t say that I am entirely happy, but they do at least put Christianity in action and reach out to the poorest of the poor.

I had wondered recently in what way I can still claim to be ‘Messianic’ – without fellowship or a believing husband to encourage me, the feasts and fasts and even a proper observation of Shabbat has fallen by the wayside. I wonder if I can ever get it back again.

I have made a very good friend online with a woman who had a very different experience of the Messianic movement, having first converted to Orthodox Judaism and come into Messianic Judaism from there rather than as I did, through evangelicalism. We disagree on many things, but her lack of Christian fundamentalism has been an eye-opener for me.

I also have a very good real-life friend who is not a believer, but who was raised in Orthodox Judaism. We have a surprising amount of experiences in common, and her friendship has been a real balm to my soul.

I have started thinking though in terms of abandoning the trappings of religious tradition entirely and instead reaching out for and trying to find the ‘Etz Chayim’, that is the Jesus/ Yeshua who embodies the Tree of Life, and ‘Ha Derek’, the Way itself, Himself.

Coming out of fundamentalism is a very emotional and difficult thing, and in a way I am having to start again and weigh everything up to see what is good and what is bad. That’s probably not a bad thing in itself.

I am trying to get to know the ‘real’ Yeshua from a different perspective now.

I am still at home, muddling through being a wife and homemaker/ housewife, still home educating my youngest.

So what is the future of this blog?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t want to lose my Messianic identity, and I would love to be able to start again from scratch and incorporate more of the Jewish feasts and traditions into my life.

What I don’t want to do, however, is to fall back into the trap of legalism or fundamentalism. It wasn’t life-giving, it was a bottomless pit of darkness that I slipped into gradually without even realising I was doing it, and it nearly ate me up whole before I realised. What I need now is to find the good path, and the Tree of Life.

Shiva: Death, mourning and hope in Jewish Tradition

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, דיין האמת
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, dayan ha-emet.
“Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, the Just Judge.”
After 4 years of trying, hoping and praying since my last loss, and 13 years in total, and finally after giving up completely, I was unexpectedly blessed with pregnancy again.

Sadly this pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 10 weeks, my 6th loss in total.

There are no funerals for miscarriages, no burials. No family get-together, no ‘sitting Shiva’ together. It is a special kind of grief, more lonely and perhaps harder to navigate than any other type of grief, because in our culture pregnancy loss is still taboo, something we still can’t quite face or discuss openly, and thus the sufferer is largely without comfort or understanding.

The traditional period of mourning in Jewish Tradition is 7 days (thus ‘Shiva’, related to the word 7). But the reality is that grief doesn’t follow a neat progression and cannot possibly be restrained within a 7 day period.

The loss of a child isn’t ‘just’ the loss of a baby right at that moment, but the loss of all the hopes and dreams – the loss of that child’s whole life – years and decades and life events that we thought was ahead of them. And even if a mother is graced with another child, this kind of loss changes you, and you always carry that little bit of sadness with you. You never ‘get over’ loss of a child.

I thought I had completely given up and resigned myself to not having any more babies, to ending my family on a loss. Now though of course, I find old wounds re-opened and longings renewed.

But for now, I mourn. 

Mourner’s kaddish
Jewish perspective on miscarriage and stillbirth
Mourning a Jewish miscarriage 
Jewish Prayer after miscarriage or stillbirth

No More Grumbling!

rejoice

As I have told you, times are challenging at the moment for us, and I have been feeling very discouraged.

But this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, features the topic of grumbling quite prominently, and so I am encouraged to put a guard over my mouth and my virtual pen, to only ‘speak life’; in other words, not to grumble and moan but to look for the good in everything, to give thanks in everything and to be grateful for the goodness and mercy that is all around me.

So today I thought I would share some of the things for which I am most grateful.

– My husband, my children, my family
– We have a roof over our head, we are not out on the street, destitute.
– Running, hot water and a shower!
– Plenty of food, and a grocery delivery service!
– My husband has a job where he is happy, and he gets up faithfully early every morning and goes to work, and comes home, and never complains!
– Sunshine and rain in due season
– The books that I have not in storage.

I’m sure there is much more if I would spend some time thinking about it.

Are you making gratefulness and thankfulness a habit, even when it is hard? Even on my darkest days, I can usually find at least 5 things to be thankful for, even if it is just my bed at the end of the day, running water, food to eat, a bit of sunshine and a good conversation.

What are you grateful for today?

Wilderness Experience

I have a confession to make. I try not to let this blog get too personal – I prefer to keep it ‘on topic’, just talking mainly about cooking and housework and crafts.

But here is the thing. I am really, really struggling.

I know that we are blessed in many ways. After our landlord evicted us, we were re-housed against all the odds, in the town where we wanted to be. That was pretty miraculous, but it is far from ideal.

The house that we were put in has turned out to be totally unsuitable – there is no garden for the children (they were pretty heartbroken when we had to sell their trampoline), and since it is designed over three floors (meaning that I have to be more active than I can cope with), I have got much sicker since we moved here. In fact, I seem to be in relapse. I’m arguably sicker now than I was when I first got ill. It’s too small, so most of our books and possessions and furniture is still in storage, and our finances are a nightmare. My kids are ill, there just seems no end of massive, insurmountable problems.

I feel as though I am in the ‘pit’.

The result of this is that I am finding the upkeep of the housework impossible, and I’m not well enough to do the cooking. Added to the physical issues, or perhaps as a result of them, I think I can safely say that I have descended into a deep depression.

And I am feeling a failure.

We have had a run of more than five really rough years now, and I feel as though I have been brought into a long-term, painful wilderness experience, or a ‘Job’ experience, and I don’t really understand why.

So many scripture passages talk about blessing following the keeping of Torah, and for those who bless Israel. So I just keep wondering, what have I done wrong, and why am I missing the blessing? And when is it going to end?

I pray, I read the Word, I try to remain faithful. But it feels as though my prayers fall on deaf ears, and I have never felt more distant from Abba.

I never expected the ‘narrow way’ to be quite this rocky.

Pesach Cleaning

I learn something new every Pesach – about myself, about housework, about the nature of sin and cleanliness, and this year has been no different.

I am sure I have mentioned before that I felt that one of the lessons of Passover is that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t get rid of all the dirt (sin, for which yeast, leaven, chametz is a metaphor) on our own, because it is never finished, the dirt just keeps on coming.

This year, we are in the middle of moving house, so clearing and cleaning two houses. The new house is exactly that – a brand new build where nobody has lived before. I thought that this side of things would be easy, but I have been amazed at how quickly the dust and dirt has mounted up. We may not have much in the way of actual chametz here, but we certainly have dust and dirt!

At the old house, the revelations have been even more startling. Moving things that never usually get moved, like the cooker, has made me realise how the dirt collects in places we’re not looking, not paying attention to, and how once a year ‘spring cleaning’ may not be enough – much more thorough, regular cleaning is going to have to be a feature of life at our new place.

And the spiritual application, of course, is that we need to be making regular self-evaluations, regular repentance, and regular washing (by the Water of the Word).

I am reminded of the classic story of the rabbi who told his students, “Make Teshuvah (repent) one day before you die.” His students would respond with the question, “But how do you know when it is one day before you will die?” The answer of course is that you don’t know, so you must make Teshuvah every day!

Am I Jewish?

I was asked recently if I am Jewish. (When I told somebody I was Messianic, she said “Wow, I didn’t realise you were Jewish”) It was a rhetorical statement rather than a question so I didn’t need to respond to it directly. But the answer is yes… but no… but it’s complicated.

I came very, very close to converting to Reform Judaism (I looked at Orthodox Judaism too) some years ago but, in the end, I decided that it wasn’t the right path for me simply because Jesus was too central to my life and thinking to give up. But in the process of studying and being in Judaism I discovered that being Jewish is much more than religion – it is a people and culture (and country!) that I love, and so I consider myself Jew-ish.

The name I took (Shoshana) is now an integral part of my identity. As the convert Ruth said, your people will be my people, your God will be my God. So in the simplest Ruth-ite sense, I consider myself one with the Jewish people even if I am not recognised as such.

But more than that I realised that, through Messiah, I am grafted in to the Olive Tree of Israel, as are all believers, whether or not they recognise either themselves or natural Israel as in any way connected.

I have taken a lot of Judaism (sabbath, the festivals, food and music etc) back into my Christianity, because I love it and I believe it is good and true. A lot of people don’t like it but I’m not about to conform to please people. And for a long time, I agonised over having one foot in both camps, but now I’m comfortable in that position.

I consider myself to be standing in the gap, a repairer of the breach. The nation of Israel and the Jewish people need the support and friendship of Christians, now more than ever. Those of us who are in the mainstream church can and should be a voice for Israel and the Jewish people for as long as they are able to be. The church, meanwhile, needs to rediscover the roots of its own faith in Biblical Judaism and it needs to be restored to the truth of Torah.

As I explained to a new believer recently, the antinomianism of the modern church is a very new phenomenon. The Roman Catholic church believed in law, but it believed that having the ‘keys of the kingdom’ meant that it could discard God’s Law and replace it with its own. The protestant church rejected that claim, but traditionally divided God’s Law into moral, ceremonial and civil / judicial, and kept only that which it considered to fall under the category of moral law. Messianic believers on the other hand see no basis for such a division.

Increasingly though, and very sadly, even so-called evangelical churches are becoming antinomian, crucially misunderstanding the nature of the Law, the nature of sin and the nature of sanctification. I was told recently by an evangelical group that ‘Christ put an end to the Law’, adding that the Law was only for Jews. That really is a twisting of the truth that Messiah fulfilled the Law, setting us free. It is not Law that we need to be freed from, however, but sin (Why would gentiles need to be freed from Jewish Law?!). But thanks to the so easily misunderstood writings of Paul, taken out of context, these misapprehensions persist.

Cleaning Deadlines

We have a property inspection tomorrow morning. It’s one of the many down sides to renting. But as much as I’m dreading it, there is nothing like an externally imposed deadline for motivating you to get things done.

So although there is still work to do today, the house is looking tidier and cleaner and more organised than it has done since we moved in.

What I’ve realised about housework (and here comes the metaphor) is that, like sin, and the leaven that represents sin at Passover, it’s a relentless battle.

You can’t rest back and assume it’s conquered. Maybe there is a sense in which it is conquered once and for all in the heavenlies (and I think that my own personal heaven will be a self-cleaning & self-tidying house!), but in the gritty, earthly here and now, you have to wash daily, battle it constantly and never give up.

Shabbat and Passover & the Feast of Unleavened Bread represent little windows into a heavenly future time when we’ve come into the fulness of the Kingdom.

May your Kingdom come, Yeshua!

Preparing for Passover

Cleaning is not really my forte. As much as I’d like to be domesticated, it doesn’t come naturally at all.

I’m also slightly drowning in stuff and boxes after moving house, and wondering whether I will ever get on top of it.

But thankfully, Passover is about more than cleaning. I can’t help feeling that preparing spiritually is just as important as, if not more important than the practical side of preparing by removing the physical chametz.

If there’s one thing I have learnt over the years of being Messianic, it is that I cannot remove the chametz – the leaven, representing sin – myself. That is the real point of Passover though from a New Covenant perspective – Yeshua came to take the leaven away because our efforts always fail to bridge the gap. I’m mixing metaphors in there, I know – the metaphors aren’t perfect, they’re just supposed to be pictures to help us understand the spiritual realities.

How do you get ready for passover?

Preparing for Passover

Ten Steps to Preparing for Pesach

Preparing Spiritually for Passover

 

What’s in your Planner?

I just had to share this, as I am a plannerholic! Diaries, notebooks and planners are among my absolute favourite things!

In fact I have several planners on the go this year, for different things. My favourite format is Filofax (personal and A5), although over the years I have tried just about ever planner and every format available!

My current planners are: a purple personal filofax for my handbag that goes everywhere with me, an A5 purple filofax for general planning that stays at home (on what currently passes for a desk) an old, slightly falling apart black A5 filofax that houses my daily to-do list, and an A5 Paperchase planner for my prayer list.

I also have separate planners for homeschool and study. I know, I’m a stationery addict 🙂

I have been meaning to post about what is on my To Do list, so I will aim to do that next.

http://homemakersdaily.com/use-your-planner-especially-when-you-dont-want-to/

So do you use a planner or a diary? Do you wish, like I do, that there were a specifically Jewish or Messianic woman’s planner?

Messianic Distinctives

I have been thinking recently about what it means to be Messianic. For three years now I have had no Messianic fellowship at all – there is simply nothing available in this part of the world – and so, after being completely isolated for so long (and even without internet fellowship) I have started again to look for Christian fellowship, and have had to determine where I can be in agreement, and where I must draw the line.

So what does Messianic mean?

Messianic Judaism, or the Messianic faith is far from homogenous – there is a broad spectrum ranging from something which to all intents and purposes resembles mainstream Christianity, right through to something which resembles something more like Orthodox Judaism.I wrote this basic list in around 2007 in an attempt to formulate some `distinctives’ (differences from mainstream Christianity) to which all Messianics would be able to agree.
[1] We fully identify ourselves with the Jewish people: For those of us who are of a Jewish background and heritage, we remain Jews. For those of us who are of a gentile background and heritage, we see ourselves as ‘grafted in’ to the Covenant People, Israel. We do not remain `gentiles’ in the sense of ‘pagan’ (although the Hebrew word ‘goyim’ also carries the meaning ‘Nations’). We do not stop being English / French / African / Australian or whatever, and we do not become `Jews’.
To be fair though, even this is not without contention. Most Jewish congregations do not accept non-Jews as part of Israel, denoting this whole idea as ‘replacement theology’ and saying that non-Jews can be part of the ‘commonwealth’ but never properly part of Israel. I don’t personally think that is a fair criticism.  We are supposed to be ‘One New Man’, the Body of Christ. Read Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. What if a Jewish Messianic marries a non-Jewish Messianic? Are their children Jewish? No, I am convinced that these distinctions should not be perpetuated indefinitely. There is to be neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. But as with other race problems in the Church at large, we’re not there yet.
[2] We seek to recover the lost heritage of the essential `Jewishness’ of the ‘faith’ – that is the ‘Christian’ faith, the original Messianic faith in Yeshua (Jesus), and perhaps emphasising the Jewishness of the early church by including the use of Hebrew names, and a movement away from pagan-derived non-Hebrew religious names and vocabulary. (This is much more prevalent in the Sacred Names movement, which is connected to but perhaps a somewhat separate branch to Messianic Judaism.)
[3] We celebrate the Scriptural and Jewish Feasts, including Sabbath, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach/ Passover, FirstFruits/ Omer/ Shavuot (`Pentecost’ in Greek) as well as Hanukkah and Purim in preference to `Christian-ised’ pagan-derived feasts such as Christmas and Easter. (The more Christian branch of Messianic spectrum, that formerly called itself Hebrew or Jewish Christians, tends to retain all the Christian festivals, and tends not to view any possible pagan connections as a problem.)
Additionally, some adopt a kosher diet – abstaining from pork and shellfish – understanding that Paul’s vision was a metaphor for welcoming non-Jewish people into the faith and not, as Christians understand it, abandoning the food laws themselves.
[4] We have a reverence for Torah in its entirety, not just the `ten commandments’, as “inspired, profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness”. (Not to earn salvation, as the Messianic movement is often accused of)
There is an unfortunate tendency to get stuck in the minutiae of the Feasts without going on to searching out the ‘Weightier Matters of the Law’. I have been down that path myself, and I have seen good people disappear into an abyss of rules and regulations, losing their love and compassion along the way. It’s not a pretty picture.
The weightier matters of the Law are pretty clear from scripture – they include Justice (justice for the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, the widow, the orphan, the imprisoned, the victim), Mercy and Love.
For those reasons, the church with which I have involved myself recently – although it  may not seem an obvious choice, given their love of Christmas – is The Salvation Army. Obviously we differ on the significance of the sabbath and the festivals; and I am pretty sure it is a denomination that tends towards replacement theology. I am pretty sure we differ theologically. I’m also pretty sure that it wouldn’t be the most comfortable place for a Messianic believer.
But ultimately, I feel that as a single, isolated believer, I am doing no good, but as part of an extended body, despite theological differences, we can achieve some good. And when you look at Christianity as a whole, what denomination is doing more towards Tikkun Olam? (Healing the World)
The Messianic view of the Law, Torah, is quite different from mainstream Christianity – it is not a burdensome, undesirable curse of a thing that you would want to get rid of. Instead, it is viewed as a gift. A beautiful, restful, peaceful haven of safety. Torah is viewed as freedom, not something we need to be freed from.
The Salvation Army, perhaps alone in having the ‘liberal’ values of wanting to help the poor and disadvantaged, tends to be fairly conservative theologically in terms of valuing ‘holiness’. Although they divide the Law into the classic ‘Moral, Civil and Ceremonial’ categories, rejecting the ‘Civil’ and ‘Ceremonial’, they do at least continue to believe that the Law is a good thing.
I was thinking today that, if I were asked to ‘work’ on Shabbat (in terms of Salvation Army work), for instance, I would struggle, I would certainly wrestle with whether or not I could or should ‘work’. But it occurred to me to wonder what constitutes Biblical ‘work’ – I generally wouldn’t cook or shop on the sabbath, but what about healing the sick? feeding the hungry? rescuing the endangered? At this point, I haven’t been asked to do anything that would make me struggle or question.
But I think that it would be possible to retain integrity as a Messianic believer at the same time as giving up the gift of the sabbath to do good. After all, isn’t that what Yeshua himself did?

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