We will do and we will understand

Alisa and I have been trying to read books around the same time and then talk a bit about them. It was her turn to choose, so she chose Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner (a re-read for both of us, actually, but a very timely one). Last night I sent her an insanely long email detailing my thoughts on the first half of the book, but don’t worry, I’m not going to go chapter-by-chapter through the book on here. There are a few things I will probably mention at a later date (like the discussion of weddings which is on my mind as our fifth anniversary rapidly approaches), but one of the things that stuck out to me the most was in the introduction.

Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity . . . for Jews, the essence of the thing is a doing, an action. Your faith might come and go, but your practice ought not waver. (Indeed, Judiasm suggests that the repeating of the practice is the best way to ensure that a doubter’s faith will return.) This is perhaps best explained by a midrash (a rabbinic commentary on a biblical text). This midrash explains a curious turn of phrase in the Book of Exodus: “Na’aseh v’nishma,” which means “we will do and we will hear” or “we will do and we will understand,” a phrase drawn from Exodus 24, in whcih the people of Israel proclaim “All the words that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear.” The word order, the rabbis have observed, doesn’t seem to make any sense: How can a person obey God’s commandment before they hear it? But the counterintuitive lesson, the midrash continues, is precisely that one acts out God’s commands, one does things unto God, and eventually, through the doing, one will come to hear and understand and believe.

As I said to Alisa, last night, I can see how just doing has made a lot of difference in my life lately. The problem is that it doesn’t always turn into more doing. That’s not completely true, actually. I’m just wishing that I could have a return to the days when I would willingly get up at 5:30 every morning and read my Bible and drink my coffee, but I am not yet willing to work to get to that point. So reading spiritual books turned into checking my Bible for a few things, which is slowly turning into reading more in the Bible, which I hope will turn into even more (regular) Bible reading. Don’t they say that if you change too suddenly, it probably won’t stick? I hope my changes, slow as they are, will stick.

I think one of the reasons that liturgy and prayerbooks and just doing things means so much to me is that I never regularly went to a denominational church until about two years ago. My grandparents are Baptist, and we would visit their church, so I feel versed in Baptist lore, but my home church was always nondenominational (even in the – dare I say it – Charismatic/Vineyard vein). Mike also grew up in nondenominational churches, and while neither of us feel that there’s anything wrong with those churches, right now we feel more at home at our Baptist church. Unlike any Baptist church I’ve ever been to, our church does a bit more “high church”-y things like following the church calendar and responsive readings and prayers and things. And the doing of all of that has been very helpful to me.

One point that Lauren Winner didn’t make is that spiritual disciplines often help take away from the individuality I’m-going-at-this-alone that evangelical Christianity often gets trapped in. When your doing is rooted in community (others are praying these prayers with me, others are practicing these same disciplines with me) it reminds you that you are a part of something bigger. You can see the faith of those around you, even when you’re not sure you can muster it yourself. In that way, as Jesus said, the faith of your friends can heal you. Because it can help you keep going, help you believe when you are weak.

I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m going to keep pursuing, because I truly believe that as I do, I will understand.

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