Learning from other traditions

My husband was raised Jewish and celebrated his bar mitzvah when he was 14. Although he no longer attends weekly services, the holidays of his youth still echo in his heart. Therefore, in our home, amidst all the Advent candles and early Christmas preparations, we also celebrate Hanukkah.

This was a learning curve for me.When we were first married, I was eager to learn my beloved’s traditions. We started out by buying children’s books to enhance my education about the basics of this beautiful celebration. Just weeks after our wedding, we went to a Hanukkah festival at a nearby synagogue and purchased our first menorah together. Twenty-seven years later, we continue to share the stories and traditions with our adult children.

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On each of the eight nights, we light candles and recall the ancient miracle of a meager amount of oil that continued to burn brightly as it reflected the faith of the believers. We ponder the significance of God overcoming terrifying circumstances and the ability of a small group of dedicated people to stand up for their beliefs. We celebrate God’s faithfulness and take hope from the growing light shining in the darkness.

We enjoy latkes with applesauce and cherish a bit of family time as we spin the dreidel and play games.  Hanukkah is not the most important Jewish holiday, but its light-hearted joy offers vital reminders about standing up against evil and trusting in God.  

It turns out, of course, that it doesn’t have to be my tradition in order to have something to teach me. It doesn’t have to be my heritage in order to reveal more about the God I love.  While celebrating a holiday that is not my own, I have experienced what a wise (Jewish) professor of mine identified as “holy appreciation.” That is, I have the ability to appreciate the holy practices of others and when I do, I can learn about values that we both share.

We are not all meant to be alike.We are not called to all worship the same way. We can, however, learn with and from one another. And then everyone will be stronger.

For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mind, if we

each are free to light our own flame, together we can banish some

of the darkness in the world.

  • Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Discovering God’s people

God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…”  Genesis 1:26

When I was a little girl my grandmother traveled around the world on a “tramp steamer.” This relatively inexpensive ship allowed her to spend months crisscrossing the globe while our family enjoyed her travels vicariously. We had a world map mounted on a hallway wall which helped us monitor her movements. Every time a postcard arrived, we would read it eagerly, marveling at the sights and sounds she was experiencing. Then we would carefully and somewhat ceremoniously place a pin in her current location. Soon colorful dots marked her journey from one hemisphere to another.

Every once in a while a package would arrive with a doll or other interesting artifact from her adventures.  This was the beginning of my doll collection; I still treasure the brightly colored costumes that represent the variety of cultures she experienced.

As a child, my goal in life was to be able to add to that collection myself. I looked forward to the day when I would be able to travel and discover new customs, foods, and cultures on my own. My first overseas trip was as a high school summer exchange student to Germany. That was enough to encourage me to travel whenever and wherever I could.  My college junior year abroad (in Germany, again) led to two additional years of living and working in Europe. When I went to seminary, international travel was encouraged so that we could broaden our horizons and our understanding of religions and cultures other than our own. That led to study trips to Costa Rica and Israel.

My dream was to pass my curiosity and love of learning on to my children. We traveled as a family to Bolivia to participate in home-building and education support.   My children have since ventured to places I have not (yet) experienced including Senegal, Japan, Wales, and Spain. I believe it has been a vital part of their education, giving them a broader perspective on the world and on themselves.

The only way to learn about one another – whether across the globe or in our own town – is to experience each other’s world. We need to talk with – and listen to – each other. We live in a nation divided by politics and opinions.  It is imperative that we wonder about each other, ask questions of one another, and carefully consider what the other person is saying.

One way to approach each other is with a holy curiosity. We can ponder – what is it like to be that person?  What has been their life experience? What has formed and shaped them? What do they believe and why?  What can I learn from them?

We will not agree with – or even like – everyone we meet. But if we approach people with the understanding that every one of us is created in the image of God, that might be a place to begin.

Messages of Light

“Name 10 things you are thankful for.”  It was the morning of December 24th. My husband and I lay in bed, enjoying the calm before the storm known as “the holidays.”  It was, of course, the dawn of Christmas Eve. It also marked the beginning of Hanukkah. Since my husband grew up in a Jewish household, we celebrate both holidays.

“Do the three kids count as one blessing or as three?” he asked, wanting to get the rules of this exercise right, or perhaps just eager for breakfast.  “Each one is an individual blessing,” I decided.  We agreed that each child is unique and deserving of our gratitude and prayers.

We ended our thankfulness list by naming God who, in both our traditions, offers light and encouragement. Whether we are anticipating the arrival of Christmas with our Advent candles or enjoying the increasing light on each night of Hanukkah, we give thanks that God’s faithfulness cannot be dimmed.

Our menorah and our crèche stand side by side every December.  Each were both made in Israel. I bought the hand-crafted olive wood figures during a three week course in Jerusalem. The menorah was the first purchase my husband and I made as newlyweds.

creche

When our children were little, the shepherds and kings would often wander away from the stable to encircle the lights of the menorah.  That didn’t look wrong to us; it was as if those tiny figures were reminding us that both holidays are about hope and faith, endurance and trust. The gift we endeavored to pass along to our children was the message of faith in an unfailing God and the joy that both holidays can bring.

Before we were married, we worried about how to bring our two faiths together, honoring both, without compromising either. Twenty-five years later, that challenge seems more important than ever.  We live in an era of division, fear and distrust.  It seems critical to take time to review our blessings and listen to the life-giving message our faiths offer.

When I see the lights of the menorah shining on the stable of Bethlehem, it lets me dream about a time when people of all faiths and backgrounds might join together to celebrate hope and resilience. We can listen to and learn from one another as together we share glimpses of our steadfast God.

May that light continue to shine in the New Year and enable us to recognize one another as beloved children of God.

menorah

Advent and Hanukkah Lights

Our menorah and our crèche stand side by side every December. When we go into our basement to unpack our holiday treasures, our family prepares to celebrate Roger’s Jewish traditions as well as my Christian beliefs. Hanukkah and Advent overlap dates on the calendar, so our menorah candles and manger scene share space on our window sill.  The glowing lights grow increasingly bright as we add a candle each night to our menorah and light another candle on our Advent wreath.

Hanukkah menorah

Our children were immersed in both traditions from an early age. When they were feeling creative, the shepherds and kings would wander away from the stable to encircle the lights of the menorah. That doesn’t look all wrong to me – it is as if those tiny figures are reminding us that both holidays are celebrating hope and faith and trust. Both lift up God’s faithfulness in the past and encourage us to depend on God’s strength today.

The gift we endeavored to pass onto our children is the message of faith in an unfailing God and the joy that both holidays offer.

Our crèche and our menorah were both made in Israel. I bought the hand-crafted olive wood figures when I attended a three-week course in Jerusalem while I was still in seminary. The menorah was the first purchase Roger and I made as newlyweds.

Before we got married, we had endless conversations about how to bring our two faiths together, honoring both, without compromising either. We both believe that God is bigger than any human expression of religion. We need the message and insights from both of these ancient traditions.

Advent wreath

When I see the lights of the menorah shining on the stable of Bethlehem, it lets me dream of a time when people of all faiths and backgrounds might join together to celebrate the hope God gives us to share.