Showing posts with label conversion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conversion. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. 
I am the LORD your God.
(Numbers 15:41)
This verse appears at the very end of the Sh’ma, the prayer that observant Jews recite twice a day. One of the central stories of the Jewish people is the Exodus from Egypt—the move from slavery to freedom—and, on one level, the story preserves a collective memory. On another level, though, we can understand it as a metaphor for other kinds of liberating transformations. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, can also be translated as narrow straits. The move from Mitzrayim to liberation mirrors my move into Judaism—from a narrow place in which I had all but given up on finding religious grounding, to the liberating gift of a tradition that offers me deep sustenance and a clearer relationship with God than I had previously thought possible. It is as though I passed through a narrow channel into a vast expanse of possibility. In this verse, God is doing the speaking and acting, in order that God may be known and in relationship with people. On its own, this is such a beautiful statement about the love and deep partnership between people and God. As a metaphor for my personal journey, the idea that God brought me out of narrow places in order to be known and in relationship evokes waves of wonder, joy, gratitude, and amazement—making it difficult, sometimes, to get those last few words of the Sh'ma out of my mouth.

Yaira’s comment about God ‘delivering’ her through her personal spiritual journey reminded me of my own ongoing journey along the ‘straight path’ of Islam to reclaim my purpose as a created human. In Islam we are taught that the inherent state of all creation is that of a muslim, literally, one who submits to God. The natural world exists in this state; babies are born in this state of submission. However, due to cultural and other profane influences, humans deviate from this state during our lifetimes. The purpose of Islam is to create a path on which we strive to reclaim our innate state of being—our natural state of submission to the Creator. It is not a forced existence with spiritual hoops to leap through, but a way of being fully human. In this verse, I noticed that the delivery of the Israelites from slavery was for a specific purpose. Speaking to the newly delivered Israelites, God says that He “brought you out of Egypt to be your God.” So, their freedom from subjugation to the Egyptians was replaced by freedom to serve God. This is our natural stateour “muslimness.” One final thought: when we pray for deliverance from the things that are oppressing us, we need to consider that true freedom does not mean lack of submission, but rather submission to our true purpose. As Bob Dylan so famously said, “You gotta serve somebody.”

Like Yaira and Amanda, I came to my current faith tradition as an adult. I was raised in an agnostic household and spent my childhood and young adulthood searchingyearningfor something that I could not define. I found a spiritual home in Christianity, and with it, a sense of freedom from doubt and fear. When I hear the words “I am the Lord your God,” I think of God’s enduring love for all people, God’s mercy, and God’s deliverance. I also think of God calling us to be better people as we attempt to live according to the promise of our being made in God’s image. Amanda’s articulation of the inherent state of creation in Islam is a nice parallel to the Christian concept of grace. It is through faith that we access the power of grace to do what God requires of us, which is “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) We respond to “the Lord our God” by seeing ourselves bound in duty, love, and gratitude to keep all of God’s commandments.
Meet Guest Bloggers Yaira, Amanda & LeeAnne on the About Us page!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Proclaiming our Faith

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
The Gospel of Matthew 28:19-20

Known to Christians as “The Great Commission,” this text often evokes polarizing responses. On the one hand, it assures followers of Jesus that a living God is eternally present; and that, in obeying what Jesus taught, all on earth can be blessed.  Undeniably, however, many non- Christians and even some Christians have felt overwhelmed by a zealous missionary, at home or abroad, who seeks to convert the “alien other” to God. I believe that I can be a devout Christian and, at the same time, see God in all persons.  I especially appreciate the maxim attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel, and, if necessary, use words;” for, to me, heeding the Great Commission means living a life that embodies Jesus’ summary of the Commandments: to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself.

Da’wa is the Arabic word for “invitation,” and is used in Islam to denote the practice of spreading God’s message. It is explained in the Quran:  “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.” (al-Nahl 16:125) This verse is both a reassuring and humbling ideal. It is reassuring because it expresses the underlying notion of strong trust in God, the All-Knowing, Who sees into the hearts of all people, whether or not they display signs of guidance. And it is humbling because it reminds us that a Muslim will always fall short of conveying the beauty of God’s message, no matter how knowledgeable and how spiritual he or she is. For this reason, every Muslim, at every stage of life—whether practicing the formal da’wa or not—recites the following supplication: “O God, guide us, guide through us, and allow us to be a reason for the guidance of others.”

While Judaism welcomes convertsthe early rabbis established rituals surrounding formal conversion by the 4th centuryJews do not actively proselytize.  The main reason that Jews do not seek converts is that, throughout the centuries, proselytizing was often forbidden by the ruling religious majority.  In some historical periods it was even a capital crime for Jews to convert non-Jews, so Jewish evangelism did not develop as normative tradition for political reasons. Although Jews may be free to proselytize in many countries today, the collective history of Jewish persecution leads to our ongoing reluctance to proclaim our faith.  In fact, the custom of rabbis actually discouraging prospective converts in order to test their sincerity continues to this day, and—in the moment just before conversion—rabbis will often ask prospective converts if they are “choosing of their own free will to cast their lot with the Jewish people.”  Following his or her immersion in the mikvah (ritual bath), the new Jew proclaims the faith by reciting, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." (Deuteronomy 6:9)