Monday, January 16, 2017

In the Beginning



I had a mentor. His name was Dr. William Elefant. He was a strong Jewish man, vehemently dedicated to the writings of the Torah. We met unassumingly enough, though now I see how auspicious the event truly was.

We would meet in a library in the middle of Denver, a sort of central point for both of us. When he walked into the room, his gait revealed many things about him, but two really stick in my mind. The first was that he would not be encumbered by his age. Though late into his 70’s he walked with purpose and joyfulness. The second was that one would never know he was in pain with each step. 

While he taught me many things about the Jewish faith, he also revealed many things about my own Christian journey, and to this day I am grateful to God (and Thomas Smith) for introducing us. He taught me about Gematria, the Jewish way of using letters and numbers. He introduced me to the book, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet (by Rabbi Michael Munk), which opened up a whole new world for me. 

I’ll never forget the day he said, “Today, I wish to show you something special.” We had been talking about my research on science and faith and how the topics intersected in so many ways. So now we made our way over to the other side of the library, Dr. Elefant’s feet shuffling while mine striding, a side effect of our ages. 

“There,” he said as we reached a massive book displayed on a special wooden slab. “You need this gem.”

The book was called the Tanach and I have mentioned it before. What I have not described is the intensity in which this man loved this book. He tenderly laid hands upon it and shook his head as if he was not worthy of it. “This is truth,” Dr. Elefant said, “and you will not be able to finish your work without it.”

I took copious notes of the things Dr. Elefant taught me, but I’ve never forgotten those particular words. He knew I was working on a manuscript that wove science and faith together and he adamantly encouraged me.

After he died in the fall of 2011, I set my research aside. It was too difficult to continue at the moment and life seemed to be getting more demanding at home as well. 

This last autumn, my heart seemed drawn to the Tanach. I ventured back to the library in the middle of Denver in the hopes of checking out a smaller version of the glorious book that I remembered. But it was not to be right then. My heart continued to tug at me and finally just before Christmas I tried again. This time I was able to check out The Tanach. 
I know that Dr. Elefant is most likely chuckling at the timing. It’s been five years since he passed away and since I set my research down. The timing of the tugging at my heart has meaning. 

In the Hebrew alphabet, the fifth letter is Hei. The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet described the letter Hei in the following manner: “The sound of Hei is a mere exhalation of breath, hei; it requires little effort, no movement of the lip, tongue, or mouth. This effortless enunciation symbolized the effortless creation of the world—as the Psalmist testifies…By the word of HASHEM the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts (Psalms 33:6).

My heart is on fire with the desire to share with you the wisdom of the Tanach interwoven with what nature (and therefore science) has to share with us. For this week, though, I will leave you with the Tanach’s version of Genesis 1:1.

“In the beginning of God’s creating…”

Notice the tense. Creating. God continues to create. This so specifically speaks to what I want to share with you. Science and faith are not at odds. They weave a beautiful story that we on Earth have forgotten. 

It’s time to remember.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Wiping the Slate



Have you heard of The Tanach? Wow. I recently had the privilege to check this special book out of the library. It’s the Hebrew version of the Torah, Prophets and Writings. After reading just the introduction, I had to share the first two sentences with you.

“There are two kinds of creation. There is a creation of mountains and valleys, of solar systems and brain cells—and there is the creation of the people who give meaning and purpose to the universe they inhabit.” (The Tanach: The Artscroll Series/Stone Edition, Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 1996)

Imagine an Artist using His palette to create the backdrop for a grand plan. He fashions all the world, the universe, the stage on which He will unleash an even greater art. He chooses huge balls of fire—lights that sparkle from the darkness of space, and tiny delicate flowers that bend in the wind. He produces a stage in which sight, smell, taste, sound and touch all play a part. When it is just right, He then places humanity on the stage, giving them power over all. 

It doesn’t matter if you are a creationist or an evolutionist, the earth—the ground on which you stand, the air in which you breathe—was created before humanity stepped forth on it. 

What is our response to this gift?

Just in this last year alone, around this globe, there have been mass exoduses of people from their native lands because of war and hate. Bombs, chemical warfare and other tools of destruction have torn apart the backdrop that our Creator so carefully painted for us. We kill animals for sport or neglect them because of our boredom or lack of concern. We kill other humans, from the time they are conceived to the time we selfishly choose to snuff their life during any breath they take.

So is this how we say thanks for the gift of the earth? Or to use the phrase the Tanach exclaims, is this how we “give meaning and purpose to the universe” we inhabit? 

This is the first day of 2017. This is the first day of the rest of our lives. Time to repair the damage we and others cause, whether it be the physical bombs that destroy earth and flesh, or the emotional bombs of our words that obliterate the gifts we’ve been given through the earth and each other. 

Join me in striving each day to do something healing and say something healing. Pick up a piece of trash drifting through the grocery store parking lot and dispose of it properly. Apologize for the inconsiderate word or action towards a family member, neighbor or friend. Pray and spend energy on healing this grand painting of a world we’ve been given. 

Remember each day is a new gift and a new opportunity. If you feel as though you failed the day before, don’t worry! A new day is coming. Reflect in the evening and start anew in the morning.

Be as thoughtful about living as the Artist is about creating.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Why I Can't Hide



Every morning is a challenge right now. 

My friends with auto immunes know this. These nasty things do a number on your insides, whether it’s achy muscles and joints, or wacky stomach issues. Either way, there’s always something trying to keep you down. And while you look okay on the outside, the struggle on the inside remains. 

Auto immunes attack each person differently and my body had a very outward response—the loss of my hair. For me that created another trial. Not only was I getting up, getting kids off to school and going to work while fighting my body, I was wrestling with looking in the mirror and resisting the urge to hide. Yep. Just stay home and hide. 

Every day I confront that issue. The image I see in the mirror is not me, not who I am at my core. But after much prayer, I realize that if I did hide, I would be letting illness win. So I fight. I fight the aches and pains, I fight the changing foods I can handle, and most of all I fight my pride in the form of vanity. 

Because if I don’t fight, I have found I’m missing out on where other people might need me. Whether it’s helping a student with a bloody nose, or listening to another who’s had a bad day, my interaction with humanity is what I’m being called to do as a Christian. 

I’m not na├»ve. If I wasn’t there to help that student with their bloody nose or bad day, someone else most likely would, but it’s the sharing in human suffering, the camaraderie of those struggling on the same life journey that allows me to live freely. That solidarity is what feeds my soul. It feeds us all.

Stories and movies based on someone’s epic journey to help others are always in demand. Why? Because they show humanity at its best. We are meant for relationship, we are meant for each other. Everyone needs to be reminded of that human bond at times, especially during our times of tribulation. 

I recently talked with a friend who’s in charge of personnel at work. She had to lay off some employees and it hurts her heart. Another friend is watching her mother and father slowly deteriorate and can’t do a thing about it. Yet another friend is facing a pregnancy in which they have been told their little one will only live a few short hours after birth because of a defect. And yet another friend is suffering the death of a spouse lost too early in their relationship. 

What can we do in the face of so much pain? More specifically, what can I do—especially on those days when I feel achy and can’t move or vanity strikes me and I want to hide?

Matthew 16:24 quotes Jesus as saying, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

My cross right now is this auto immune and I have no recourse except to bear it. But I can do that for others. If Christ suffered for me and asks me to walk alongside him with my cross, then it follows I can suffer for others. I can turn that suffering into prayer. 

Each and every one of us has a different way in which we talk to our Creator. We have different ideas about our God and how He connects with us. But we all have something in common. We are all created by God for God. 

With that knowledge comes power. Our common power is prayer. Whether it’s prayer by laying hands on someone, prayer in community, or prayer by ourselves because we are sick, it’s everyone’s secret superpower. 

And here’s another secret. Suffering itself can be prayer. When we offer it up for another, we are saying, “Jesus, I recognize your suffering. I could never suffer as much as you did in your Passion, but I am suffering, and I offer it for my friend who suffers. Please take this suffering as prayer and help them.” 

So the next time you feel useless, you are sick and cannot move, or you are feeling alone, use your superpower. You may never know how your prayer in suffering will affect another, but leave that part up to God. If Jesus asks us to pick up our cross, certainly he will not ask us to do it in vain.