Excerpt: Frost and Hirsch, "The Shaping of Things to Come"

The Redemption of the Everyday

One of the great strengths of the Jewish people throughout history has been their sheer love of life L'chaim! (to life!) has been a defining catchcry of this ancient people even in the midst of unrelenting historic suffering rhroughout their long existence. What exacrly is it that has allowed them to sustain an amazing cultural vigor, an okptimistic, life-affiirming, and vital faith m the face of opposition rhai would have crushed so many other cultures? We believe it is found in the post-Jesus leu,' L mysticism perspective based on iheir view of God and the world.

Much to this point has been a critique or some of the prevailing Hellenisms that have led to a malaise in the missional impulse of God's people in the West. What we want to do now is to try and construct a missional perspective based on a positive reading of the Hebraic worldview. What we are suggesting here is that the reader be willing to learn from Judaism how a Hebraic worldview might be engaged missionally and be willing to adjust one's thinking and practice as a result. It is my opinion that by doing this we can discover a deeper, more passionate experience of God in Messiah and certainly a more engaged and missional faith. In order to make sense of the Hebraic spirit and its relation to the emerging missional church, we will look at seven salient features.

The Redemption of Pleasure and the Missional Task

In its more severe forms, dualistic religion actively suppresses and denies matter and therefore relegates the body ro being seen as a disgusting thing. It follows then that pleasure, too, is seen as evil and destructive and "of the devil." This is so because there exists no framework to connect pleasure with God. One doesntr have to search long to discover this distortion in Christendom's conduct and ideas in relation to sex, food, and other forms of pleasure.

It is our belief that the skewed ascetic perspective fueled by dualism has deeply alienated the average person from Christianity by failing to help integrate one's body and associated physical life into a spiritual experience of God. We cannot underestimate the damage that this life suppression has done to the way we are perceived by the average non-Christian, not to mention the fact that it represents a distortion of the biblical view of the world. It also highlights the need to recover a redemptive framework for pleasure as a missional asset. Can people meet with God in and through their experience of, and love for, life itself? To this question we want to say a wholehearted yes! In fact, if the church fails to actually construct this bridge, it will fail to have any real impact in the postmodern world that we inhabit. The materials for this missional bridge-building exercise can be found in the Hebrew tradition with its affirmation of life in all its manifestations.

Furthermore, with reference to pleasure, the tragedy consists in the fact that to define faith negatively (that is, by what we should not do) is the wrong place to draw the line of the gospel. The impression given to non-churchgoers is that the church suppresses life. The line is drawn on the issue of apparently sinful pleasure, and as such it is drawn in precisely the wrong place. How is it that church new embodies a Christianity noted for a denial of pleasure and the nullification of life? And how much damage has this done to the cause of Christ through the ages?

A few years ago Alan conducted a wedding where he spoke about the fact it was God who invented the orgasm and who structrures life and marriage. He ended with an open invitation to come and meet the incredible Person who designed the orgasm. Ironically, many Christians had never heard the words God and orgasm mentioned in the same sentence. But the effect on the not-yet-Christians present at the event was amazing. In a discussion with the best man after the ceremony the question was asked, "You mean the God behind the message of the church was the same one who designed one of the most profound pleasures known to mankind? Was all pleasure made by God?" Who wouldn't want to meet with such a person if one had the chance?

Films like Bakette's Feast and Chocolat are potent parables of the power of pleasure to redeem and reconcile. It is not for nothing that most of the covenants (new and old) were sealed in full meals, replete with four glasses of wine. Pleasure can be a greater motivator for God than pain or threats. It is unredeemed or undirected pleasure that destroys life and wastes human effort. Missionaries and leaders do well to learn that people are motivated by their deepest pleasures, and if we can connect these to God, we will have established a vital bridge into the lives of ordinary people. And whereas Christendom has failed to integrate pleasure, the post-Jesus Jewish mysticism worldview gives permission for all this to the glory of God. Clearly the Scriptures teach us that God not only made the orgasm and the tastebuds and the spices and garlic but that we should enjoy what he has given us within the framework of his moral will revealed in the same Scripture. It reminds one of the old rabbinical saying that one day we will all stand before God and he will judge us for all the possible pleasures he gave us to enjoy, but we failed to enjoy.

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long section left out here...

The Heart of the Matter and the Matter of the Heart

In Judaism, there is a distinct activity called kavanah. It is cultivated in order to maximize the inwardness of our actions. It means to pay attention, to direct the mind and heart in order to maximize the levels of intentionality in our actions. This applies to actions/deeds as it does to the Study of Scripture and to prayer but goes beyond these activities themselves to the notion of attentiveness to God Himself. It is not primarily an awareness of being commanded by God, but an awareness of the God who commands. The focus in kavanah shifts from the deed itself to its inner meaning, the goal being to find access to the sacred in the deed itself. It is finding the essence of the cask, to partake of its Inspiration, to be made equal to the task of fulfilling holy commands. Abraham Heschel says that "kavanah is direction to God and requires the involvement and redirection of the whole person. It is the act of bringing together the scattered forces of the self; it means the participation of heart and soul, not only of will and mind."

Martin Buber, one of the most influential interpreters of Judaism for the twentieth century, quotes a Hasidic anecdote and points out the interrelation between direction and redemption.

Enoch was a cobbler, and with every stitch of his awl that drew together the top and bottom of the leather, he joined God and the Shekinah… Man exerts influence on the eternal, and this is not done by any special works, but by the intention with which he does all his works. This is the teaching of the hallowing of the everyday. This issue is not to attain to a new type of acting which, owing to its object, would be sacred or mystical; the issue is to do the one appointed task, the common, obvious tasks of daily life, according to their truth and according to their meaning. (Buber, Mamre, 1946)

Buber goes further, "He who does a good deed with complete kavanah, that is, completes an act in such a way that his whole existence is gathered in it and directed in it towards God, he works on the redemption of the world, on its conquest for God. Buber says elsewhere that,

What matters is not what is being done, but the fact that every act is filled with sanctity - that is, with God-oriented intent - is a road to the heart of the world. There is nothing that is evil in itself; every passion can become a virtue, every inclination a "vehicle of God." It is not the matter of the act that is decisive, but its sanctification. Every act is hallowed if it is directed towards salvation. The soul of the doer alone determines the character of the deed. With this, the deed does in truth become the life center of religiosity.

This is a very useful and thoroughly biblical idea. Biblical ethics has always highlighted the element of motive and intentionality in the teachings of the New Testament, but seldom have we made this so accessible and meaningful to Christian life and mission, furthermore, we lack the theological framework to affirm so directly the impact of our everyday actions on the task of redemption. But as we will affirm in a later chapter, the reclamation of the deed as a means of grace is vital if we wish to sustain a vigorous missional engagement in our respective contexts.

A word must he said here on the Jewish teaching on the two inclinations; the good inclination and the evil inclination. The good inclination is that which leads us to God. It is the directed forces of the soul. The evil inclination, on the other hand, is those passions left undirected. They are not evil in themselves, bur are evil because if left without holy direction, they will inevitably lead us away from God. The belief is that we can, and indeed must, worship God with the evil inclination. This is not as ttartling as it first appears. It simply means that we must serve God with all our passions. Nothing is to be left out of the redemptive direction of the heart toward God. Says Buber, "The Mishnah interprets the phrase "Thou shall love the Lord God with all thy heart" to mean; with both your inclinations, the 'good' and the evil; that is, with and by your decision, so that the ardor of passion is converted and enters into the unified deed with all its strength. For no inclination is evil in itself; it is made evil by man when he surrenders to it instead of controlling it."

What humankind certainly knows about passion is that it can overwhelm us. Essentiallv the doctrine of the two inclinations tells us that a lower passion can only be overcome by a greater passion. It takes an act of holy passion to redeem our evil impulses. Paul Ramsay points out, "It a man does not love the lord with all his mind he does not thereby become a pure reason with no loves; he simply loves something else with all his heart, soul. strength and mind. One's loves are always deeper than his reason; and reason is always in the employment of some love." (Christianity and Society, 1943) Passion is only evil when it remains in the directionless state, when it refuses to be subject to holy direction, when it will not accept the direction that leads toward Cod, In Judaism there occurs again and again the insight that passion (the "evil urge" is simplv the elemental force that is the sole origin of great human works, the holy included, Buber claims, "Of all the works of creation, it is passion which is the very good without which man cannot serve God or truly live."

The issue is about the direction of our actions. Once again C. S. Lewis has grasped the importance of direction when he notes in The Great Divorc ethat "There is but one good; that is God, Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him," It's the direction that in some way determines the nature of the act; it is the passion that determines its energy

Again, we believe this is very suggestive in the reframing of a missional faith. Because of its innate dualism. Western Christianity has generally struggled to integrate pleasure, passion, and instinctive drives into the faith. As a result, it has tended to locus on the soul and has left bodily drives outside of Christ's redemptive work. This leaves people to struggle to make sense of these drives. Human sexuality is a classic case in point. But the Hebraic spirit seeks to harness the forces of our sexuality in their intended creational purpose. The problem is that if we fail to integrate> our sexuality, rhen we are doomed to experience it as a dark, even satanic, force that operates against faith and contrary to God. A missional faith must be far more spirited than that and should seek nothing leas than to bring all aspects of the self under God, including, and perhaps especially, our sexuality. Nothing is to be left undirected. It is toward him chat we complete our lives. This, coupled with holy passion makes for a very vigorous faithfulness in the world.

Hallowing the Everyday

Directly related to the idea of direction-intention (kavanah) is the idea of the hallowing of the everyday. Once again we see the focus on the concrete that is so typical of the post-Jesus Jewish mysticism worldview- This concept of the hallowing of the everyday has already been highlighted in the quotes of Buber given above but deserves further clarification in a section of its own. At core it is built on the Hebraic understanding that there are effectively only two realities in the world: the holy And the not-yet-holy, and that the missional task of God's people is to make the not-yet-holy into that which is holy. This is done by the directing of the deed toward God (and not away from Him) and by the level of intentionality and holiness with which we perform our daily tasks. It is important to note that any and every deed, no matter how seemingly profane or trivial, can become a place of holiness when performed with the right intention and with the appropriate holy direction.

The post-Jesus Jewish mysticism maintains a wonderfully positive view of holiness, In contrast, so much of Christendom's view of holiness can be defined as holiness by negation or holiness by avoidance; a faith defined more by what we shouldn't do than by what we should. The life orientation inherent in the post-Jesus Jewish mysticism perspectives leads to a much more life affirming stance vis-a-vis holiness, Holiness is primarily defined not by what we don't do, but rather by what we do in our hallowing of the everyday. All things, all events, all activities, can be occasions 01 hallowing if one brings to them the direction and intent of true kavanah.

One should, and one must, truly live with all people and things, but one must tv with all these in holiness, one must hallow all which one does in one's natural life. No renunciation is commanded. When one eats in holiness, when one tastes the flavor of the food in holiness, then the table becomes an altar. When one works in holiness, he raises up the sparks that hide themselves in all tools. When one walks in holiness across the field, then the soft songs of all herbs, which they voice to God, enter into the song of our soul, When one drinks in holiness to each other with one's companions, it is as if one read together in the Torah. When one dances the roundelay in holiness, brightness shines over the gathering. When a husband is united with his wife in holiness, then the Shekinah rests over them.

A positive post-Jesus Jewish mysticism holiness is active in the world. It is a missional holiness. 1t moves to change the world, to sanctify it. This is not an ephemeral thing; it is active in every sphere of life and does not shirk back from the redemption of dark things. Holiness partners with God in the redemption of the world. "True holiness is when God'.s hallowing of the world and our hallowing of the world meet."'"

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2005