God keeps me sober

I’ve known people who have mocked me for my religious practice.  Some have been coworkers. Some have even been friends.

What they don’t understand is that if it weren’t for God, I’d be still stuck in the hell that is addiction.  My religious practice helps me to remember that, to give thanks for that, and to keep connected with God to keep the healing happening. Recovery isn’t a one-time thing, but a daily (sometimes hourly) struggle.  You have to keep doing what you did to get sober, or you will quickly regress. If you aren’t going forward, you’re going to go backwards.  There is no staying still in sobriety.

I have a tattoo of Raphael the archangel on my calf as a testimony to how God has helped me.  When people ask about it, I tell them how Raphael’s name means “God has healed” and I tell them about what I’ve been through, and how God has pulled me out of it.  They don’t get it – they say that I did the work.  I tell them that it is God who gave me the strength to make it happen.

Part of my religious practice is to say blessings. There are hundreds of things to give thanks over according to Jewish practice.  Food is just one category.  There are blessings to be said upon seeing a rainbow, for hearing thunder, and even for buying new clothes.  There is a blessing for almost any kind of human experience you can think of. Some rabbis state that you should say 100 blessings a day, and while that may seem excessive, just being on the lookout for that many things to give thanks about is the best game of hide-and-seek you will ever play.

 

When I say a blessing,

I’m not blessing the food

(or the event).

I’m reminding myself

that I am blessed

to have the food

(or experience the event).

I’m reminding myself

of the One

who made it possible.

 

It is modern to talk about mindfulness.  Most people who practice mindfulness run as far away from religious practice as possible.  However, I say that you can’t beat saying 100 blessings a day for a mindfulness practice. Looking for things to be grateful about and to give thanks over to the One that gave these gifts to you helps keep depression at bay.

I leave you with a traditional Chassidic Jewish saying – “When a man suffers he ought not to say, ‘That’s bad!’ Nothing that God imposes on man is bad. But it is all right to say ‘That’s bitter!’ For among medicines there are some made with bitter herbs.” Attitude makes the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.  It is your choice.  And my choice is to have a religious practice to keep me on the right path.

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Blessing for everything

“To ‘bless’ does not mean the same thing as ‘to thank’. …it is too much to expect most people to actually thank God for the bad things that happen to them. Barukh, the Hebrew word for ‘bless’, comes from the same root as the word for knee, berekh. Many scholars see a connection: To bless God is to kneel or bow before the Divine (either literally or symbolically), acknowledging God as greater and more powerful, and the Source of all – both good and bad – that happens.”
– from “Swimming in the Sea of Talmud” by Michael Katz and Gershon Schwartz

To bless God for everything is to acknowledge that God is making everything happen. If we truly believe that God is One, that God made everything and everything is from and of God, then we have to believe that everything that is and everything that happens is from God.

Perhaps we never left the Garden. Perhaps when we ate from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, we saw with new eyes. Our eyes had seen only things as they are, not differentiating between Good and Evil. Things just were what they were, with no judgment.

When we divide events and people and things into Good and Evil, we have left Paradise, but only mentally. Physically, we are still there.

When we decide to withhold judgment and just see events and people and things as they are, not deciding that they are Good or Evil, then we reenter Paradise.

Nothing is absolute – events that seemed bad at the time turned out to redirect us towards a healthier path. People that seemed bad at the time turned out to have problems that we didn’t know about – we “cut them some slack” and our relationships improve. That food that we didn’t like as children? Years later it is our favorite snack. Things change. Our experiences expand us. We don’t have “the big picture.” Time gives us perspective.

Hold on. Trust. God is in charge. We don’t have to fix it all, and that is a great mercy.

The sages say that the things we perceive as “bad” come from the first two letters of God’s name, the “yud” and the “hey”, while the things we perceive as “good” come from the second two letters, the “vav” and the (second) “hey”. Both are from God. They are neither Good or Evil, deep down.

They just are. No judgment. No definition.

Start blessing God for everything, acknowledging that God is God, and God is good. Ask God for new eyes to see the beauty in everything, and for patience to trust that God is working out God’s plan.

Blessing the children.

Some parents were bringing their young children to Jesus so he could bless them. The disciples tried to turn them away.

Jesus was upset with them and said “Don’t prevent children from coming to me. The kingdom of heaven is made up of people who have a childlike faith. I tell you truthfully, if you do not welcome the kingdom of God in the same manner as a child, you will never get in.”

After taking the children in his arms, he laid his hands on their heads and blessed them.

MT 19:13-15, MK 10:13-16, LK 18:15-17

Communion loaves and fishes

The Last Supper, the model for our Communion service, is linked to when Jesus fed the multitudes. This event happened twice.

Here, he feeds over 5,000 people, using five loaves and two fish. There were twelve baskets of leftovers. The story starts just after Jesus has heard that his cousin John the Baptist has been murdered.

Matthew 14:13-21
13 When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed Him on foot from the towns. 14 As He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd, felt compassion for them, and healed their sick.
15 When evening came, the disciples approached Him and said, “This place is a wilderness, and it is already late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
16 “They don’t need to go away,” Jesus told them. “You give them something to eat.”
17 “But we only have five loaves and two fish here,” they said to Him.
18 “Bring them here to Me,” He said. 19 Then He commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 Everyone ate and was filled. Then they picked up 12 baskets full of leftover pieces! 21 Now those who ate were about 5,000 men, besides women and children.

Shortly after that, he feeds over four thousand people, using seven loaves and a few small fish. There were seven baskets left over.

Matthew 15: 29-39
29 Moving on from there, Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee. He went up on a mountain and sat there, 30 and large crowds came to Him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, those unable to speak, and many others. They put them at His feet, and He healed them. 31 So the crowd was amazed when they saw those unable to speak talking, the deformed restored, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they gave glory to the God of Israel.
32 Now Jesus summoned His disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with Me three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry; otherwise they might collapse on the way.”
33 The disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in this desolate place to fill such a crowd?”
34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked them.
“Seven,” they said, “and a few small fish.”
35 After commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 He took the seven loaves and the fish, and He gave thanks, broke them, and kept on giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 They all ate and were filled. Then they collected the leftover pieces—seven large baskets full. 38 Now those who ate were 4,000 men, besides women and children. 39 After dismissing the crowds, He got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

What are the common elements in this story? Jesus takes what he has, little though it is. He doesn’t pray for more. He gives thanks for what he has and blesses it. Then he breaks it and distributes it.

This is what happens to us when we become part of the Body of Christ, and what we are supposed to do. It is something we receive and something we are to give.

We aren’t enough for the task. We are small and weak. We are broken. Yet God loves us, and is thankful for us. We are blessed by Jesus. And through that thankfulness and that blessing, we are enough. We are exactly what the world needs. We are food for a hungry world.

We are to take that thankfulness and that blessing and multiply it through our actions and our lives.

This is what Communion is. It feeds us, and through that, we are able to feed the world. We are able to be the healing the world needs, because we have been healed.

Modeh Ani

I’ve recently discovered the myriad of Jewish prayers. I’m fascinated with the idea that every part of the day offers up an opportunity to serve God. Now, as a disclaimer, many Jewish writers will not write out “God” but will write “G_d” or another characteristic of God, such as “Hashem” (the Name). I understand the need for showing respect to your Creator, but as “God” is not so much a name as a job title, I don’t feel a need to change it.

There are many things I find admirable about the Jewish faith, and I find it beneficial to my Christian path to learn them. Jesus was, after all, a Jew. The more I learn about Judaism, the more I understand about Jesus’ message.

Every day is to be filled with thankfulness to God. These blessings are a reminder that we are from God and are made to serve God. It has been suggested that you are supposed to say 100 blessings a day. The day begins with the Modeh Ani.

Modeh Ani is a Jewish prayer that observant Jews recite daily upon waking, while still in bed.

From Wikipedia –
• Hebrew: מוֹדֶה (מוֹדָה) אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ מֶֽלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּים. שֶׁהֶֽחֱזַֽרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה. רַבָּה אֱמֽוּנָתֶֽךָ׃
• Transliteration: Modeh (modah) ani lifanekha melekh ḥai v’kayam sheheḥezarta bi nishmahti b’ḥemlah, rabah emunatekha.
• Translation: I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me with compassion; Your faithfulness is great.

(Actually, the Wikipedia article eliminated the word “Compassion” in the translation, but had it in the commentary. Other translations have “compassion” there, so I inserted it.)

Note – women say “modah” and men say “modeh”.

Some commentators say you are to arise with a “lionlike” resolve, ready to start the day.

The Kotzer Reb says that this is a good time to reflect “Who am I?” and “Who are You?”
The “Torah Tots” website offers this interpretation of this idea –
“As one sage once said, “We would do well to reflect upon the “Ani,” “I,” and the “Le’fanecha,” “You (Hashem).” When we realize who we really are, and before Whom we stand, our sense of appreciation would be greatly enhanced.”

You give thanks that God has restored your soul to you. Sleep is likened to death. When you are asleep, you are like a dead person, because you have no control over what you do.

When you awaken, you are now again able to choose what to do. Part of the meaning of this prayer is that you are aware that God has restored you to your full capacity, with the understanding that you are to thank God for this by serving God.

This prayer is recited upon first waking up – while you are still in bed. Your first conscious act is to serve and be thankful to God.

Again from Torah tots” – According to the Shulchan Aruch, one should pause slightly between the words “bechemlah – compassion” and ” rabbah – abundant (is Your faithfulness).” Rabbah and emunatecha should be said together, as in the verse, “They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Eicha 3:23)

This is similar to the idea of “In the Beginning…” or, as the first word of the Bible is sometimes translated “With Beginnings”. Every day is a new chance. We aren’t stuck. We have a new day and new energy with which to serve God. We have a new day to make things better.

On blessing, and thankfulness.

If you are Jewish you are obliged to say 100 blessings a day. One hundred times a day you are to find something to be thankful for. There are prayers for everything, and just looking over the prayers can remind you of how blessed you are in more ways than you ever realized.

There are prayers to be said upon seeing an unusual person. Upon seeing a rainbow. Upon seeing someone beautiful. There are of course various prayers for food. My favorite are the bathroom prayers – where you give thanks that everything that should stay in, stays in, and everything that should get out, gets out. I would never have thought to have a prayer of thanksgiving for that, but it makes perfect sense. All of these prayers make you mindful of all the many ways you are blessed every day. They keep you aware and grateful.

I think this is an excellent practice. We humans often take our many blessings for granted. We forget to be thankful for electricity until it goes out due to a storm. We forget to be grateful for running water until we need a plumber. We constantly grumble about what we don’t have while forgetting to be thankful for what we do have. And often we forget that “bad” is often just our value judgment. Our need to label things “good” or “bad” causes us many problems.

Here’s a twist for you. Give a complement to a stranger. Do this often. Start small and work your way up to complementing 10 strangers a day. Find something about them to tell them how cool it is. Perhaps it is their hairstyle. Perhaps it is something they are wearing. Look them in the eye when you tell them what you have noticed that is cool. Be sincere. Notice how this changes them and you. You both feel better. Well, you might be a little freaked out at first because you are shy, but trust me, you’ll get over it. Happiness spreads. Be a blessing to someone else.

One of the lines I like to incorporate into our supper prayers includes “Dear God, thank you for all that we have, and all that we don’t have.” Sometimes not getting what you want is actually a blessing.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad. This applies to every day. Even the rainy ones. Even the ones with a tornado warning. Be thankful for everything, at all times. It takes practice, but it is worth it.