Guest post by Rev. Maggy Whitehouse
I’m a minister so it may seem strange that I took it as a huge compliment, last week, when a professor of philosophy described me as ‘more Jewish than all my Jewish friends put together.’
Why? Because it was Judaism which taught me how to heal my broken relationship with Jesus. You know Jesus was Jewish, of course … but did you know that most of the problems we have with the Christian Gospels come from not having the religious and cultural backgrounds of the people who wrote them?
The Kingdom of Heaven for example. When we read the Hebrew Testament in English, we completely miss that the writers used two different words which have both been translated as ‘kingdom’ but have profound differences in meaning. People in Jesus’ day, who didn’t read nor write and whose knowledge of the oral tradition was far deeper than the written scrolls of the Law, would have known instantly from the pronunciation of the word that one was a physical land and the other an inner experience – and one which is available to us all.
Queen Esther, for example ‘came into the Kingdom’ when she prepared to go and risk her life at the hand of the King, in order to save her people (Est 4:14). She was already Queen of Persia so this was not a physical invasion but a spiritual one.
This Kingdom is somewhere we can access quite easily through meditation or contemplation but most of us are only kicked into it at a time of crisis when our everyday comfort is shattered and our resistance is down. We resist the Kingdom of Heaven because once we are there, it’s quite clear that the next step in our development is to reach higher – for the Kingdom of God.
It’s 30 years now since a hospital chaplain told me that my dying husband could not go to heaven because he was an atheist. That crisis ensured that I threw out my inhibiting ‘armchair Christianity’ (the sort where you take your religion for granted and never really think about it). In the chasm that was left after Henry died and my security blanket was removed, I found myself exploring New Age spirituality and using all those alternative words like ‘Source’ and ‘the Light’ because I needed to reject the conventional God.
Eventually, I realised that my anger with Christianity was still suppurating, despite being, figuratively, covered in a pretty pink throw, crystals and tealights. I had to look this Jesus guy right in the face and challenge him, so I went to my local church and lay down on the floor with my arms out in the shape of a cross and prayed, with all my heart, ‘help me to understand.’
Within three months, I had met and fallen in love with a Jewish man and was learning how to live within a faith that taught me the deep mysteries within the Hebrew Testament. I learnt the subtleties of the journey from the Torah (the Law) through the Prophets to the Wisdom literature. It was like shining a light onto the Gospels which had seemed incomprehensible darkness to me.
Twelve years later, I lay on a Church floor in that same cross-like position at my ordination and, as my bishop anointed my hands, I had the first, sublime, experience of the Kingdom of God.
Let me take you there too…
Workshop: Kingdom of Heaven; Kingdom of God
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