“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone.”
I have this Audrey Hepburn quote pinned to the wall at my desk. Admittedly, more as a reminder than as a testament to how I generally live my life if I’m honest with myself. While I’m not one to burn bridges, I’m certainly one to judge too quickly sometimes. And unfairly. I was reminded of that when I went to my first church service in years this morning. While I’ve covered a few church openings and anniversaries for work, it’s been quite some time since I’ve gone on my own accord. A few grandmothers celebrating their bat mitzvah a few months ago changed all that, though.
I actually met these ladies more than a year ago, when they first started meeting as a group to study Hebrew. Though a bat mitzvah is a religious rite of passage traditionally intended for 12-year-old girls of the faith, these women explained how they were not able to have their own ceremonies as children because it was either considered unnecessary or inappropriate for girls among Orthodox and Conservative Jewish sects to read publicly from the Torah or translate its text.
For years, the women said they would go to synagogue and learn the prayers and songs that were spoken and sung through repetition, because none of them ever got the opportunity to actually learn how to read and write Hebrew like their husbands did. Or eventually, even their daughters and sons. When they decided it was finally their turn, their right to experience the same connection and understanding the rest of the congregation shared with their faith, they essentially had to learn Hebrew — a very complex language — in a year. And not because anyone was telling them to do it, but because it was important to them. They wanted to know what was being said.
Though it’s been a couple months since the story ran in our newspaper, it has stayed with me. Unlike these women, I grew up Baptist and DID have the opportunity to learn the language of my church. But I never saw this as a privilege. And as I got older, I’d even say I viewed it as a burden when the words I was hearing began sounding too familiar, too conservative and too rehearsed.
This group of Jewish women and their journey to their bat mitzvah got me thinking and made me wonder what it would be like to return to church and to my faith like a woman learning the language of it all for the first time. What would it be like to enter a house of worship or read a passage from the Bible with no preconceived notions and no bitter feelings? Just a desire to figure out what was being said and, maybe even more importantly, why.
You can imagine my surprise when I went to my first service in years this morning and the entire sermon ended up being about the use of metaphor in the history of the church. The pastor talked about how believers through the ages have tried to explain their faith, their God and their idea of community only the best way they know how. And though their words sometimes missed the mark or often fell short — as words often do when you’re trying to explain something that can’t fully be described or understood — the important part was that they kept trying and that the church must keep trying, too. It might fail in getting the right message across. It might fail in getting the full message in the first place. But it has to keep trying to explain the reason for the hope that it has in a way that will resonate with those who want to — need to — understand what is being said. Because it’s that important.
So there I was, sitting in an unfamiliar pew expecting to hear a familiar sermon, when what I actually heard were the words I needed to be reminded of. The words I’d been staring at every day at work and trying to apply to everyone I encountered in my life, except the church: a body of people that “even more than things, has to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed.”
Learning a new language has never been easy for me, but I think today’s lesson was an excellent start: Never throw out anyone. Not even the church.