A Glimpse of One Who Nourishes
Our lectionary text this week is a story of feasting, abundance and joy. Having returned from exile and hungry to renew their faith in the God of their ancestors, the people in Jerusalem asked Ezra to read from the Torah. He did. For six hours straight. And then, he sent them off to feast on fatted meat and sweet wine. The listening and the hearing and the sipping and the chewing and the feasting and the dancing and the lingering and the sharing only deepened their joy.
This passage reminds me of a Jewish holy day called Simchat Torah, the day that marks the set ending and beginning of the annual reading of the Torah. Simchat Torah literally means “Rejoicing In The Torah,” and the celebration includes hooting, hollering, tippling, feasting, and dancing with the Torah. Apparently, it was the persecutions of the Jews in the fourteenth century that created such public exuberance. The merriment and joy was an act of resistance by the Jewish community who refused to abandon their sacred text.
Jenny Singer, a Jewish journalist, describes it this way: “Simchat Torah exquisitely, almost tragically, expresses the longing relationship between human and divine… We physically cling to the Torah… as if it is a beloved child, or a romantic dance-partner. We make a big show of saying to our neighbours, “Hey! We know we look crazy, and we are not afraid. This is the choice we are making, to go deeper and deeper into this book.” I wonder what it would feel like to be part of an energetic spiritual tradition that made room for raucous, joyous celebration as an act of resistance?
In both Nehemiah and Simchat Torah, God’s nourishment is given a joyous place to land in the body. People are not only nourished in their mind by the Torah, but nourished in their bodies in the feast. There is enough for all, with basketfuls of loaves and fishes left over, like when Jesus taught the crowds then fed them a feast of bread and fish.
Those who are recovering from religious trauma, those who have been weaponized by scripture, and those who have witnessed scripture used to justify oppression will have a complicated, uncomfortable relationship with the Bible, our holy text. When things make us uncomfortable, it is natural to want to push it away. Yet, there is within the scriptures a living-word-within-the-word, a source of life, that begs us to hold on tightly and join the dance.
Deep peace and blessings.
Rev. Anne Baxter Smith
Pastor of the Church at Southpoint
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