It’s 6:45am, long after sunrise, and I just ate a buttered piece of white toast. To be perfectly clear, I did NOT accidentally eat this (which would not count as breaking the fast) but definitely with great intention (!) My body woke super early for pre-dawn prayers, which was a first! But the heat from yesterday took a big toll from this body of mine. Time for early Sabbath.
As I relished the crunch and buttery ghee in my mouth, I could feel my spirit soar once again. I was drawn to my Bible reading this morning in the gospel of John, but when I sat down in the corner of my couch and opened the book, I suddenly felt drawn to the book of Romans instead—which to be honest, was quite surprising. While it is the longest and probably most “famous” letter from Paul, the early teacher and founder of churches in the first century, it has never been a favorite of mine. But, Romans it was this morning.
I began with the commentary before the letter, or epistle, begins. And found out why I felt stirred to read Romans after all:
“The traditional view of Romans, and of Paul’s thought generally, is that as a “convert” to the new religious movement himself, he acted as have many converts before and since, and denigrated his previous religious commitment. In this view, Paul is the great evangelist of Christianity as the movement of liberation from the bonds of legalism and “works-righteousness” that according to this conception characterized Judaism. Historically, this view has been reinforced by some Protestant Reformation theologians, such as Martin Luther, who saw medieval Roman Catholicism as a “works-righteousness” religion, one that emphasized the deeds of the faithful as necessary to earn their way into God’s grace…..Augustine, who was instrumental in the development of Roman Catholicism, had similarly attributed to Judaism the “works-righteousness” he challenged in the rival Christian groups of his own time…”
So what the heck is “works-righteousness”?
Human beings are always tempted to become human doings, and they always have been. It’s the ego thing going on. And so it goes. As religions are direction pointers to finding rest for our souls in the Being-ness of the divine, the people receiving the directions can easily get so excited and caught up in the doing of the directions (fasting being one of them many times) that they can begin to think that the direction pointers to the divine are the goal itself rather than the means to the end.
So “works-righteousness” happens in all religious thought whenever folks start on the tack that a person is “earning” God’s favor through their acts of devotion rather than doing them from a place of trusting in the Love that is the inviting them into relationship with the divine in the first place.
It saddens me to think of how much harm has been done to people throughout time in the name of religion, which is supposed to be pointing to Love and Light for all. And yet, how much good has been done, as well. One of the things really exciting me this year are all the interfaith iftars happening through the campaign called “The United States of Love over Hate.” These meals are bringing people together over lines of difference through intentional curiosity about the other. One of these days I’d like to get to one close by, but my extreme fatigue in the evenings lately forced me to skip an iftar this past week in Bloomfield Hills, which I was really looking forward to at the Muslim Unity Center!
As my body builds up greater tolerance for fasting on hot days, perhaps I’ll see you at one of them!