Last semester I had the privilege of studying and living in Israel. For 14 weeks I got to study not only the Old and New Testament in their setting, but also about Jews and Judaism and Arab Palestinians and Islam. Jerusalem is considered by each Abrahamic monotheistic religion as a holy place, and while there, I came in contact with Jews, Muslims, and other Christians who taught me things about how I want to live my own faith.
One Sabbath, a brother who had been visiting the holy land for about a week made a comment in class disparaging the beliefs and practices of Muslims. He made the comment in a “I’m glad that our church is this way as opposed to the other,” sort of way, but I couldn’t help but feel that he was missing an opportunity to learn something. Though I have a testimony of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored through Joseph Smith, I do not believe that Mormons have a monopoly on truth. Indeed, President Monson has said “We do not have a monopoly on goodness. There are God-fearing men and women in all nations who influence for good those with whom they associate.” The church is true, and all truth is in one great whole, but none of us has a claim on that whole.
In Isaiah we learn that “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” There is no addendum about how this relationship changes once we make covenants and join the church. We learn, little by little, what the Lord’s ways are. We align, degree by degree, our will with His. We should be grateful for the knowledge we enjoy as members, but we should also be accepting of the truth that others enjoy. While we cannot compromise on matters such as Christ’s divinity or the divine call of the prophet Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets, we can learn from others if we focus on the beliefs that we share.
As a result of my experiences, I want to list a few ways in which I have felt “holy envy” for my brothers and sisters of different faiths. In this first post, I will focus on what I learned from our brothers and sisters, the Jews.
What I learned from the Jews
One of the most poignant experiences being in the Holy City was going to the Western Wall for the Jewish welcoming of the Sabbath. I naively expected some sort of service led by a local authority, but Judaism is less centralized under an authority than is our Church or the Catholic Church. Russian Hasidic and “Ultra-Orthodox” Haredi, as well as Reform Jews came to the wall to pray, each praying in their own way. In fact, the scene seemed utterly chaotic to me, as hundreds of Jewish men chanted prayers in sing-song, some seated, many standing and swaying back and forth, some with hands outstretched to touch the western wall of Herod’s temple platform.
Even with my kippah (yarmulke) squarely on my head, I felt a little out of place, until one of the guys I was with struck up a conversation with a young, bright-eyed orthodox Jew. We didn’t talk with him but for a few minutes, but he explained to us that he was from New York and here in Jerusalem studying at a yeshiva. To hear briefly of his devotion to God opened my eyes and helped me better appreciate the chaotic nature of the Jewish welcoming of the Sabbath. I felt the palpable excitement, the very celebratory nature in heading into the Lord’s Day.
I read aloud a Psalm with a prayer in my heart as I stood close to the wall. A few of us joined hands with a group of Russian Hasidic Jews in big fur hats and long coats as they marched in a crowded circuit and sang songs of praise. I had no idea what they were singing. No one was upset that others chose to worship in a different way. Each person simply focused on their praise for God and expressed excitement for the Sabbath.
I vowed never again to sing “Welcome, Welcome Sabbath Morning” ironically. I decided I want to put more vigor and energy into my worship, and be excited for the opportunity that each Sunday truly is. I vowed to say “Amen” out loud and with conviction, and to sing hymns as a prayer in song. There is definitely a time for being reverent, but I believe that reverence might be preserved even with a little more energy in our meetings.
As Mormons, I think sometimes we value reverence so much that we become upset if the environment is not perfectly quiet. Sometimes we are too quick to blame others for “chasing away the spirit.” I have come to believe that getting upset at someone else’s noise or way of doing things can be equally disruptive to the spirit. We would do better to act to increase our own faith and devotion, rather than be acted upon and let our spirituality be determined by our environment. I know that as we look to God and focus on worshipping him with energy and real intent, a new spirit of worship will enter our meetings.