Thursday, August 06, 2009

No More Sacrifices, No More Blessings, No More Prayers!

Until I was 10, my family went to an Orthodox synagogue for the High Holy Days each year (and only for the High Holy Days -- my parents really weren't into it). I clearly remember sitting upstairs in a balcony with the women, as worship is sex-segregated in Orthodox shuls. I always sat next to my grandmother, who could read Hebrew (very unusual for a woman of her age). She read the prayer books in Hebrew, turning the pages with the service, and I would follow along in English.

I was amazed to read, over and over again, "I am a jealous God, I am a wrathful God, I am a vengeful God", along with detailed descriptions of exactly what sacrifices were required, as well as how they would be prepared, for example (and this is a vague memory), seven unblemished kids, and seven ephahs of flour, to be burned on the altar, along with seven ephahs of wine, to be poured out before the altar. (An ephah is about a bushel.)

Though no one ever talked to me about this, I understood the sacrifices as a pagan rite of a desert people (circa 5000BC) who lived in a harsh environment, and just wanted to have enough to eat to live through the year.

In "The Gift of the Jews", Thomas Cahill makes the point that the cultural innovation of the Jews was seeing all the desert gods around them as aspects of one supremely powerful GOD. This was apparently the main change -- so all the petty, jealous gods didn't lose their characteristics, they just became agglomerated into One. Hence the jealous, vengeful, wrathful GOD.

Please note that the word, 'sacrifice', is derived from a combination of the Latin words 'sacer', meaning 'holy', and facere, 'to make'. So sacrificing literally means making sacred. The Romans were sacrificing to their gods, too. So when you sacrifice, you are making a holy covenant with a vengeful, wrathful, jealous GOD. I'll give you these seven kids, see, and you'll make sure that my goats make 15 more goats, and they all live, okay, GOD? (The word might have come about at the same time as the Jews were beginning to venerate the ONE or perhaps as many as 5 millennia later.)

Similarly, the word, 'blessing' comes from the Old English word, 'bledsian' (before 950AD, or at least 7 centuries after the height of the Roman Empire). It means to consecrate, or make sacred, with blood. Sounds suspiciously like blessings come from blood sacrifices, doesn't it? You keep the wrathful GOD happy by spilling blood...

Fast forward another millennium or so, to a time when many of us don't believe in appeasing an angry god outside of ourselves, but rather that GOD is All That Is, so that you can't be separate. So why are we still 'making sacrifices'? Why are we still asking for blessings, for ourselves or for others? Why are we still 'praying', which comes from the Latin, 'precari', to beg?

We need a new language for uniting with All That Is, to create in joy, love and peace. Anyone care to help? Please post here!

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