Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Passover and Pascha: an interview with Natasha Pittle

Me: Hi folks! Today I have the pleasure of welcoming to the blog my friend and fellow parishioner, Natasha Pittle. Natasha and her family are Anglican Christians; her husband Kevin is a Jewish believer and the family enjoys celebrating their Jewish heritage. When Natasha and I were cleaning up after a church service together, she remarked on the similarities between the work we were doing, and the work she does to prepare for Pesach (Passover).

I thought that what she had to say was so interesting that I wanted to share it with my readers, and so I asked if she'd be willing to be interviewed for the blog, and she very kindly agreed. Thanks, Natasha!

Natasha: Hi!  I'm glad to be getting the chance to share some of these traditions.  It should be a fun and interesting discussion!  Our celebration of Passover is of course greatly impacted by our belief in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.  We try to keep many of the ancient traditions, especially those with a directly biblical basis.  Other practices seem very strange, even to me (as I don't have a Jewish background), but it is fun to explore them and incorporate them when we can.

Me: You and I first talked about the subject when we were cleaning up after a communion service together. Can you tell me how that "holy housework" reminded you of preparing your own home to celebrate Passover?

Natasha: The similarities struck me as we were washing the items used during the service-- I was not raised an Anglican and had never participated on an Altar Guild before (though I'm guessing that the high church Lutheran congregation I grew up in was probably fairly similar), so the piscina was completely new to me... and yet it wasn't.  [Jessica’s note: The piscina is a sink found in traditional Protestant & Roman Catholic churches that drains directly to the ground. All dishes and linens used in the communion service are rinsed in this sink.] There was a definite connection for me between the idea of needing to rinse any possible consecrated element directly down into the earth and the traditions of kashrut (kosher practices) and especially Passover preparations. 

The earliest connections, Kevin tells me, potentially go back to Leviticus 17.  The blood from the sacrifices had to be drained and buried in the earth (not consumed)-- the blood sprinkled on the altar also presumably eventually washed down into the ground.  Some sources also speak of a stream consisting of the waste water from the temple (ritual handwashing, cleansing of sacrificial implements, etc.) that flowed into a reservoir, possibly the Pool of Bethesda (yes, the pool that was periodically stirred by an angel and in which healing could take place).  Once any water, wine, or blood was used, it had to be returned to the earth-- it could not be reused for any form of human consumption. The elements, however,were considered to be "renewed" by being in the earth; living/moving water (from a spring or stream) had to be used for handwashing. At one point, faced with water shortages, the clever Pharisees created a machine to lower the reserve water vessels into a hollow in the earth each night, so that it could be considered fresh ground water in the morning! The handwashing of the priest by the deacon, by the way, comes directly from the Levites washing the hands of the Kohanim (priests) in the temple.

Once the temple was destroyed (shortly after Jesus' ascension), the Rabbis created all sorts of additional practices around the 613 commandments so that Jews would know how to remain as Jewish as possible in the face of dispersal all over the planet.  These writings (in the Talmud and other books) became known as the "fence around the Torah", a way to make absolutely sure to the best of your ability that you were not breaking a commandment, even inadvertently.  This is how the biblical law "Thou shalt not boil a kid [baby goat] in its mother's milk", a proscription meant to forbid a specific pagan practice, became the general forbidding of the mixing of milk and meat (a basic kosher tradition) and eventually, in more modern times "Thou shalt not eat chicken parmesan"-- although fish and milk is just fine.  The idea of the fence around the torah is to avoid the possibility of even appearing to break a commandment.

Most people are familiar with the most basic tenets of the kosher diet-- no mixing of milk and meat, and no pork products.  There is actually much more to it (such as the specific way the animals are slaughtered, humanely and draining as much blood as possible), but what many people do not see is the work that goes into keeping a kosher household (I don't, heaven help me!).  It may seem strange to have to rinse everything over the piscina, and stranger still that at times it is obviously symbolic (the wine cloths are still stained when they go into the laundry)!

Any kosher Jewish household will take great pains to keep milk and meat separate.  This means two entirely separate areas of the kitchen-- at the very least separate dishes and silverware, but preferably dedicated cookware, two different refrigerators and pantries, possibly two stoves and dishwashers.  In fact, the ideal (if you're wealthy enough and truly dedicated) is to have two entire separate kitchens.  Can a defiled dish be purified?  Sure, if you bury in the ground for a few years!  Although, upon doing research, Kevin says this is likely a Jewish "old wives' tale"-- every actual document he can find says that a defiled implement must be destroyed.  If the object is sacred (such as a Torah scroll or ceremonial vessel) and is worn out or defiled, it must be buried and cannot be reused.

It steps up even more for Passover.  Any possible leavened (yeast-raised) product is out.  Most get rid of baking-soda leavening as well.  Actually, some Orthodox households won't even cook with matzoh (unleavened bread) for fear it could swell up with moisture and pick up leavening from the air.  Sephardic  (Middle-Eastern) Jews say it's fine to eat beans, peas, rice; Ashkenazim (European Jews) say absolutely not (we keep Sephardic rules-- I can't do eight days of matzoh without hummus and peanut butter). 

From the biblical "the bread didn't have time to rise" to "take hours and days and weeks to make sure that the bread doesn't rise..." Fence around the Torah!  A huge "spring cleaning" takes place to get rid of any trace of leavening (chometz)-- back corners of cupboards, under the stove and fridge, carpets, draperies, even pouring bleach behind floorboards and into cracks to make the chometz unfit to be eaten (yes, poison yourself rather than ingest a crumb of bread by mistake!).  The tradition is to sweep up some final ceremonial chometz (bread crusts, etc.) with a feather and burn it the evening before Passover starts.  Chometz may literally be completely exiled from the house, or it may be packed into a locked cupboard and ceremonially "sold" to a gentile friend for the duration of Passover, so that it is not technically in the family's possession even though it's still in the house.  Now get this: Some households may literally have three or even four whole kitchens-- dedicated ones for Passover that are locked up the rest of the year.  Our family doesn't go anywhere near this far, but the idea of separation, of consecrated items needing special treatment, definitely seemed familiar and comfortable once I got used to it.

Me: Natasha, that is all fascinating! I’m grateful to learn more about all of these traditions.

Natasha: Kevin also suggests the following book: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper.  Ooh, that subtitle sounds all Dan Brown-ish!  It's not, though-- the author's name is Brant Pitre.

Me: Love it!  :)  Thank you so much, Natasha!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Weekend links: weather, HELLP, and more

I'm sorry for the lateness of these weekend links! I was overwhelming (in a good way) by Holy Week and all its attendant church services.  But I wish you the very happiest of Easters! Our Lord is risen!

And now, for a few links, for your reading pleasure:

"El Niño Could Grow Into a Monster, New Data Show": important news, especially for those of us who live near the Pacific!

"The Reason for My Lack of Posting Lately": Jen writes about her experience of HELLP Syndrome, in hopes of raising awareness.

"Shop Talk":
“Carve” is the operative word here, not “balance.” It was a difficult life, in which I often realized that although I identified myself as a writer first, that didn’t match the reality. If the baby was crying, he got first attention; if the class needed preparing, that was next. Often the leftover third-energy was just not enough. I call myself a slow writer, but in fact the writing comes pretty fast. It was the getting to it that dogged my teaching days. The rewriting is a long process, but it doesn’t take the same kind of preparedness as early drafts. It’s just work, so I can take it on at once and spend long hours at it.
"A Better Way to Say Sorry":
But what alternative do you have? What else are you supposed to do? It’s not like you can force a genuine apology and repentant heart out of him, right?
"Creeping to the Cross (At Home)": some kind words from one of my former professors.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week Links

I usually don't post links until the weekend, but I've run across a couple of good things recently that both so good and so timely that I didn't want to wait till Saturday to post them.

First, is Ann Dominguez's meditation "Willing in the Garden". It is all amazing, but her observation that the exhaustion she thought was caused by her work was actually caused by having to deal with sin . . . well that was just revelatory to me.

Second is Anne Kennedy's post "It's Holy Week", full of the goodness and realism that all her posts are full of, but I found it particularly encouraging as I face all the services and surprises of the week ahead, still wanting to (to paraphrase Dickens) keep Holy Week in my heart.

Finally, if you're not subscribing to the blog Lent and Beyond, you're missing out. The collection of prayers and music they've gathered there is a treasure trove.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Book Notes: "Warbreaker", by Brandon Sanderson

I read Warbreaker because my brother hinted to me that I'd be glad I did.

I was doubtful (for one thing, that's, um, quite a cover). But you know what? He was right. This book was a ton of fun!

Warbreaker turns out to be yet another of Sanderson's brilliantly world-built novels. I loved T'Telir, with its magic system of color and "Breath", I loved the different cultures in the highlands and the city, and most of all, I loved the characters pursuing their goals in the midst of this unique setting.

Like a lot of Sanderson's novels, I felt like this one was slow-going in the beginning, as he put all of his different pieces in place, and introduced us to his new world. But once everything was set up, the action picked up a LOT, and I just couldn't read fast enough. I finished the last 200 pages of this book in a single evening, racing to see what would happen, and how it would all turn out.

It turned out brilliantly. Just brilliantly. It was so much fun. All the set-up was worth it. So hang in there through the beginning.

I guessed one of the big secrets before the end - which is actually pretty satisfying, because it proves that the secrets actually made sense within the world-as-established  - but there were others I didn't guess, and they were just as satisfying, because they also all made sense.

Also, finally, there's this sword. There's this awesome, awesome sentient sword. Oh my goodness, I loved the sword. It was hilarious. It had the personality of the world's most horrifically eager puppy. Horrifically bloodthirsty eager puppy. It was terrible, but it just cracked me up. Very awesome.

So, if you're looking for a fun fantasy romp, I recommend Warbreaker. You won't regret giving it a try.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter" - availabe as an e-book!

 I'm happy to announce that in addition to being available in paperback, you can now purchase Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter as an e-book. You can buy it on Amazon for Kindle, and at the publisher's website for Kindle and other e-pub formats - for only $1.99. Instant delivery, right in time for Holy Week.

Let Us Keep the Feast will show you ways to bring the rhythms of the church year into your own home, so that the celebration of the life of the church becomes part of your daily life. Pick up a copy today!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Call for Submissions on infertility and miscarriage (updated)

This is an update of a post that originally appeared here:

I'm editing a book for Kalos Press on infertility and miscarriage, and we're seeking submissions. If you're a Christian writer who has experienced either infertility or miscarriage, and are interested in submitting an essay for consideration, please see the call for submissions here.

And to give you an idea of where we're coming from editorially, here's a bit from the introduction-to-be:
This isn’t a book that offers solutions – there are plenty of experts for that. Nor is this a book that expounds theological explanations for pain and loss – that necessary job is already well done elsewhere.
What this book offers is simpler, and more primary: it offers companionship. No one loss is like any other, yet sharing our losses can offer, if not true solace, at least the comfort of knowing there is someone else there beside you in the dark, someone who understands. We hope that in sharing these stories you will gain the words and phrase to better frame, to better comprehend, to better share, your own story.
ETA: Deadline: Submissions are due by June 1, 2014.

Format: Each piece should be written as a personal essay of 1500-2500 words. While non-fiction, please use a narrative, story-telling style that draws the reader into the piece.

Further notes on format, from the Kalos website:
The book will be devotional/Christian Reflection in style and may be written in a first-person point of view. This project will address the topics from all stages: the early lost, confused, hurt parts; the boiling anger that comes; the moments of joy in the midst that surprise us; the exhaustion and apathy that some deal with; the redemptive work of God in and through impossibly hard times; etc.
We are also interested to see submitters address things they know now that they wish someone could have shared with them. Our goal is to provide a resource for people who are struggling; it won't necessarily make anyone feel better or always offer counsel/advice, but it could assuage some of the sense of isolation. We want to offer a literary companion to others on the sometimes-lonely path that these issues require.
If you're interested in submitting a piece to the project, please take a look at the link, and feel free to contact me with any questions.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Notes: "The Rosie Project", by Graeme Simsion

I almost feel like you could pitch this book as "Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory tries to find the algorithm for marriage".

The Rosie Project is the story of Don Tillman, a professor of genetics - and, I'm pretty sure, a man with Asperger's that doesn't know he has Asperger's - trying to find the perfect mate (because he's convinced that a wife will add to his ultimate flourishing).

But he's sidetracked by a new acquaintance, Rosie, and her search to find her biological father.

Rosie, of course, is nothing like Don's picture of the perfect mate, so he immediately dismisses her as a romantic possibility. She's just a friend, who needs his expertise. Right? Right . . . .

And from there, this story is off and running! I enjoyed this book. It's a nice little romantic comedy. It's narrated by Don, and a lot of the humor comes from the difference between what he thinks his going on, and what you (as the reader) can discern is actually going on.

It also has a lot of heart. I'm pretty sure I said, "Aww!" out loud at least once when reading this book.

Perfect? No. I got annoyed at the characters a time or two, and (as I'm pretty sure most of the readers of this blog subscribe to traditional Christian morality), I should give a heads-up that this is definitely not a Christian book. There's nothing graphic in here, but there's enough objectionable content in here that I'd not recommend this one to a teenager.

However, if you like romantic comedies, this one's got it all: humor, character growth, and a really sweet love story. I really enjoyed it. :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)