Posts filed under ‘Judaism’

Immanence and the Holy Spirit

About a month or so ago Pentecost was coming up and I asked my fiance to explain the history behind it. He explained that in the Book of Acts, the Apostles got together to celebrate the then Jewish holiday of Pentecost. They were feeling discouraged and didn’t know what to do next in since the ascension of Jesus. A wind came into the room, and flames appeared above their heads. They began speaking in different languages- ones that they couldn’t speak normally. Since people from all around the Jewish Diaspora of the time were there, various individuals understood Greek, Aramaic, Turkish and other tongues they were speaking. “How could this be happening?” They wondered. These were signs of God’s presence. God was trying to tell them not to give up- that He/She is always with them, and to continue with Christ’s mission.

Perhaps it is precisely because of the subtle and internal nature of the Holy Spirit it celebrates, Pentecost of all major Christian holidays has not been secularized. In the Trinitarian concept of the Christian God, the Person of the Holy Spirit is the most immanent- or present in this world. I realized that the concept of the Holy Spirit is closest to the way Pagans often view the Divine- especially the Goddess. In Gnostic thought, the Holy Spirit was also seen as feminine- as Sophia, the personification of Wisdom. This also reminds me of the Shekhinah, the feminine aspect of the Jewish view of God- who is also quite immanent- God was said to have sent the Shekhinah to “dwell among” the people of Israel.

Pagans tend to emphasize divine immanence while Christians tend in general to view God more transcendently. However this is not always the case. Christian mystics, sects such as Quakers (not all of whom see themselves as Christian) and others see God more as immanent. Pentecostals out of all Christians emphasize the Holy Spirit the most, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit like speaking in tongues, healing etc. Strangely, despite their usually conservative theology, it is the Pentecostals in practice who are the most spiritually ecstatic. (Likewise with the Jewish sect of Hasidism).

*These ideas have been percolating in my mind for a while and I wondered if it was too late for a Pentecost-themed post but then on glancing at the Religion Calendar in the newspaper I realized that it was Eastern Orthodox Pentecost next Sunday. So I guess you could say this post is on Orthodox Standard Time!

June 13, 2008 at 2:52 am 2 comments


A while back I watched a documentary on PBS called “The Jewish Americans“. It was a fascinating show, detailing the struggles of Jews to be accepted in American society and the major role they have played in social justice movements, entertainment, business and many other aspects of American culture. One concept discussed in the documentary that I was really struck by was that of tzedekah– charity. The word in Hebrew actually means “righteousness”. One of the people interviewed explained they believe that what we have is not really ours- that it is “on loan” from God. I thought that was an interesting way to look at it. Of course charity is emphasized in many religions but I liked the way it seemed to framed in Judaism.

Too often charity has the connotation of pity, giving to those less fortunate because you feel sorry for them. Instead I think we should shift to viewing charity in the context of working for social justice. Charity often helps people only temporarily, whereas social change of a deeper sort removes or reduces the problems that cause them to need charity in the first place. The two should be interconnected. I find that charity efforts especially by religious groups have a tendency to be rather de-politicized. In part this is to make them less controversial but I think when we go off to work at the soup kitchen, we should be asking why people are in a position where they need soup kitchens.

Charity or tzedekah also does not have to be giving money. It can also be volunteering or sharing/donating other resources. I do not have much money but I frequently volunteer for various causes.

April 1, 2008 at 5:40 am 2 comments

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