What’s Your Shema?
If you’ve been in the educational wing of the church in the past few weeks, you may have noticed strange business card shaped papers in the strangest of places. So I want to tell you what’s going on.
Last month during our monthly PYC sleepover, the youth learned about a particular Jewish prayer called "Shema." (Shema is Hebrew for "Listen"). It comes from Deuteronomy 6 and Deuteronomy 11. It is a prayer meant to be recited multiple times a day, not just as an act of worship but as a reminder to oneself that you belong to God.
So the kids made cards with their own translations of "Shema" and hid them around the church for people to find. Each youth wrote down the one message they thought should be recited throughout the day, the message they most needed, the scripture that reminded them most of "who they are."
And since the Shema is meant to be recited when rising in the morning and lying down at night, they wrote it on their youth group cots. When the prayer instructed them to "bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between [their] eyes," they wrote them on headbands and bracelets, too. It was a great spiritual exercise, and it left me wondering: what’s my Shema?
What do I need to listen to? What message is so important to my faith that I should be writing it on doorposts and binding it to my wrist and forehead?
I decided that for me, it’s Exodus 3:12. "God said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."
This was the first Bible verse I ever memorized from my sparkly purple Adventure Bible. Though it’s not most people’s favorite example of God "being with us," it speaks to me because Moses was not a great guy at this point in the story. He was a murderer with an anger management problem and God tells him, "We’re going to do great things together, and when we’re done, you’ll worship right here where it all began." This is "the start." It’s "the first day of the rest of your life, Moses." And so Moses starts over and becomes who God always wanted him to be.
If God can do great things with that jerk, God can certainly do great things with me.
So, in order to not be a hypocrite, I did what I asked our youth to do. I’ve written this verse on a bracelet, and I’ll wear it all day, even if the folks at the post office think I’m nuts. I’ve written it on a card and hidden it in the church for someone to find, and I’ve made a note by my computer so I’ll see it each time "I rise up and sit down." In the name of professionalism I’m skipping the headband.
Maybe my bracelet and my note will help me remember and listen – both of which are strangely enough more action verbs in the Hebrew biblical texts than the passive verbs they are in English. I want you to ask me how it goes. If you’re adventurous enough, try it yourself. I have plenty of extra slap bracelets in my office.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
– Deuteronomy 6:4-9
You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
– Deuteronomy 11: 18-21