From Baptist to Jew
I was a Baptist from birth, dedicated to my Christian faith, until I fell in love with Judaism.
BY: Mary Blye Howe
Until my mid-30s, I'd rarely been inside any church except for Baptist churches and I'd certainly never been to a service outside of Christianity. From the time I was two weeks old, I attended church three times a week growing up in southern Illinois. As an adult, I carried gospel tracts in the back seat of my '68 Camaro, handing them out to everyone I ran across: gas station attendants, people with their windows down at a stoplight, those standing around me in line at the grocery store.
After moving to Texas from Missouri, my husband and I joined a Southern Baptist church where we analyzed the Bible verse-by-verse. Soon I began to notice inconsistencies in the way we approached the Bible. For instance, one chapter that tells wives to submit to their husbands, also tells wives and husbands to submit to each other, slaves to submit to their masters, and younger people to submit to their elders. Yet I heard the passage about the wife's submission preached emphatically, while the others received cultural reinterpretation, or were ignored altogether.
Eventually, my husband and I joined a more moderately aligned Baptist church and, shortly afterward, my church was invited to participate in an interfaith service at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. Every aspect of the synagogue's Shabbat prayer service captivated me: seeing the Ark opened and the Torah removed, the holy atmosphere that pervaded the service, the various rituals, the involvement of the congregation throughout the service, and even being around rabbis, whom I'd only read about.
I wanted more.
I began attending a Jewish study group, and realized I'd never studied the Bible in such an open, playful manner. Never had I heard so many questions raised--and valued.
I attended Conservative, Orthodox, Traditional, Reform, Jewish Renewal, and Hasidic prayer services. I danced with an Orthodox congregation through the streets of Dallas as we carried a freshly written Torah scroll to its new home. On the holiday of Shavuot, I synagogue-hopped from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. the following morning, going from Reform to Hasidic to Traditional to Conservative. Every week I studied with a Hasidic rabbi. I attended numerous seders, ate in a sukkah during Sukkot, and danced at dozens of celebrations.
As I immersed myself in Judaism, the rituals of the prayer service and Shabbat, the holidays, and the traditions took on deep meaning for me. The God I had always boxed in became an awesome Being of great mystery and awe. In Judaism, no one ever had the last word, the final answer, onanything
Divine, and I loved the endless imagination this evoked in me. Most important, I experienced God's presence more deeply and powerfully than I had in my life. This didn't reflect negatively on Christianity; it merely meant that Judaism spoke most powerfullyto me
Soon I began a process of soul-searching, engaging daily in spiritual practices that helped me delve deeply within myself, and allowed me to begin to accept and embrace the new direction my life was taking. Yet I loved my church and felt torn and helpless. How could I hurt and disappoint so many people?