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I mentioned earlier that for a while I worked at a church at a job that sucked. What’s good is that, in addition to the awesome job at the literary journal, I also found myself working an equally awesome job at a church. I’m a youth director rather than a secretary this go-around, which is a much better fit – playing games and leading discussions with 6th to 12th graders is a lot more fun than folding bulletins. Also, the pastors at the new church are supportive and encouraging. One of them gave me Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner as a Christmas gift. It took me a few months to get around to it (I’ve always got a back-log on the ‘to read’ list), but I am fully in it now, and what a book it is.

I grew up with two religions myself. My father’s not an Orthodox Jew by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know much beyond the skeleton of Judaism, but I grew up fasting on Yom Kippur, dipping parsley in salt water at Passover Seders and lighting candles at least four or so of the eight nights of Hanukkah (my dance and my sister’s gymnastics inevitably ate up some of those evenings). My family’s way of resolving Judaism and Christianity is to concentrate on what the faiths share, which is wonderful because it leads to a lot of openness and tolerance when it’s done right, as I believe it is in my parents’ house.

Winner takes a different approach by focusing on the differences between the faiths, specifically the differences in rites and practices such as prayer, food, weddings, and the Sabbath. What is so wonderful is that while I would have expected a focus on differences to lead to judging, Winner clearly has tremendous respect and warmth toward both sides. She grew up in a mix household, too, practicing Reform Judaism for the most part and gleaning a bit of Baptist belief from her mom’s side. In Girl Meets God, which I have not read yet, ever-stronger spiritual yearnings led her first to devout Orthodox Judaism, and then to equally devout Christianity (Anglican, I believe? I had to read up on the Internet to check it out, since she doesn’t mention a denomination in Mudhouse). Leaving Judaism for her meant leaving all the practices she was accustomed to, from keeping kosher to the way she grieved or prayed. Some transitions were easier than others (being allowed to eat shellfish is apparently one of the big perks of converting), but she found herself missing the rhythm of her Jewish life, the way even the annoying rules she had to follow kept her feeling connected to God.

Mudhouse Sabbath looks at eleven aspects of life from both the Jewish and Christian perspective, explaining what rituals each religion brings to the table, what they mean to her, and how she’s adapted or created her own practices so she can keep the attentiveness to faith that she loved in Judaism, rewritten into a Christian context. The writing is engaging and approachable, with an easy openness and honesty that makes me wish I could run into this girl on the street and be friends with her. I like the way she takes it as a matter of course that spirituality is an everyday part of life. Even though I work at a church, I don’t always pray every day or make such an attentive practice of “being religious” during the week. This book makes me want to bring more of that into my life, because the way she tells it makes it seem like such a rewarding way to be present in the days between Sunday and Sunday.

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