Barbara Brown Taylor has supported me for the past 8 years, ever since I discovered Learning to Walk in the Dark and An Alter in the World. A rare mix of wisdom with humility, and realism with hope, permeate all of Taylor’s works. Holy Envy is a different kind of read. In it, Taylor describes her journey teaching many semesters of Religions of the World at Piedmont College. She describes experiencing “Holy Envy” for certain aspects of each religion she taught, “falling” for each one when learning about it in its perfect form. Taylor espouses the belief that“one of the best ways to learn more about your faith is to engage with people who do not share it”. Conveying this to her students, she noticed how much they needed to be reassured that studying other faiths would not make them lose their own.
While the book provides an interesting while cursory exposure to other Religions, what gave me pause was reading, “Our shadows are often behind us, where others can see them better than we can.” And, “…the bible is bigger than I am. It does not care what I like and do not like. It preceded me by millennia and will likely still be around when my civilization returns to dust…The problem with every sacred text is that it has human readers. Consciously or unconsciously, we interpret it to meet our own needs.”
I read those few sentences numerous times reflecting on my Judaism. How many times do we approach our text with a set agenda hoping to find what we are looking for – shooting the arrow first and then drawing the bull’s eye around it. I know I’ve done it. Life is complex and I want my Judaism to support the “right” side of a struggle. I want my Judaism to accommodate each individual, as it simultaneously maintains itself as a religion fit for the multitude. I want my Judaism to be flexible enough to meet the needs of each generation, while firmly holding onto its essence and core tenets which are timeless. And then I reflect on Taylor’s words, “But the Bible is bigger than I am…and we interpret it to meet our own needs.”
I am deeply appreciative to Barbara Brown Taylor for shining a light on a shadow of mine as I engage my Judaism in a complex world. I may have to accept some things with which I disagree. But I would prefer to struggle honestly, then sit in comfort as a result of my having made up the rules.