Moses Receives the Tablets of the Law by  João Zeferino da Costa (1868)

This week in Covenant and Conversation we completed the section of Rabbi Sacks book concerning the parasha (readings) of Yitro (Jethro) which covers Exodus 1:20 to 20:23 . We will begin the parasha of Mishpatim next Thursday which covers Exodus 21:1 to 24:18.

In the words of Rabbi Sacks:

Following the revelation at Mount Sinai, Mishpatim fleshes out the details of the predominantly civil law that was to govern the Israelites: laws relating to slaves and their release, personal injuries and property laws, laws of social responsibility, justice and compassion, and laws relating to Shabbat (Sabbath) and the festivals. It ends with a ratification of the covenant, and Moses ascending the mountain for forty days.

In the essays that follow, the first examines the law about helping an enemy, and the social [psychology that underlies it. The second look at two interpretations of a passage that would eventually lead to divergent Jewish and Christian approaches to abortion. The third is about the contrast between simplicity of the Ten Commandments and the complexity and detail of the laws of Mishpatim. Why does the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) use both methodologies? The fourth is about one of the most challenging and distinctive of all biblical imperatives: the command to love the stranger.

Our studies are based on a text by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks titled Exodus: The Book of Redemption,  Maggid Books (2010). In addition scriptural passages are read from The Five Books of Moses, by Everett Fox, Shocken Books, Inc. , New York (1997) a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Covenant and Conversation meets each Thursday at nine o’clock in the library of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina. Generally we meet for one hour. All are welcome to join us.


Covenant and Conversation

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law, 1659, Leinwand, 168,5 x 136,5 cm, Gemalde-galerie, Berlin, Germany / The Bridgeman Art Library, Nationality Dutch (out of copyright)

A group has formed at Trinity Cathedral Parish (Trinity Episcopal Cathedral) in Columbia, South Carolina to study the relationship between the Hebrew Scriptures specifically the Torah or Five Books of Moses and the Christian Old and New Testaments. The group is called Covenant and Conversation. It meets on Thursday mornings at nine o’clock a.m. to ten o’clock a.m. in the Cathedral Library.

Currently we are reading Exodus: The Book of Redemption by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the British Commonwealth) supplemented with readings from The Five Books of Moses, a translation of the Torah by Dr. Everett Fox, Professor of Judaic and Biblical Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Our purpose is expressed best in the words of Professor Fox himself:

The purpose of this work is to draw the reader into the world of the Hebrew Bible through the power of its language.

Fox, The Five Books of Moses, Translators Preface p ix

In entering the world of the Hebrew Bible we hope to gain a greater understanding of the world from which Jesus came and the influence which it had on his ministry as well as why his ministry was perceived by the religious authorities to be such a radical departure from traditional Judaic thought when in fact to Christians it is the fulfillment of that thought rather than a departure from it.

All are welcome to join. The purchase of the books is not required but may be purchased online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble and other booksellers. Rabbi Saks’ book sells for about $20.00 on Amazon and Professor Fox’s book is available in both paperback and hardback new and used. On Amazon the paperback runs about $32.00 new and the hardback $75.00 new, with used copies available at much lower prices.

If you are interested or need further information please contact Paul Nicholson by email at or just drop by on Thursday morning for covenant and conversation and of course coffee or tea.

A Window of Sanctification

The Battle

For most of my adult life, particularly my married life, I have fought a battle each year starting with the first Sunday of Advent.  I have tried mightily to maintain a “Holy Advent” which involved prayer, worship, and contemplation and which excluded shopping for presents, decorating, and cooking. 

My concept of what constitutes the holy in a Holy Advent mirrored the definition of the holy as expressed in a book by Rudolph Otto a German Lutheran theologian Otto defines the holy using the maxim  mysterium tremendum et fascinans, or a sense of being in the presence of something vast and awe inspiring.  

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book Exodus:The Book of Redemption which is a part of his Covenant and Conversation series further refines the definition with th concept of Tzimtzum, or divine “contraction” or “self-effacement”.  Sacks takes this concept from the school of mysticism associated with Lurianic Kabbala.  Tzimtzum posits that  “there is a contradiction” between the infinite and the finite and since God is infinite and everywhere how then can anything else exist.  God, and that which is not God, cannot occupy the same space so to engage in the act of creation God had to “contract”.  Thus, you cannot love God and mammon.  So, mammon’s got to go or at least be held at bay for a time.   


These rabbi’s and theologians present a complicated explanation which is  heady stuff for us laymen but simply put: in my mind a “holy” advent could only involve prayer, contemplation and worship.  Shopping for presents, parties, decorating and baking simply had to be put off  until the actual Feast of the Nativity arrived on Christmas Eve.   But to have the Christmas celebration in all its elements one has to “prepare” which involves shopping, decorating, and baking.  But a recently I have become convinced that there is something to the argument made by Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits who thinks that the word holy refers to God’s involvement with humanity not his transcendence or mystery.  

Expectedly every year I have found myself loosing this battle to preserve a commercial free Advent.   The world of commerce starts Commericalmas the day after Thanksgiving with the feast day of Black Friday and unremittingly continued to celebrate until the day after Christmas when – poof – preparations for Valentines day started in earnest. No Christmastide, no Epiphany, just on to the next sale. 

But my encounter yesterday leads me to the conclusion that both Otto and Berkovitz can be right.   I am a big fan of Icons, the type that the Orthodox make in copious quantities and for which there is one for almost every feast day and event in the Christian calendar.  As my wife and I were preparing to leave on a shopping trip she asked me if there was something special I would like for Christmas.  And at that moment a vision of an icon depicting the nativity popped into my head and, as luck would have it,  there was a quaint little shop selling such things located near our original shopping destination.

So, on our way to buy gifts,  we visited the small shop here in Columbia called “The Unexpected Joy”  which is commonly referred to as the “orthodox shop”.  It is run by a very kind and knowledgeable man named John who I believe is the member of an Orthodox order. As we entered the shop John immediately greeted us in recognition as in the past I have been known to purchase great quantities of incense from him and he remembered me.  After a little catching up I asked him if he had a “nativity icon” “Of course  I do” he responded and he guided me to the one by Rublev pictured above.  I had wanted a certain size to match the Trinity Icon of Rublev’s which I already have at home but that size was not available and I settled on a smaller version.  And as I was “proceeding to checkout” and as if guided by an invisible hand,  my eye caught the sight of an icon of Saint Nicholas in the same size.  It took all of two seconds to realize that Nicholas was the perfect companion to the Nativity icon and simply must also be had.  So both were purchased. 

The Victory

The important part, however, was what happened next.  John began telling me that the shop was celebrating its twenty fifth anniversary.  Each year a ‘Blessing” ceremony is held and and a priest comes complete with holy water and incense and blesses the shop for another year. All of the shop keepers in the area, regardless of their denominational persuasion, attend because as John put it they see the shop as radiating a spiritual force throughout the area.  John cordially invited Jana and I to come which we very much plan to do.  

As we left the shop I felt cleansed, refreshed, and ready to once again face the forces of that “which is other than God” in the knowledge of the mystery that God is  in all things and with us in all we do.   The irony is that a selfish commercial transaction had opened a window and pushed aside that which is not God for a while  allowing us to experience him more fully.  

So, even in the midst of Commercalmas we can find sanctification and the way leading to a deeper experience of God in our lives.  So from now on I will be viewing Advent differently.

Well, the real Feast of the Nativity will be here soon:  may you have a Holy Advent and a Happy Christmas!


Icons: (1) The Nativity by Rublev,, St. Andrei located in the Cathedral of the Annunciation, Moscow, 15th c. (2) Saint Nicholas, N. Lionda, Greek School 20th c. 

References: (1) Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy (Oxford University Press, 1958) (2) Jonathan Sacks, Exodus:  The Book of Redemption (Maggid Books 2010), 139140; (3) Eliezer Berkovits, Essential Essays on Judaism, ed. David Hazony (Jerusalem Shalem, 2002), 247-314. 

The Morning Office – 22 June 2018 The Feast of Saint Alban, Martyr

AlbanHomily from Morning Prayer for June 22, 2018.

The Feast of Saint Alban

First Martyr of Britain, c. 304

“My parents named me Alban, and I worship the living and true God, who created all things.” Today we remember and venerate Saint Alban who in the words of Lesser Feasts and Fasts was the “earliest Christian in Britain who is known by name and according to tradition the first British martyr.  Alban was a roman soldier who gave shelter to a Christian priest fleeing persecution and who in the process became converted to the Christian faith.  When the Roman officers came to Alban’s house looking for the priest he dressed himself as the priest and have himself up. He was tortured, tried and executed.  Tradition has it his execution took place on the hilltop where the cathedral of Saint Alban’s now stands outside of the city of Saint Albans England.

One is given to wonder how one would react given the same situation.  Would we be willing, in this modern age, to give up our lives to save someone else, especially a complete stranger?  Dying to protect friends and family is one thing but dying to protect a stranger because he, or she, is an embodiment of the faith is something else again.

In the lesson from the second chapter of Romans appointed for today Saint Paul makes the point that “he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision external and physical. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal” At the time he was speaking Christianity was a part of Judaism and the measure was how Jewish are you which is why he uses that phraseology.  But taken today we can make the same measurement as to one’s Christianity not as how faithful one is to the law but rather how faithful is one to Christ.

Like Saint Alban we all face the test from time to time of how much to risk for our faith.  Saint Alban rose to the challenge and was willing to give his life in faith.  Could we do the same?

Supreme Court of the United States Denies Certiorari


Here is the latest Supreme Court decision concerning the breakaway group in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. The following press release was curated by The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

“As we have throughout this legal journey, we are called to continue in prayer for all are affected in anyway by this decision. Regardless of legal questions, let us keep our hearts and minds focused on next steps that heal, that restore, that forgive, and that seek forgiveness,” The Right Rev. W Andrew Waldo urges

supreme court II

US Supreme Court Denies Certiorari, will not hear church property case

The United States Supreme Court today denied a petition from a breakaway group, letting stand the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court to return control of the Diocese of South Carolina and 28 church properties to The Episcopal Church and its recognized diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC).

The high court denied certiorari to the group that announced in 2012 they were leaving The Episcopal Church. The breakaway group filed a lawsuit in 2013 seeking to control diocesan and parish properties, and a Dorchester County court found in their favor in 2015. The state Supreme Court overturned that decision in August 2017.

“We are grateful for the clarity that this decision offers, and hopeful that it brings all of us closer to having real conversations on how we can bring healing and reconciliation to the Church, the Body of Christ, in this part of South Carolina,” said the Right Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III, Bishop of TECSC.

“Our path continues to be one of reconciliation and love, for love is the way of Jesus,” Bishop Adams said.

Today’s decision does not cause an immediate change in the physical control of the properties, according to Thomas S. Tisdale Jr., Chancellor of TECSC. It is now up to the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Common Pleas to execute the lower court’s decision.

TECSC and The Episcopal Church on May 8 asked the state court to place diocesan property and assets under control of TECSC’s trustees, hand over ownership of property of the 28 affected parishes to The Episcopal Church and TECSC, and appoint a Special Master to oversee the transition.

The Episcopal Church has been hoping to engage with leaders of the breakaway group since the state Supreme Court ruling in August. Bishop Adams and other diocesan leaders have been seeking direct contact with people in the affected parishes, offering a “Frequently Asked Questions” publication and arranging individual meetings to work with those who want to remain in their home churches as Episcopalians.

Direct talks are even more important now that the Supreme Court has ruled, the Bishop said. “We invite people in each of the parishes affected by this decision to read the FAQ document and get in touch with me directly, so we can discover how best to work together for the good of the parish, the diocese and the whole Church,” Bishop Adams said.

“It happens that today is the day we remember St. Barnabas, and in the prayer assigned for today we note that he sought not his own renown, but the well-being of God’s Church. May we do the same.”

A meeting of diocesan leaders, including the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, Trustees, and Deans, has been called for Tuesday, June 12. The ordained and lay leaders will gather for prayer, hear information and discuss plans for the months ahead.

Bishop Adams expressed gratitude to those within the diocese and throughout the wider Episcopal Church who have offered prayers and support through the last 5-1/2 years. “Many people have labored faithfully and sacrificed much to remain steadfast in solidarity with us as we seek to be disciples of Jesus in this place. For every one of you, I give thanks,” he said.



A Historical Timeline of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina

Frequently Asked Questions for people and parishes


The Elusive Trinity

Andrew Marr, OSB is Abbot of Saint Gregory’s Monastery located near Three Rivers, Michigan. In this piece his approach to the Feast of the Trinity is primarily scriptural utilizing the story told in Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John. He brings home the fact that Christianity is a story of salvation before it is a set of doctrines.

Imaginary Visions of True Peace

KatrinaCrossAbraham1The Trinity is a fundamental doctrine for Christianity but Christianity is a story of salvation before it is a set of doctrines. The Trinity is no exception. If we get the story right, we might get the doctrine right, but if we get the story wrong, then we get the doctrine wrong for sure.

John 3 tell of Nicodemus coming to see Jesus at night, suggesting he is in the dark. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” (Jn. 3:3) don’t seem to follow from what Nicodemus had just said. It sounds like the answer to a question that was not asked. Is there an implied question to what Nicodemus did say? The only implied question I can pick up is: “How do I do the signs that you do?” If so, Jesus is saying…

View original post 766 more words

Concerning Pentecost

שבועות or Πεντηκοστή or

The Feast of Weeks

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Gospel of Matthew 5:17

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, as the spirit gave them utterance.”

“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language, and they were amazed and wondered saying, Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear each of us in his own native language?”  Book of Acts 1:15

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Gospel of John 1:1

We Christians are about to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost with special liturgies and activities on Sunday May 20th.   Pentecost is a feast coming some fifty days after Easter and is for Christians the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity and some say it also commemorates the birth of the Christian Church.  And as chronicled in the portion of the Book of Acts quoted above, the Spirit came upon a group composed of the Apostles and “devout men” (and presumably women) who were assembled together in what many believe was the same room in which the “Last Supper” was celebrated (the Upper Room).   And, the Spirit came upon them with a sound like a mighty wind and appeared as tongues of fire coming to rest on the heads of the Apostles.

Interestingly the passage in the Book of Acts begins “When the day of Pentecost had come…” so it would seem that the day of Pentecost was not an invention of the newly born Christian Church but rather  a part of the larger Jewish heritage of those present in the assembly.  In Judaism it has come down to us in the form of the a celebration called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot.  The Shavuot celebration has a twofold purpose: (1) to mark and celebrate the giving of the Law (the Ten Commandments) to the people of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai over three thousand years ago, and (2) the conclusion of the harvest time in Israel which lasted seven weeks starting in Passover. It is pious Jewish legend (per Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro) that when the Commandments were presented to the assembled people of Israel there were those present who spoke different languages but who, like those present in the Acts story, understood, in his own native tongue, the words spoken by Moses and others as the scrolls were presented. .

We Christians refer to Jesus as the “word made flesh”.   We see him as the living breathing embodiment of the Law and his life, death, resurrection, and ascension as gifts from God given to cement the “reconciliation” of God and man – a new covenant based not on following the laws of the Commandments but rather following the living witness of Jesus.

It is manifestly clear that the chronicle of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and others on the day of Pentecost represents more than just an odd coincidence.  I would pose the question of whether for Christians the arrival of the Law and the arrival of the Holy Spirit are acts which are interwoven theologically in such a way that to understand the one you must also understand the other.

This year Shavuot will be celebrated from Sunset, May 19 to nightfall, May 21, 2018.  The Christian Feast of Pentecost will be celebrated in the calendar of most Christian churches on Sunday May 20.

As we Christians celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian Church it would probably be wise to bear in mind how this event fits into the larger scriptural picture.  Moses presented the word to the children of Israel, Jesus became the “word made flesh”, and the Holy Spirit was revealed to those assembled on “the Day of Pentecost” to remain with us as our “Comforter” just as the Commandments had done before and still do but with a greater understanding as to their true nature.  Jesus was present when the Commandments were given as was the Father and the Holy Spirit but all that was recognized at the time was the act of the Father.  In the fullness of time we Christians have come to know God as a Holy Trinity,  the Father, the creator, the Son, the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter.  The important point here is that the nature of God has not changed over the millenia only our understanding of him and how he interacts with us in our daily lives.




A Birthday Day Dedication for 6 May 2018


FOR 6 May 2018

All of this week and last week I have been receiving messages on my Facebook account urging me to “dedicate” my birthday day as a day to celebrate a “charitable organization” or “worthy cause”.  This morning as I said the Morning Office I was particularly struck by the psalm and the recollection of a conversation I had last Friday with my friend who likes to refer to himself as an Anglican Evangelical as opposed to an Evangelical Anglican.  In discussing the ultimate sinfulness of man we arrived at the conclusion that we agreed that constant prayer and a constant relationship with God through Christ was an absolute essential even for the most saintly among us.  Immediately an image of praying the Daily Office popped into my mind with its introductory confession, recitation of the psalms, reading of the scriptures, recitation of the creed, making of the prayers and praying the intercessions.  Along with that image I called to mind the admonition of the Bishop of Tennessee, Bishop Bauerschimdt,  that even when we pray the Offices alone we should do so with the knowledge that we are praying on behalf of the whole church and that we are not praying alone and should conduct ourselves reverently and appropriately.

So Facebook I will dedicate this day giving all “Glory, Laud and Honor” to the Daily Offices of the Book of Common Prayer and commending them to the reading by all people, Christian or otherwise.  I invite them to pray the Offices regularly and with reverence and the knowledge that they do not approach God alone but rather in concert with the whole Church present, past and future.  And, in the process of praying the offices they will be maintaining a continuing and reverent relationship with God.

To contribute to my charity simply find a copy of the Book of Common Prayer either paper or electronic and open it to the Daily Office and start praying.

I would like to share with you Psalm 30 which is one of the psalms appointed for today the sixth day of the thirty day cycle for Morning Prayer which speaks to me today in a very special way today:

1.  I will exalt you, O Lord,

because you have lifted me up

and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

2. O Lord my God, I cried out to you,

And you restored me to health.

3. You brought me up O Lord, from the dead;

You restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

4. Sing to the Lord, you servants of his;

Give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

5. For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,

his favor for a lifetime.

6. Weeping may spend the night,

but joy comes in the morning.

7. While I felt secure I said,

“I shall never be disturbed.

you, Lord with your favor, made me as strong as

the mountains.”

8. Then you hid your face,

And I was filled with fear.

9. I cried to you, O Lord;

I pleaded with the Lord saying,

10. “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?

will dust praise you or desire your faithfulness?

11. Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me;

O Lord be my helper.”

12. You have turned my wailing into dancing;

You have put off my sack cloth and clothed me with joy.

13. Therefore my heart sings to you without easing;

O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever

In the introduction to his books The Five Books of Moses and The Early Prophets professor Everett Fox makes the point that as with other ancient writings the Hebrew Scriptures (and I think the Bible as a whole) was written with the intention that they be read aloud and preferably publicly.   There is a dimension of the scripture which shows itself when it is read this way that simply does not come through otherwise.  And, saying the Daily Office provides the perfect platform for this practice which will open a new dimension to anyone’s spiritual life.


LOST IN NETFLIX – A Short Review of “Lost in Space”

Lost in Space

And thus ends for this household the last episode of season one of the chronicles of the Robinson family, aka “Lost in Space”.   This new reprise of the old television show is a definite improvement in settings, special effects , and performances.  Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Parker Posey and Ignacio Serricchio all turn in excellent performances punctuated with a particularly good performance by Parker Posey as the maniacal Dr. Smith. Not to spoil anything for anyone I will say that I think we can look forward to a resurrection during season two as one of the last scenes in the last episode was highly reminiscent of a scene in “Lord of the Rings” in which Gandalf and the evil demon plummet into the abyss, seemingly to their deaths, only to have Gandalf reemerge later as Gandalf the white.  Anyway, can’t wait for season two if there is one and rumor has it that there will be, but as of this time season two appears to be “Lost in Space”  hopefully to reemerge soon.

A full review posted by Cameron K. McEwan in Digital Spy can be found here: Digital Spy

LOST IN NETFLIX – A Brief Review of “Lost in Space”

Lost in Space And thus ends for this household the last episode of season one of the chronicles of the Robinson family, aka “Lost in Space”.   This new reprise of the old television show is a definite improvement in settings, special effects , and performances.  Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Parker Posey and Ignacio Serricchio all turn in excellent performances punctuated with a particularly good performance by Parker Posey as the maniacal Dr. Smith. Not to spoil anything for anyone I will say that I think we can look forward to a resurrection during season two as one of the last scenes in the last episode was highly reminiscent of a scene in “Lord of the Rings” in which Gandalf and the evil demon plummet into the abyss, seemingly to their deaths, only to have Gandalf reemerge later as Gandalf the white.  Anyway, can’t wait for season two if there is one and rumor has it that there will be, but as of this time season two appears to be “Lost in Space”  hopefully to reemerge soon.

A full review posted by Cameron K. McEwan in Digital Spy can be found here: Digital Spy