Friday, October 24, 2008

Reservations for One

One day a couple of weeks ago, my massage therapist (a Sikh) asked me (a Jew) how my holidays were going.

"OK, I guess", I said. "I'm not really doing much for them this year".

Her brow furrowed. I could tell she was troubled by my unexpected answer.

"What?" She gently implored, "I thought you had all these things you have to go to at the Temple."

Well, technically, that is quite correct. This part of the year, the High Holy Day season (starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur), is chock-a-block full of religious services and community obligations.

But this year, I just wasn't feeling it. What I was feeling was the guilty pangs of hypocrisy, had I chosen to go through the motions, just to try to drum up some enthusiasm for some arbitrary days on the calendar. Which - this year - don't really neatly dovetail with where things are for me on these days on my calendar.

So I chose not to go.

To any services whatsoever.

And, as far as I know, they don't take attendance.

Rosh Hashanah services are akin to a Christian's Easter or Christmas Day service. It is then that every single congregant comes out of the woodwork to put in an appearance. They may never show up the rest of the year, but here they are, in all of their penitent finery.

It is mayhem. Happy mayhem.

Celebratory mayhem.

Mayhem born of jubilation of the successful ending of one agrarian year, and the promise of an equally successful new series of harvest seasons.

But mayhem, nevertheless.

After much soul-searching, I have finally decided that I'm not a narcissisitic exhibitionist after all. I don't need to hate crowds because they draw away from the spotlight being on me, me, me. I've decided that I just hate crowds because, they're, well, crowded.

Crowds make me anxious. They make me tense. They make me claustrophobic.

So the whole not going? Doesn't make me any less spiritual. Just a lot less boxed in.

And then there's the Holiest of Holy Days, Yom Kippur. Our Day of Atonement. By the time this day rolls around, it is assumed that one has got all of their apologies and the subsequent "I forgive you's" in place.

Once these actions are ticked off of the metaphysical to-do list, then we're ready. We have effectively wiped our slates clean, and we'll find out who's inscribed into the Book of Life.

And, while our usual weekly prayerbook could very well be used as a multi-faith devotional, with its many beautiful passages and meditations? Some of the phrases from the prayerbook that we use for our High Holy Days services, seem to me, to border on the barbaric:

Who shall burn with the fires of greed.
Who shall drown in the waters of despair.

Who shall rest at the end of the day.
Who lie sleepless on a bed of pain.

Who shall be locked in the prison of self.

On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
on Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be;
who shall live and who shall die;
who shall see ripe age and who shall not

Who shall live and who shall die.

That sentence is as jarring to me as the first heavy clod of earth that hits the coffin lid at a burial. It shakes me to the core. And, I suppose, that's the intent. But this year, I could not bear it. I could not steel myself against it.

This year, I know of a couple of people who are struggling, or who have struggled valiantly to stay on that damned "Who Shall Live" page. And things are not looking so rosy.

These are good, solid people. Yet their lives are fluttering back and forth between one page and the other, and more than ever, it really bothers me to think that some unknown force will decide in which direction the wind will finally blow them.

Call me cowardly, call me irreverent, call me whatever.

As far as I'm concerned, I still have the ability to make one choice:

Who will go to services, and who will not.


Bubs said...

That was a brilliant post.

csquaredplus3 said...

That was great. I concur.

Baroness von B said...

Count Tiki and Countess Mathematique:
Thanks for the props - I had hesitated as to whether to post this or not. Now I'm glad I did. :)

Not Afraid to Use It said...

I'm glad you posted it, too. It is something I struggle with as a Catholic. We still do Xmas and Easter, but it feels so hypocritical to go on a holiday because you feel guilty. I think if I were more involved in church activities I would be more eager to go, but I am just so sick of the snobbery I see. Blech.

RiverPoet said...

This is interesting! I know next to nothing about the Jewish faith, and it is one of the few I didn't try on for size. Now I go to a non-denominational Christian church, but I didn't start going until after Easter this year. I expect I'm going to see the congregation swell beyond capacity as we reach our holidays. I find that I like the regular services very much. I'm looking forward to the holidays but not to the crowds.

I hope all of your friends who are struggling find peace, whether it is here on earth or beyond with God.

Peace - D

Baroness von B said...

Countess NATUI: I guess part of spiritual growth is the questioning, the doubting, the struggle itself. I know that providing a starting point for the boys was helpful in terms of being drawn into the process, and I did want to be there. It's always helpful to have enough knowledge under your belt to stay one step ahead.

Countess D: 'Tis a wonderful gift that you have come down where you ought to be. I hope that the holidays, though crowded, fill you with hope and wonder.

As always, your warming wishes for peace will be greatly appreciated.

A Spot of T said...

Very VERY good post! I wish I had more to add then that because it definitely deserves more. But I don't want to sound ignorant when it comes to religion. Any kind of religion. Which I would. If I opened my mouth.

Baroness von B said...

Countess of T: Everyone has their own feelings about religion & about spirituality; who is anyone to judge how a person feels? But I get what you're saying - one wrong thing said, and someone feels trampled on. 'Tis a slippery slope, indeed.

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