Monday, September 21, 2009


Yesterday, Jacob and I celebrated Tashlich by going out to Montrose Beach and throwing the leftover challah into Lake Michigan to symbolize casting our sins away as we turn back towards God and community in the New Year of Rosh Hashanah. It was glorious. The sky was overcast and the waves somewhat threatening. Jacob and I scrambled over the big limestone blocks that line the shore until we were a little bit north of the dog beach. We began hurling big chunks of challah into the waves. The wind would catch it and it would hang in the air, which made me think that maybe I could hit one of the seagulls that was starting to converge on our coordinates. Jacob said that maybe that would be a bad omen for the new year. He began to read the traditional scripture off his phone but I barely paid attention in the baby maelstrom.
Micah 7:18 Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.

19 You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

20 You will be true to Jacob,
and show mercy to Abraham,
as you pledged on oath to our fathers
in days long ago.
I am often guided by some words spoken by one of the members of Sweet Honey in the Rock that was spoken on one of their live albums: "If you want change in your life and there is a storm, walk in to it. When you get to the other side, you will be changed." I am always emboldened by the assumption that you will get to the other side and that change is choice that one makes, not something that simple happens to us.

Yesterday, thought, as I was hurling the last of my iniquities into the depths of a seagull's gullet via the lake, I did not think too deeply on what was happening or remember Sweet Honey in the Rock because I was, quite simply, caught up in the joy of furious weather. I looked up above me and found that the few seagulls I used as targets had multiplied until they were legion and they were thick not just in our area but all up and down the beach. It was glorious! We watched them hover in the wind and they didn't fight at all or make any noise. We grinned at each other and gushed about how cool it was.

Then, one particular bird whose plumage we were admired took a big shit where our sins used to be and we decided it would probably be a good moment to head back to the car.

To be honest, the other reason that I didn't really engage in the meaning of the tashlich ceremony was that I'm feeling a little steamrolled by Judaism lately, especially in the last few days. The wedding was almost entirely Jewish in form, even if it was interfaith in interpretation. Jacob and I have spent a year researching and reading and talking to dig out a place for ourselves inside his community and inside his own theology. My emotional responses to the behavior of my in-laws, who are unavoidably associated with Judiasm, have been exhausting. In the last few weeks before the wedding, I was taking the advice of so many of my closest advisers: just get through the wedding; then, you'll have time to breathe.

But just as I surface again after the honeymoon, it's Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and Jacob thinks it would be cool to build a sukkah in our parking space and then Simhat Torah and we need to plan for a trip to New York for Thanksgiving and maybe a trip to Ohio before that for a charity event for the hospital that is so good to Jacob's niece and Channukah is early this year.

Where is that breathing? Where is that space a new couple needs to simply be without having to be . . . something? Of course, it could be that this is not something we're entitled to at all. I recently read a fantasy book called Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce in which white imperialists are referred to as "luarin." A line of dialogue spoken by one of the "raka" or native people struck me.
"That's the problem with luarin," Boulaj observed softly. "They think gods have rules and follow them. They should dedicate their lives to the Trickster, as we do. They would not be comfortable, but they would not have illusion that life is supposed to make sense, either."
This has made me start thinking that I easily think of Jesus as subversive and this could easily be communicated using a Trickster framework, like stories of Brer Rabbit, Coyote, Raven, Reynard the Fox, Enki, Loki, Hermes and Bugs Bunny. This shift in perspective to Jesus as Trickster might help with my overall sense of entitlement and give me the strength to be a good daughter-in-law and wife rather than letting myself be less than God calls me to be because I didn't expect the situation that I find myself in.

Last year, I read a book called The Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared and the spiritual journey that a deliberate celebrating of the High Holidays can lead one through is really beautiful. And there were moments in the 3.5 hour service on Saturday morning that were really beautiful, especially because they value storytelling and gave two members of the congregation amply time to reflect on the theme of the New Year in addition to the rabbi's homily.

But on Friday, I had a tough day because I missed the spiritual journey that I used to be on: the one of finding God's love for me as shown by the gift of Jesus in previously unlooked-for places so that I would feel it more deeply and hopefully be encouraged to reflect that love to others as my main action in life, seeking social justice and extricating myself from systems that oppress other people that God loves just as much as she loves me.

There hasn't been as much Jesus in my life lately, what with all the Judaism needing so much attention.

About two weeks before the wedding, Jacob and I decided that we wanted to do big group family pictures before the wedding so that we wouldn't waste any of the time we had scheduled for the band to be there. However, to make this work logistically, we had to do these two hours before the ceremony, because we had already paid money for the rooms for our kabbalat panim during the hour before the ceremony and we didn't want to waste it. So, we changed everything around and decided to have separate pre-chuppah receptions that were divided by family rather than gender.

This is maybe the best decision that we could have made for my peace of mind. When my extended family gets together, we often have family Bible studies where we briefly examine a piece of scripture, pray together and sing out of tattered Murphy hymnals that are about 20 years old with construction paper covers decorated with glitter glue and filled with our favorite xeroxed hymns. I decided that I wanted to do this before the wedding. My dad led a brief reflection on the scripture for the ceremony, we sang A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Wonderful Grace of Jesus and Come Though Fount of Every Blessing and then we prayed: once when they laid hands on me and once in a big circle that concluded in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer and followed by singing the traditional Johnny Appleseed which is always sung holding hands and swinging our arms back and forth. I think I cried the entire time.

Although I did not realize why I needed this time, I look back and can see that it allowed me to reside in the center of where I come from. I gave a lot of lipservice to the faith traditions that we come from in The World's Longest Wedding Program but had become distanced from what those traditions really were. By spending the hour before the wedding doing one of the rituals that has made me who I am, I could bring my whole self to the wedding ceremony. Without it, I would have only brought the harried, joyful, event planning self that I had been for the last 6 months to the chuppah. Instead, like Esperanza on her birthday from House on Mango Street, I could be all the Rebeccas I had been up to that point. I could bring the Jesus that lives in my heart with me down the aisle instead of having to just meet him there because my pastor brought him along.

But Friday, I felt like I had lost him again with all this Judaism swirling around my head like seagulls vying for stale bread. Maybe writing this post has helped me catch sight of him again so that I know which direction to walk in this new year. We'll see.

Shanah Tovah.


Anonymous said...

Oh my. To be fair, I think you are partially suffering from some bad timing--the high holidays can be really consuming, so when you are already burnt out from wedding stuff...yeah. I feel you.

I also think that Judaism has a real ability to "take over" partially because it is so all-encompassing (spirituality/family/culture/tradition/food/etc.), partially because of people like my parents and your in-laws and the ways in which we sometimes find ourselves acting mostly in reaction to them, etc. Despite the fact that G. is not religious at all, I was still really afraid that our wedding and subsequent marriage in the Jewish tradition would cancel out his background completely. I think one has to be really conscious not to let that happen. I'm happy you had that awesome moment before your wedding--give yourself more of those!

Rachel said...

I wonder... I wonder if I can get the words right. You help support the Judaism in your marriage. Can you ask Jacob to help support the Christianity in your marriage? I know he goes to church with you, and I'm not saying this to condemn him at all, but it does seem like you're holding up both of those. You and he are building an interfaith marriage together. It's not just you.

Just food for thought.

Pray, love. I'd love your prayers, too.

Jessica Young said...

You have such wise women weighing in, I feel humbled to lend my voice.
I have heard the high holiday schedule is quite a grueling one, and it sounds like you're being put through quite the wringer. It makes me think of a woman we used to know who always believed that in a couple's first year of marriage everyone leaves them alone so they can spend time investing in their bond: their friends, their families, their social and worship community obligations, and they just hunker down and work on the life they're making together. At the time I thought it was a deeply conservative idea (not a surprise, coming from this woman) but now I listen and think perhaps a bit of the two of you falling of the face of the planet may be just the thing.
I'm feelin' Rachel in this. Your honey is a place for you to take this feeling and hold it in front of him so you can think on it and dialogue about it together. Yeah? Can you ask him to hold up the banner of Christ in your marriage as you are holding up the banner of Yaweh? Marriage is a lonely place at times, but this blend is one you are building together, and as you work to massage and incorporate the Jewish heritage, so he works to massage and incorporate the Christian one. I know I know, patience and path and growth and all that, but part of what he loves about you is how and why you love Christ. How can he help preserve and invest in that?
More love from the North side... ;)

PrincessMax said...

Ladies, as always thank you for your kind comments and your warm support.

To address your concerns specifically, Rachel and Jess, I have talked about this with Jacob and the conversation is part of an ongoing negotiation that we are both looking forward to for the rest of lives.

As a general rule, I never post about my relationship with Jacob if I haven't talked about it with him first. I never want my blog to become a tool of passive aggression and so developed that rule once Jacob started reading. This gives me the freedom to talk about my emotional experiences because I believe that storytelling changes the world while still making Jacob the primary source of emotional intimacy in my life.

You are wonderful wonderful ladies. I love that you love me this much.

Anonymous said...

Your dad will have strong words of build a bridge and get over it when he sees you tomorrow. I pray that this current challenge to building your marriage and growing deep in your faith is the harshest you might face in the next 50 years.
And know that mom and I love you (and Jacob) but not any where as fiercely as God on high loves you both. Luv, the dad