#BlogElul2013: Believe

I am someone who relishes reading all sorts of material from any corner of the internet, regardless of whether it makes me angry, makes me question, or is simply diametrically opposed to my worldview.  Sometimes this is just a purely intellectual exercise – I enjoy finding out what makes people who are so different from me “tick,” and other times, it is a useful exercise in critical thinking, in finding some semblance of common ground, and I’ve found that my thinking gets shaped by what I read and how I interpret it.

I don’t generally venture into the realm of atheist blogs/communities online, but in the course of pursuing other interests, I’ve come across a sizable number of skeptics, who seem to see it as their life’s mission to decry any form of outdated, superstitious, silly nonsense (or, to use their favorite term, “wooo”). Some of these skeptics are dear friends of mine, but I’ll admit that, as a person of faith, knowing that their skepticism extends into their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and sometimes, it can be tricky not to take their blanket statements about people who believe a tiny bit personally. Yet, at the same time, I know that they have a point – I have no way to prove that God is real. All I can do is take the proof that has been offered up in my own life and my own experiences as enough, and trust that my belief is sufficient, that it is real and justified. It’s not called a leap of faith for nothing, but I choose to believe that what Judaism teaches about the existence of God is real.  Perhaps paradoxically, I also take comfort in the fact that my faith allows for people who doubt or even do not believe – Humanistic Judaism is not something I ever see myself subscribing to, but I like the fact that just because you don’t believe, you are cut off from the Jewish faith, and that it is open to so many diverse interpretations.

To end, let me shamelessly copy the Ima on the Bima, who posted this song at the end of her own entry on “believe”:

To me, this song says it perfectly.

There can be miracles/when you believe.

#BlogElul 16: Wonder

One of the reasons I am entering an education-centric field is because I that working with kids exposes you to the wonder with which they see the world.  Everything is fresh and new to them, each new discovery about how our world works (big, small, completely unimportant – it can all fascinate a child) is a source of amazement and wonder.  Kids are not cynical, and everything is up for grabs, up for questioning.   While teaching them can be exhausting and exasperating at times, being around this enthusiasm can be contagious.  It forces you to look at the world through new eyes, to rediscover your own sense of wonder and curiosity, which is a fantastic feeling.

One of the things that never ceases to make me wonder is how intricately our bodies work.  When you get down to learning biology and anatomy, and you learn just how many things have to go right, coordinate, fire, sync, release, contract to make even the smallest movements, it’s impossible not to be filled with wonder.  It’s hardly surprising then, that one of my favorite prayers within the Jewish morning liturgy (shacharit) is the Nisim B’Chol Yom – for daily miracles. The italicized notes in my Mishkan T’Filah journal have summaries of the things we give thanks to God for each morning. In order, they are:

  • Awakening
  • Vision
  • The ability to stretch
  • For rising to the new day
  • For firm earth to stand upon
  • For the gift of motion
  • For clothing the body
  • For renewed enthusiasm for life
  • For reawakening
  • For being in the image of God
  • For being a free person
  • For being a Jew
  • For purpose
  • For harmony

I am not a morning person, and I am a long way from being able to pray coherently or meaningfully upon waking, but I try and keep these general sentiments in mind.   It’s not always easy for me, particularly as someone who has struggled deeply with feeling betrayed by their body due to chronic health conditions, but when I find myself feeling upset or frustrated with my body and it not doing what I’d like it to be doing, it helps a great deal to have the words of this prayer flit through my mind.  When I’m focused on appreciation and wonder for life, and for my body, my perspective shifts and I feel more able to move on psychologically and spiritually, which of course helps physically.  Our lives and our bodies are wondrous things, it’s just hard to keep sight of that sometimes.

#BlogElul 8: Prayer

It began with an eyelash. And then some birthday candles. And then everything I could possibly make a wish on.  And my wishes, or prayers, were answered.  

That’s powerful stuff for a 12 year old, and it’s what led me to investigate religion and spirituality more deeply and set me on the path I am on today.  

Since then, I have come to rely on prayer throughout my daily life.  Sometimes it’s those trivial ones we blurt off without a thought “please don’t let the bus come before I reach the corner” is a frequent refrain in my life.  But more often than not, prayer is the tool I use to gain clarity and insight on a situation.  Somehow, after prayer, my intuition always seems stronger, my perspective more insightful, and my decision making stronger.  I see answers to my prayers in “signs” (whether coincidental or not, I don’t really care, the point is, they help me) big and small, and usually when I listen to my intuition after praying on something, I make the right choice.  What sort of right choices? Graduate school. Jobs. Relationships. Decisions big and small. It’s when I don’t listen to the answers to my prayers that I get into trouble.  

Prayer is essential to me. It’s the evidence that bolsters my faith.  It’s certainly not a fail-proof method, but for me, my prayer life is an integral part of sustaining my spiritual life.  I’d be lost without it. 

#BlogElul 6: Faith

Faith.

It’s so simple and yet so hard.

We speak of having a child-like faith, and if you’ve ever encountered small children, you know instinctively what this means. Children ask questions, but they also have an enormous capacity to accept. To wonder. To be struck by the magnificence of the world around us. To believe.

As adults, we lose that. Reality, rationality, life – they all play their part in trying to chip away at our capacity to believe. To have faith.  Sometimes, it feels that in order to have faith, to believe, we must suspend disbelief.  Strict rationality and faith often seem incompatible, but there’s always that child-like part of us that wants to believe. Sometimes, it’s comforting to not ask so many questions and just have faith, other times it’s excruciatingly difficult.  In what other scenario does saying that you are turning over your trust not just to another person, but to a higher power NOT sound slightly nuts?

For me though, faith comforts us in our darkest moments.  It keeps us going.  It’s that one thing we cling to, almost instinctively sometimes, when things are truly terrible.

I was reminded of this fact again last weekend at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I’d never been, and very much wanted to, especially now, at this stage of my life.  As I went through, I felt duly sickened and horrified by the details I learned, the small facts that broke my heart and made me want to cry, yet also heartened and inspired by the small or collective acts of resistance that saved Jews who would otherwise have been condemned.  At the very end of the exhibit, there was a film playing, and in it, survivors talked of braving terrible atrocities and punishments just to celebrate Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah.  In the midst of the suffering, the death, the absolute inhumane conditions, the spark never went out.  People kept their faith, believed that one day the horror would end, thanked God for blessing them with humanity that their persecutors seemed to lack.

That’s amazing. In the midst of circumstances designed to break the human body and soul, to crush out every last ounce of personhood, faith remained alive.  I know that there are those who lost their faith, feeling that God abandoned them by allowing such a tragedy to happen, but I prefer to focus on the fact that for many others, faith did not die.  It endured, it survived, it grew.

How incredible is that?