I had the opportunity, a few months ago, to experience my friend making her Bat Mitzvah. While normally completed at the age of 13, my friend made the choice to take this step as an adult, as a mom herself. Not being very informed about the Jewish traditions or religion, there is so much I didn’t understand. The prayers, the stand up and sit down, when to sing and the book of prayers being read from right to left. She chose as her theme, Resilience and shared a story from scripture and then her own journey where life required resilience time and time again. The Rabbi concluded the ceremony on the note of grace. God’s grace. And how when things do not go the way we expected or envisioned, that it is ‘chesed’ or the grace of God that allows us to find our right place with life.
I spoke with the Rabbi after the service concluded to tell him that his words had a real impact on me; and to ask him about this word that I can hear him say in my mind, but cannot replicate. He says it again, but in it’s both beautiful and foreign way, I don’t have a place for it in my brain, so I asked him to spell it for me…and he did: ‘chesed‘. We talked about that indeed life does not always go the way we think it should or the way we once thought we wanted. But to be reminded that there is always grace – even in the what we do not get – well, it moved me. I have felt that grace time and time again, despite difficulties, and frankly, in that moment, I felt overcome with gratitude for it’s recurring presence. When I shared my reaction, and my wanting to know this word for ‘grace’ he looked at me inquisitively and asked me why and what else I was thinking about; I shared that during the prayers with which I could not follow along, I instead read the prayers and messages printed in the margins of the side of the prayer book. His probing look remained, as if to say, why? I said that what I got from those was the message of living with an intentional way of being in this world and how that matches what I have thinking about for quite awhile now.
As I left the service, with all of this still on my mind, and really, more of a sense within me, I thought about the words ‘taking responsibility for yourself’‘ and it struck me what a beautiful act this was for my friend, and her community, all of us. And I thought as I drove home that shouldn’t we all be called to take responsibility for ourselves and find ourselves choosing to be intentional in the way we are in the world?
But wait, there’s more.
These thoughts have stayed with me and I have found myself scrappily, and like one trying – urgently grabbing and hastily casting off each wrong one – to find something in an unorganized closet, reaching for thoughts and in fleeting moments of understanding, trying furtively to piece them together.
I will be honest and say that at some level, I envy those who are so sure of where they belong. Who know the post code and zip code of their spiritual home. To be so sure. To know its name. I am certain of a few ‘hoods where it is not, but to have the spiritual coordinates to plug into my GPS would be really helpful. In the early years of my career in higher education; part of my job was to facilitate the faith formation classes for students; in my faith of origin. I was present and involved as young adults claimed a faith for themselves, asked questions, explored and challenged their own belief systems. Unbeknownst to anyone, perhaps even me, my own quiet questioning began then as I found that I quietly envied their desire for the certainty.
In the years since, it has been a long process of accepting that I cannot call my faith of origin my own; a process that has included some anger, some disappointment, some really honest assessment, some tantrums. And finally, acceptance. But that began to beg the question of if not that, well then what? Faith is important to me; just in what form? I was asked that day at my friend’s Bat Mitzvah if I was going to convert. My answer was a quick, automatic ‘No’…I cannot replace one with another. I need to assemble it.’
I have been trying to answer that question of ‘well then, what?’ and I listen attentively to what rings true for me in the world; and slowly, and only recently have I begun to piece it together. Loosely. So loosely.
I have lightheartedly – over the last few years – referred to this questioning, this seeking and these feelings of being a spiritual misfit, as belonging to the church of human kindness. As I have come to see the importance of making intentional choices to live kindly and to have that as a guiding principal. I find that I look in so many places for guidance, signposts and honestly, just honest to goodness resonance. A sense of place.
It’s an interesting task to attempt to assemble a puzzle when you do not have all the pieces laid out on the card table. When it is a matter of waiting patiently for the pieces to reveal themselves and only then learn how and if they connect to each other.
A few pieces have revealed themselves to me in recent months and my experience with my friend’s Bat Mitvah revealed yet a new piece of my puzzle. I felt it snap into place with a few others I have found lately. It felt good to make the connection; living intentionally.
The prayers and messages found in the Jewish prayer book? To me, all about living intentionally.
As I promised the Rabbi that day, when I got home, I looked up the word ‘chesed’ and found that yes, it implies grace and mercy and so much more. But in further reading, I found that it also spoke of kindness, between parties who share a covenant.
The word [chesed] is used only in cases where there is some recognized tie between the parties concerned. It is not used indiscriminately of kindness in general, haphazard, kindly deeds; this is why [author] was careful to avoid using the word ‘kindness’ in respect of God’s dealings with his people Israel. The theological importance of the word chesed is that it stands more than any other word for the attitude which both parties to a covenant ought to maintain towards each other.
One to one, each of us, is it too much to think of, that we in fact do share a covenant with each other?
In the days and weeks, and now months, after experiencing my friend’s Bat Mitvah, the impact has stayed with me.
It occurred to me that the sense of familiarity and a recognition of something that I have been stumbling towards on my own – without knowing its name – provides a comfort of unexpected measure.
That is a piece of grace that fits perfectly.