Monday, December 27, 2010

Shabbos Christmas

For a number of years, now, my husband and I have been davening with our beloved Jewish community at the Hebrew Center on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings and attending worship services at our little United Methodist Church on Sundays. This year was my first experience of Christmas falling on Shabbat. There were some interesting internal gymnastics about how all this would play out – mostly about how to manage family Christmas rituals and traditions while maintaining my own spiritual commitments - - and of course, asking myself what would it be like to be celebrating Shabbat on Christmas Eve? What would it be like to be studying Torah and chanting morning blessings on Christmas Day?

We entered the synagogue on Christmas Eve to greetings of “Merry Christmas!” and “Good Shabbos!” and “Shabbat Shalom!” - - warm verbal embraces coupled with equally warm hugs. The service began with the lighting of the Shabbos candles and the singing of a beautiful song of the birth of Abraham. The leader drew an analogy to the birth of Jesus. My heart was near to bursting with love and gratitude for the sweetness of the affection and understanding I felt, flowing around and within, given and received. To the vibrant melodies and rhythms of the Yemenite and Sephardic Jewish traditions we welcomed the Shabbat Queen as a beautiful bride. We shared in kiddush following the service and then made our way across the island to the Old Whaling Church where the Methodists were preparing to welcome the Christ Child with Nine Lessons and Carols, telling and singing and celebrating the story of The Birth. I came home feeling as though something inside me were being knitted together.

On Christmas Day, we ate our traditional early breakfast with our family and enjoyed watching our grandkids “ooooh!” and “ahhhh!” as they opened their Christmas gifts. Then made our way back to the Hebrew Center for morning prayers and Torah service. Christmas Day has its own poignancy for Jews - - the world seems to stop in so many ways for the observance of the ostensibly Christian holiday, as secularized as it is, and the Jewish community is left to deal with how to be Jewish in the midst of all the Christmas frenzy.

We entered the peace of the sanctuary a few minutes late and the service had already begun with the chanting of “Eyeh Asher Eyeh” (I Will Be What I Will Be) to a sweet, haunting melody. (The words are The Holy One’s response to Moses’ question “When I come to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me what is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”) I settled into the meditation and felt my body begin to make the shift from the energy of Christmas morning to the energy of Shabbos morning. We chanted and prayed together and prepared for studying Torah with a meditation on the words “Sh’mot” (“Names” – the title given to the text for the day) and “Exodus”. In my meditation there was much swirling, richly colored energy, red and blue and gold and silver paisley shaped galaxies filling every corner of consciousness - - awareness of God-Who- Will-Not –Be –Named; God who admits of no separation; God-Who-Is. The inner knitting together continued.

As we began to look at the great saga that both continues and begins in the first chapters of Exodus, the leader took a few moments to draw our attention to some similarities between the birth narratives of Moses and Jesus - both infants the targets of fear and hatred as soon as they were born - Moses, born a Jew in Pharoah’s Egypt - Jesus born a Jew in Herod’s Judea - - both a threat to the existing political structures; both men who spent time in the wilderness - shaping and being shaped – by The Holy One whose power resided in them; both men who saw Life and injustice and acted in behalf of Life. The leader’s intention for the meditation and for our study was that there might be in our island mini- microcosm the reality of cultural and spiritual healing of the wounds and the pain and doubt and suspicion that exists historically between Jews and Christians - - and, with time, healing between Jews and Christians and Muslims. She closed the meditation inviting us to honor both Moshe Rabbinu and Jesus Rabbinu – our historical and ever present teachers.

As I sat in our small circle, a minyan (of 10 Jews) and my husband and I, I had an amazing Grinch experience of feeling my heart (which is fairly capacious on any given day), balloon up into three times its normal size filled to overflowing capacity with gratitude and healing and insight into the possibilities for this human endeavor on earth.

Richness of life comes into being, understanding and compassion have a chance, reconciliation and shared journey are possible when human beings are willing to sit together and name what has separated them - - sit together in what can sometimes be a squirming discomfort - - hear one another about what the pain has been like. It seems so simple.

The snow flies this morning. The wind blows vigorously in 50 MPH gusts. I sit in the warmth of our cabin feeling the swirling of the colorful, cosmic energy of the Shekinah, the Christ power, the unity of The Holy One - - all finite names for The One Who Will Not Be Named. And I am grateful for at least a visionary glimpse of life reconciled and whole – knitted together again. Truly a Shabbos Christmas!

Vicki Hanjian

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