Funny story: So Yom Kippur is perhaps the most somber and important day of the Jewish year; it’s the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Day of Atonement, the day our names our sealed in the Book of Life for one more year.
And Yom Kippur is tomorrow.
But my calendar (don’t trust calendars) implied it began last night, so I began fasting, trying to think of Yom Kippur things, and then I realized, today isn’t even Yom Kippur.
I have a fascination with fire. The way the flames lisp through the air, tumble and turn and throw themselves to and fro. I read poetry at an open mic back in March or April, and I started with the same words–some echoes of my lines include “This is where it burns / all the flames / fighting their holy wars / let me smolder among them” and “Samson is burning at the broken pillars / limestone capsules and locks of hair / arms shriveled, torso chiseled / too far from marble, turned to dust.” But fire is fire, and words can’t tame any flame.
Certain songs make me think of fire, too. Jewel’s “Kiss the Flame” immediately comes to mind, as does Florence + the Machine “Rabbit Heart,” which I don’t think mentions fire at all. So does Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kosovo.” The flames burn through the melodies.
So it’s only natural I should want to meet the world in fire.
I want to write a profound and moving post about Yom Kippur. About atonement, about forgiveness, about redemption and revival. I want to write a poem about the pounding of my fist against my heart as I echo, in harmony with the congregation around me, the confessions of our sins. I want to paint a picture of the closing gates with such vividness my readers will forget they’re reading and think they are seeing into heaven itself.
But Yom Kippur is not about grandeur, and what else are these desires?
More than six months ago I wrote about a new perspective on love and fear–but I didn’t really know what I was trying to say, so I waited some time to post it, and when school started and I forgot about it, I left it alone: the thoughts, the adventure, the discovery. It sat there in wait, biding its time in a cocoon of mystery, longing for my return when the answers–like the fossilized remains of humanity’s missing link–could finally be uncovered.
Since then I’ve been blessed with challenges that I’ve overcome–and with either success or failure defined at the end, I’ve overcome them nonetheless–and I was blessed with the opportunities to learn, to serve, to experience, and more so I’ve been blessed with love, falling deeply in love with a man who is everything I could ever wish for.
So when it comes to love, I feel like I’ve finally learned a few things.
I was reading these words–V’ahavta et Adonai Elohecha–and my thought-stream bifurcated, one mind reading the words while another interpreted them. This latter stream split once more, one thinking literally–You shall love the Lord your God–while the other spun off in metaphorical delight–if God exists in all persons, in all things, to love God means to love his creations–our human family and all the earth.
And it struck me in that one moment, my mind suspended on three interwoven yet competing thoughts, that all these years I have thought of love as a feeling, that all these years I have forgotten love is as much an action as fear.
I once wrote about prayer. I said, in four words, don’t pray for me. Apparently two students missed the memo, because right as I took a bite into my lunch yesterday (sitting on a bench outside, enjoying the weather while I read a news story about McCutcheon vs. the FEC) two young men walked up to me and asked where I’d gotten my jacket.
Except–like last time–I knew at once it was a cover. I swallowed my mouthful, “Why, Beta Brand, of course,” I said, and waited for the inevitable questions about faith and God and all the fabric of the universe in between: “May we pray for you?”
By now you’ve probably heard about Duck Dynasty and the whole A&E fiasco. Phil Robertson made some offensive comments in an interview, almost (but not definitively) equating homosexuality with bestiality, and then A&E promptly put him on indefinite hiatus, saying the network supports the LGBT community. All well and good, I suppose. It hardly seems any bit different than what happened to Paula Dean over the summer. Fair enough.
In all honesty, the decision means very little to me: I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty and I don’t watch A&E in general. But I woke up this morning and started perusing through Facebook, and I gotta say: The news is everywhere. And if my informal observations are anything to argue from, you might be surprised at what I saw.
The first time it happened I was standing in a shack raising money for the homeless. The two walked up to me–a man and a woman, maybe my age, smiling, too exuberant–and with their eyes attached longingly to mine, they introduced themselves and asked, “Can we pray for you?”
I’ll admit: I was taken aback. All my life the idea of “praying for others” was an insult to their identity and an affirmation of the prayer-maker’s superiority: “You’re Jewish? I’ll pray for you. You’re gay? I’ll pray for you. You’re a sinner. I’ll pray for you.”
When the world didn’t end on Friday, I thought I’d post a revelatory message on Saturday. Instead, I got carried away applying for a scholarship and lost track of time. So, I figured, let’s just read the next lesson of the Pirkei Avot and post it promptly on Sunday. Well, as I decided to finish said application this evening and took something of a nap earlier in the afternoon, time has once more gotten away with me. Regardless, learning is learning no matter what time it happens at (although, arguably, midnight learning is best left for Shavuot).
This weekend was none other than the 25th annual North Carolina Pride. Actually, the event has been going on all week, but it culminated with the Pride Parade on Saturday. I had the opportunity to go once before, and it was a lot of fun and so sunny all my pictures were washed out from the intense sunlight.
Yesterday it rained.
But in this rain, the festivities went on with a crowd as strong as could be, and after the parade I ended up in a lengthy conversation with a visiting Christian who was shouting to all of us that we were sinners and would all go to hell. I hadn’t realized how significant that encounter had been until I reread today’s teaching.