Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fasting

On the hottest day of the year so far, just about.

For "normal" Jews, Yom Kippur is in September, because of the way the Jewish Calendar coincides with the Roman Calendar. But for my crazy family it's today.

It's today, because once upon a time, a long long time ago when we lived in Jamaica, before our crazy Detour Away From Normal began, Poppy read the Bible, cover to cover. Poppy was born Catholic, because his mother and her mother were Catholic. Grandpa Will wasn't muchanuthin' from what I understand. My own mother was Anglican (Episcopalian) and it seems both sides of her family had been so a long time. Poppy had been an altar boy, but he says that at one point as a young teen he'd gotten into a dispute with a Church elder over the way the elder spoke to a young kid. (My family has a very heightened sense of "right" and "wrong" and while this is a good thing, I guess, it often leads us to jump into things with people that maybe we shouldn't jump into.) Long story short Poppy stormed out of the church and never went back.

But I guess both parents wanted a connection to God, and had some sense of spirituality. I would imagine that a lot of that had to do with the birth of their children, myself and the Professor. There's nothing like pregnancy, labor and delivery, a newborn babe, to make you really wonder about God...

I remember at one point it seemed we would follow a more traditional African path, in which the Ancestors play a great part. I have a vague memory of making an offering to an "ancestor", or maybe an Orisha. But I guess that didn't seem quite right to the parents. Around the time I was four, we started keeping a Sabbath but back then we kept it on Sunday. We didn't go to church but I remember Mom getting up and making biscuits, and Poppy would play records; Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace album, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Count Basie. We lived in a big house at 38 Montgomery Avenue in Kingston, Jamaica and the house would be dark and cool inside, and blazing hot outside while we ate biscuits and listened to music.

About the time I was four or five, Poppy must have gotten to the Book of Leviticus and found the food laws in Chapter 11. (The link is to the New American Standard Version of the Bible, simply cuz the language is a little easier and "neutral".) This is when I first knew my life was going to change, because we stopped eating bacon. I loved bacon. My favorite supper was bacon, eggs and grits. My favorite breakfast was bacon, eggs and grits. I was not at all happy when Poppy told me bacon came from pigs, and we weren't going to eat that anymore. We discovered "red herring" a very salted smoked fish (not like bacalao; totally different taste) and it was an ok-tasting but remarkably stinky alternative for awhile. (As a grown up I found beef bacon, so all is right with the world.) Next, we started keeping Sabbath on Saturday, not Sunday. That was another "toughie" for me because in Jamaica, the world goes to sleep on Sunday. Nothing moves. The only day quieter than Sunday in Jamaica is Good Friday in Jamaica. At least back then; I haven't been back in a long while.

A while later, Poppy got up to the part about the Holy Days. He read about Passover in between the 14th day of the first month and the 21st day of the first month, and so since we'd missed keeping Passover on the evening of the 14th day, we made up for it the following week. And then we got evicted from that big, cool house shortly after that, and like the Children of Israel, who wandered the desert after being kicked out of Egypt, we wandered Kingston. So it makes sense that this way of doing things... following things the way they were written, became The Way of life for us.

Periodically I contemplate officially converting to Judaism. Periodically, I contemplate at least keeping the Holy Days when the rest of the world does it. Time passes while I contemplate, and now I'm 42 and I'm still contemplating if I should. The problem is that I find religion (for lack of a better word) to be a very communal thing. To practice a faith is a lot better when you're practicing with family or friends. It shouldn't be; I don't think it's supposed to be. When you read most religious texts (of any faith), the relationship is ultimately between a person and their God. But the reality is... it doesn't work that way. Even monks, nuns and priests, who dedicate their lives to the service of God... even they tend to live in communities with each other, work together, worship together.

So if I start to follow a traditional Jewish calendar, it means the rest of the family has to, too. I think Poppy is coming up in a little while... maybe I'll ask him again what he thinks.

Meantime, 38 years later, we're still following as much of Jewish Law as we can, but based pretty much what's in the Torah. And so today, I'm fasting. When you can't eat, it's an interesting thing. I'm not a big breakfast eater anyhow so I don't miss breakfast but the coffee thing... that's kinda hard. It's 3:20P now, and so far no headache but I feel the lack of caffeine creeping in around the edges of my brain. I'm also in the slighty "giddy" phase, and I'm definitely hungry but I can deal. It doesn't start to get really bad until about 6PM. But the family (sans Ma) will be here so I'll be occupied...

The Sun is a light eater anyhow. I usually have to fight him to eat anything substantial, so he's been sort of keeping up. Jewish law doesn't expect or even permit kids younger than 10 (I think) to fast, but I did that young, and I challenged him to see how long he could go. The result is that I actually have to offer him snacks. He's had a glass of Silk, a glass of apple juice with seltzer, an apple with peanutbutter, a little container of pineapple bits and a container of applesauce. (It was interesting to spread the peanutbutter on the apple... couldn't lick my fingers.)

BigBear is currently sitting in Kennedy Airport, about to depart on her China Adventure. She said her plane was delayed two hours already (bad weather in Beijing) but her Tai Chi folks will be with her. The Professor, along with the girls and PerpetualMotion, took her to the airport. The Diva was full of herself until they had to leave "Nana" at the gate, at which point she clung and cried and had to be pried off. I myself told her yesterday that I'm not really happy about 15 days without her. She said "You told me to go!" and I did... and I'm happy she's going but still... BigBear had very mixed feelings about going, especially when she found out her departure day was today, but she ended up taking it as a sign that she should go. She did her fast yesterday, because we figured it couldn't be good to be on a plane for 13 hours and travel through however many timezones and not eat.

Which in a round about way, brings me back to one of the very many things I contemplate, whenever I debate myself on officially converting. There is a fluidity to practicing a faith this way, a better chance of it being between yourself and God, when you're not part of a temple or a church, because of all the other people in that temple or church. To my mind, ultimately, religion comes down to an interpretation of certain ideas. The basic ideas, no matter what you believe in, is that there is a Power higher than yourself. And that you should respect that Power, because it has the ability to crush you. Or lift you up. That you should live your life to the best of your ability, and that there are certain rules of conduct you should follow in order to do that.

All the other things; the reward for living well--heaven/riches/a good life, the punishment for not living to the best of your ability--death/hell/poverty, really all of that depends on which religion you choose. What you call the Higher Power, whether (S)He is Omnipotent or not, whether there are several Gods or not... all of that is really subject to interpretation, because two people can read the same passage and come up with very different ideas. One might take things literally. The other may have a more scientific approach; another may be metaphysical.

For me, today is the day to contemplate those things I can do to make myself a better person. To acknowledge the things I've done that don't comply with "living life to the best of my ability". To acknowledge that even though I profess to be a Godly person, and have promised to live my life according to the standards set in the Old Testament or Torah, that I sometimes "skate" by. The biggies... like violating food laws or respecting my elders, I did pretty well with this year. I wasn't so great about keeping strict Sabbaths like I did when I was a kid. I need to spend more time explaining to my kid why I believe the things I do; why I believe in God. I could be more generous.

But I'll have to contemplate later, as the folks are here and my peace has to be expanded to include them....

1 comment:

Regina said...

Again you are pulling the thoughts out of my head - I always call it "religion in a box" - that organized type of worship, and it is definitely not for me. I am an "out of the box" kind of gal, with that more personal relationship, direct line kind of living rather than working through a community or intermediary.

DH calls it living by the universal rule of "play nice"

It makes for fun discussions - and family politics - but it works for us and we hope for Nathan. Ironically his formal "godparents" are the same way!!!

And with the new pope and his outlook- makes me even less inclined to rejuvenate my Catholic roots.