Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Rosh Hashanah Story

I almost missed Rosh Hashanah this year.  Normally, I plan for it.  I plan the food I will prepare, the people I will share it with, and I plan for time I will set aside to consider what Rosh Hashanah means.  Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, the birthday of mankind, but it is not like the secular new year with drunken parties the night before and well-intentioned but meaningless resolutions; rather, it is a time of reflection and then action.  It's really a time of spiritual accounting.  I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of Rosh Hashanah.  You all have Google and are capable of research but I will say this:  as a Messianic Jew, I'm sure that I celebrate much differently than what is traditional.

When I first started really celebrating Rosh Hashanah, I was studying with a friend who is also a Rabbi.  He told me to go to a quiet place, to pray, to meditate, to worship God, and to ask myself four questions:
  1. What did I accomplish this past year?
  2. Do I spend my time efficiently or do I waste it?
  3. Am I involved in my community and ultimately bettering the world?
  4. What are my goals and aspirations for the coming year?
As early as last year, my responses were resoundingly positive.  I had a long list of accomplishments, I could honestly say I didn't waste time, I was very involved in my community, and I had a long list of goals.  This year, though, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I panicked.  I hadn't prepared, I didn't know where I would go for personal reflection and prayer, and I didn't know what the answers to the questions would be like.  I considered just forgetting about this holiday.  It would be too difficult to explain to my new family and what if they think I'm weird?  

I felt something urging me celebrate anyway so I decided to go ahead with it.  After my workday, Charlie and the girls would be going to Bible study at church so I would have the evening to myself and that seemed to work out perfectly.  I found my great grandfather's prayer book, a fresh journal, and my Bible and anticipated the evening with excitement.  Then, my workday was horrible and I ended up working late and some situations in my personal life were causing me stress and it all came to a head today.  Of course.  But, after my family left, I climbed into my truck and drove 16 miles to the Snake River Canyon, literally in the middle of nowhere.  

Tradition took over.  I prayed and I worshiped.  I meditated in the stillness and wonder of the vast expanse of beauty surrounding me and I felt. . .empty.  I've been feeling empty for a while.  Alone, censored, pressured, uncomfortable, afraid, awkward.  I jotted all of these things down.

What kind of Rosh Hashanah is this?  This is depressing!

So I sat back and put my notebook down.  I just sat there and it was like God said, "Hey.  Jessica.  It's okay to feel this way."  I was like, "I know, but I hate it because I'm super happy but something is. . . off."  

Did you know that it is customary to wish a "good new year" and not a "happy new year"?  I love this.  Having a good year has nothing to do with having a happy year.  To have happiness usually means you are receiving or taking and in return, feeling happy.  Good tends to mean that you are fulfilled, despite set backs, and fulfillment is usually found when one gives to others.  To wish someone a good new year is to hope that their year is fulfilling and that they contribute something positive to others.  I am feeling alone, censored, pressured, uncomfortable, afraid, and awkward because I'm seeking happiness.  I'm seeking to receive and I had, for the short term, forgotten that I need to seek fulfillment.

In answering my four questions I had to come to terms with the fact that my community involvement went from super charged in Kansas City to absolutely no activity in Idaho.  Blerg. I went from having a diverse group of friends to no friends.  I had a church I had grown up in, a bible study in my local community, Shabbat at a nearby Synagogue, and studies with a Messianic Jewish group and I was constantly learning and growing.  I'm feeling a little stagnate, a little over educated, and I'm yearning for community.  

Then, I started focusing on my accomplishments this year!  To name a few: I met my future husband and didn't have any weird commitment issues in our early relationship (yeah!).  I did a big scary thing and moved to Idaho, away from everyone and everything I know, and despite feeling lonely I actually really love it here.   Oh, and the big one?  I am no longer ill.  I AM NO LONGER PERPETUALLY ILL. This past year, I was brave and I succeeded in my endeavors and as scary as they were, I did not die. 

What are my goals?  Well, they are between me and God and the Snake River Canyon.

At this point I was really starting to feel refreshed and encouraged that although this recent transition can be difficult and weird, it's totally normal to feel this way.  It won't be this way forever and I need to stop censoring who I am to fit in to this new place.  

I began to sing.  It felt cool to sing into a canyon while sitting on a rocky ledge (yes, Mom, a rocky ledge over a canyon) but then I looked to the other side of the canyon and thought, "Laura (my bff) wouldn't be singing into a canyon, she would be singing to the other side!"  So I belted it!  I sang every song I had memorized and then I resorted to iTunes on my dying phone.  I didn't care who heard me, if anyone.

You know, over the years and very recently I've taken some criticism from people about my celebration of Jewish holidays, my Jewishness as a whole, and sometimes it bothers me.  After today, I don't think it will ever bother me again.  I gain so much from my observance of these holidays.  They aren't frivolous or selfish.  They are God centered and encourage positive growth. 

How sad would it be if I had let the disappointment of almost forgetting about Rosh Hashanah allow me to just cancel it?  I wouldn't have had any time of reflection that I so desperately needed, but failed to recognize.  What a blessing to have a time set aside each year where I can refresh and realign the direction and perspective of my life.  It's not about the perfect answers, the best accomplishments, or the sweet treats.  Sometimes it's just about a quiet, peaceful, validating conversation with God on the edge of a canyon.