I tend to avoid religious institutions whenever possible, and aside from a handful of Christmas pageants, bar mitzvahs, and the occasional wedding, I’m usually very successful. Our family’s Judaism goes back many generations, but for all practical, non-historical purposes it faded out in Battle Creek, Michigan, about 80 years ago. Since then, we read Herschel and the Hannukah Goblins, occasionally eat latkes, and argue about which direction you light the candles. Pretty sure we’re wrong 50% of the time.
I took my friend up on what I’m sure was an idle invitation to attend Passover services Friday out of some combination of curiosity, exhaustion, and the desire to sit and listen to someone talk for a few minutes about things greater than my immediate personal and professional concerns. Basically, for the same reasons I go to yoga.
The sermon (is that what you call it?) was short and thoughtful. It was about creating mindfulness in your life by recognizing distinctions. The rabbi used kosher eating as an example, and as someone who tries (and usually fails) to be mindful about what goes in my mouth, I felt like she was speaking directly to me. Her point, as I understood it, was that observing what feel like arbitrary or outdated distinctions actually serves the purpose of artificially mandating mindfulness into one’s habits. If you have to consider “Can I eat this?” you will also consider “Should I eat this?” and “Do I want to eat this?”
Food is only one small sliver of application for the concept of mindfulness. It’s about bringing conscious decision-making to your life in as many facets as you can find for it. Should I walk or take the bus? Should I say this thing to this person or not? Should I read my book or watch this show or call my brother or stare at Twitter? Whatever you choose, choose it consciously. Or so goes the theory that I have in no way mastered.
In many ways, my favorite parts of the service were the pieces that could have been lifted straight from a yoga class. Instead of telling you want to think about or how to think, the leaders direct you to examine your own mental and emotional priorities and self-diagnose. What, of all the things I could think about right now, do I really need/want to devote time to? I find it a highly respectful approach that appreciates and accommodates everyone’s individuality.
Point is, I think I may go back. Who knows, next Pesach I may even join the matzoh-eaters!
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