"Don't tell God how big your storm is; tell your storm how big your God is."

I believe in God.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Interfaith Dialogue

I am perhaps slightly too addicted for my own good to interfaith dialogue. I do not mean bashing another person's religion or saying why mine is necessarily better. I simply mean sitting down and having good, long, respectful talks with someone about our similar and different religious beliefs.

I think I already do a pretty good job at respecting another person's religion because it is theirs and it matters to them, but I want so much more than this. I want to understand, really understand, other religions: what they believe, how they practice, what they think happens after death, why each follower does things in his or her own particular way. I want to really see people as individuals and respect and understand their individual relationships to their religions as well as each religion in general. Most of all, I want to learn to love many religions--for their beauty, for their histories, for their cultures--while still remaining true to my own.

I am a Jew, first ever and everlasting. I am Jewish for today; I am Jewish for tomorrow. I am Jewish for the future; I am Jewish for the past. I am Jewish for my parents; I am Jewish for my (future) children. I am deeply, achingly Jewish, to the depths of my soul, to my core.

I really want to talk with others who feel the same way about their religion. Bring on the interfaith dialogue! :)

Shavuot is coming, Shavuot is coming!

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot falls this Thursday night, through Friday, through Saturday. I am so very giddy with excitement! Shavuot is one of the two most pivotal Jewish holidays of the year, second only to Pesach (Passover). Pesach celebrates God taking us out of Egypt (interpreted literally by some Jews and more broadly as any kind of bondage or suffering by others) to be His servants, His witnesses, and His nation. Shavuot always comes exactly 50 days after the first night of Pesach, and celebrates the Jewish people receiving the Torah.

The Torah. Our guidebook. My life.

I do not believe the entire Torah was handed directly from God to a physical Moses on a physical Mount Sinai. There is just too much evidence in the Torah itself suggesting multiple authorship and stories adapted from other nations. But still, the Torah is our guidebook. Still, the Torah has united the Jewish people for generations. Still, the Torah is my life.

Could there be a more awesome holiday?

Services on campus start at 5:30 pm Thursday night, followed by dinner until 7:30. It is a tradition on the first night of Shavuot to stay up all night studying Torah, so the local Conservative synagogue is having a study session from 8:00 to 11:00 pm, and campus is organizing both a shuttle and a walking group. I will probably not be attending this, taking the time instead to reread the Ten Commandments on my own, talk to and hopefully with God, and meditate on my Jewish existence. Our campus study session starts at 11:00 and goes until 6:00 am on Friday, followed immediately by services! There are also services at saner hours for those who did not choose to stay up all night and study. After services, I will go to sleep and sleep and sleep. Hopefully I will wake up in time for lunch with campus. Saturday will be a more normal day with services at normal hours, but still time to rejoice in God and my Torah.

Again: Could there be a more awesome holiday?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Language Issues, Living in the "Supernatural", Daily Miracles, and God's Pull on my Life

Fair warning: This is going to be a very long post. But posting multiple times in one day annoys me endlessly, so one post it is.

Language Issues.

I have read many blogs by religiously committed people (so far only Christians, but I'd love to diversify my blog list) who have stopped swearing because they do not feel that a person of God should talk this way. I have felt that way too, in the past, and yet I always felt awkward around my peers if I were the only one not swearing.

Let us be perfectly clear what I mean by swearing: I do not invoke God's name with my swear words. Like everyone else, I slip up with the occasional "Goddamn it" but I hate, hate, hate when I do that (even writing it gives me the chills) and I never do that as a joke. I have found, however, that the occasional or not so occasional f-word, Hell, or b*itch is necessary to be part of a group at this age: not swearing would isolate me from my peer community. Isolation from one's community is incredibly frowned upon in Judaism. So I actually believe that swearing when in a group of my peers is more in line with my Jewish values than not swearing would be.

On a similar note, I have found that I use words amd phrases like "blessed" "God's purpose" "led by God" more around Christians than around Jews. This is not because these concepts are not found in Judaism and mainstream Jewish belief; rather, the very sad fact is that most mainstream Jews are not aware of this aspect of mainstream Jewish belief. I have no problem finding Christians who believe they are on Earth as an extension of God's plan for creation; finding Jews who believe this, never mind are willing to devote their life to it, is much much rarer than I'd like.

Living in the "Supernatural"

I feel that I must write down some of the experiences I have had in this world. They are simply too awesome, too spiritual, too pivotal not to record in this blog about my spiritual life. So, here goes.

I have found demons and I have fought demons. I have been warned by God of impending doom on campus, correctly identified the target, and watched her fight a demon without realizing what she was doing. I have seen certain people sparkle--almost literally sparkle in retrospect--with special ability to see and feel God's presence, and other things, as I do. I have watched my soul rise up and join with God, and I have seen God fill my room. I have sat with God and talked with God--not to, with--and been rocked to sleep by God's shelter. I have watched--actually watched--the prayers of an entire room be carried up to heaven on the merit of one person. Every time I pray, if I am tuned in as I should be, I can at the extreme least feel God listening and responding, even if I cannot interpret the response.

Now, I do not believe God literally looks like any of the things I saw, or literally said any of the things I "heard". I believe simply--yet the statement is so complex--this: God's presence is real. I tap in to the current and God's presence fills my life. The visions, words, etc. are the human interpretation of that very real presence.

Much of what I've done is not at all supernatural, yet so important to being God's hands in the world. I have held hands and rubbed shoulders and cradled heads as people cried. I have assisted in the study of Torah and helped people learn new prayers. I have retaught difficult homework concepts to make people's workload that much easier, I have gone out of my way to make new students feel welcome, and I have given and received countless needed hugs. All such simple, little gestures; yet so important to uniting the world, bringing peace, and helping with God's purpose whatever that may be.

Daily Miracles

Last night, I was standing in awe staring at the beautiful sky God has created. As I stood wondering and awe-ing, a student passed by who, I happen to know, is very Jewishly committed himself. I asked him, "Don't you feel lucky to live in the worl dof a Go dwho created a sky like that? Isn't the sky just amazing?"

His reply: "I don't know if it's amazing; I mean, it's here everyday."

"But don't you think--isn't it such a miracle?"

"For me a miracle has to be something out of the ordinary."

Now, don't get me wrong--to me a miracle has to be something out of the ordinary too. But is the sky any more ordinary simply because it happens every day? I have never seen the sky look exactly the same two days in a row.b God created the sky (directly or indirectly); we all agree that was a miracle. Why is it any less a miracle because it happens every day?

Exodus 14:21 describes God splitting the Red Sea for Israel as "a strong east wind all that night". A few years ago I was discussing this with my father, complaining that this sounded much less like a miracle than the sea splitting down the middle and forming walls. His reply? "A miracle is a natural event happening at exactly the right time."

So, then, by that definition, the sky is a miracle: every day, all the time.

God's Pull on my Life

Let me start by saying that I do not believe God will make every little decision for me. I just don't think God cares particularly what I eat for breakfast or whether or not I follow school dress code, unless that seemingly small decision will end with me meeting the necessary people or being in the necessary place for bigger things, which it usually won't because nobody will notice one way or the other.

There is no denying, however, that when I am tapped in to the God-current I can feel its waters pulling me in their direction and taking me where I need to go to be God's hands in the world. In sixth grade, I found out about my current school. Near the end of eighth grade, when it was settled that I would go and I was beginning to think about packing etc., the current found me, grabbed me, and told me unequivocally that I was going in the right direction. I have never felt anything other than led by God in my decision to come to the Academy, and after the first unsettled trimester last year, I have never regretted it for a second. Since realizing that I can control my "tapped-in-ness" to the God-current, I (usually) work hard to maintain that connection. When I am properly tapped-in, I feel God everywhere, see His miracles every hour, and feel utter peace with myself and my circumstances in life. We were all created for a purpose; I know for sure that I am where I need to be to fulfill my purpose in the world.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Finding God in the Darkness

So recently I have been very angry about a certain situation in my childhood, which was in a nutshell a group of kids all lumped together and left alone to suffer and hurt and fight and suffer some more. I have been angry at myself for certain unethical decisions I made in that situation. I have been angry at my parents for leaving me there. I have been angry with the teachers and principal who watched it all unfold and did nothing to stop it. Most of all, I have been angry with God.

Now being angry with God is not a comfortable place to be, but it is nonetheless a necessary step on the road to accepting one's past. There is no denying that God, the Father, the King, the Judge, the Master, the MERCIFUL, could have taken me out of that situation if He wanted to. God who gave me the silence I had to keep in order ot continue writing, the courage to share my writing at eighth grade graduation when they couldn't hurt me anymore, the friend or two who made my life there that much easier, and the safety found at home--that God--could just have shut down the situation. If we accept an omnipotent God, a necessary concept for any religion, then we confront this difficult question: Where was God in my childhood, and more broadly in anybody's bad childhood, and more broadly still in human suffering? Where is God when we cry out and all we get is "No"?

Because being angry at God is not comfortable, I searched long and hard for any way out. I screamed and raged and cried at God: "Where were you? Why? Why didn't you stop it?" and then I went to sleep. When I woke up, I had remembered miracles of which I had known all along, but that still didn't answer the question of why I had to be there in the first place. So I did the obvious teen girl thing: I went and asked my mother.

I really, really liked her answer. She said, "If you see a surgeon, he's going to hurt you, but it doesn't mean he isn't doing exactly what he's supposed to do." God was my surgeon, carving me up and leaving scars that ultimately have made, and will continue to make, me into a simply awesome person. I see God now in the way in which I reach out to others and make a dent in their suffering. I see God now in my nearly tireless energy for social justice and setting things right. I see God in the future, in all the children I will have and raise to know empathy and love. And all of those abilities--my love, my passion, my empathy--were deepened by my suffering.

The God who allowed me to be scarred, who stood by and watched as I got hurt, is the same God who will watch me continue His work in the world as I love His people Israel and all of His people, indeed all of His creation. That is where God was in my suffering.

I challenge you to call to Him and find Him in your own.

Monday, May 4, 2009

In Partnership With God

My walk with God has been inspired by many blogs, among them The Mouro Family (themourofamily.blogspot.com) and Where Laughter Lives: the Riggs Family (riggsfamilyblog.com). Reading about these people's Christian faith has made me want to post about my own Jewish (or not) beliefs about God. I will try to be clear on which beliefs I know are inherently Jewish, and which are my own. The ones labelled as my own are probably mentioned somewhere in Jewish tradition as well; I'm just not entirely sure where. Just to clear this up now, I am not out to convert anybody (Judaism is specifically against proselytizing); this is just my blog and I just feel like posting this.

1. (Inherent to Judaism) As people, we are neither originally sinful nor originally good. Life is what we make it, and we are what we make of ourselves. Originally, Judaism had no concept of heaven and hell; now, we believe everyone except the perfect (almost no one) and the irredeemable (almost no one) spend eleven months in purgatory (Gehennah) before moving on to heaven, known simply as the World to Come. Personally, I don't claim to know what happens after we die. I think I believe in past lives, a belief which is backed up in Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah). I only believe this, however, because I'm sort of sure I remember one of my own. Beyond this, I simply don't know.

2. (Me) I am not entirely sure what Judaism says on our relationship with God, but I know it isn't all about fear and I certainly am not afraid of God. I do mitzvot (commandments) not out of fear but because they are part of my people's path to bring ourselves closer to God. If I were afraid of God, why would I want to get closer? I tend to want to run as far away as possible from things of which I am afraid. I have been very, very close to God (visions; feeling Him around me; even two-way conversations), and I never felt afraid. Awestruck, yes; small, yes; incredibly lucky, yes; afraid, no. Just no. God created me the way He wanted me; clearly I fulfill some need or urge of His. Why should I fear my creator?

3. (Judaism and Me) On the same note, I believe that we are partners with God. Certainly, God will influence our lives if we let him, but it's more like tapping into a current that gives us a general direction rather than waiting for specific commands. I just don't think God instructs us on every little move we make. We are God's partners in repairing the world, holy when we do His holy work.

4. (Me) God never leaves us; we leave Him, by forgetting to tap into the current. If I neglect davening for a day or two, which I often do for any number of reasons including schoolwork, running, and sleep, God does not leave me. He will not punish me or hold it against me. Rather, I am making a choice to not join with Him for a day or two. I always know when I am making this choice, and I feel comfortable in that decision.

So, that's me in a nutshell! I certainly don't claim to have it all figured out, and the above list will probably change over time, but that's where I am right now.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Dare

Somewhere along the way, during the months of endless, burning pain (see teenagelifewithpain.blogspot.com for details), I started dreaming of all the things I could be doing if I were feeling better...including things that never even occurred to me to try when I was healthy...and I dared God to watch me run track if He ever made me better.

God held up His end of the dare; said "You're on" (metaphorically, of course), and helped me heal.

You don't break dares with God.

That's why I'm working so hard to get down to a five-minute mile by next track season. It wasn't part of the original deal, but I'm going to go above and beyond.


This blog was created to chronicle my journey of spiritual growth. Really, I created this blog to solve one of my most major blogging dilemmas: to blog about religion or not? On the one hand, religion is possibly the hugest part of my life, my top priority, now and always. On the other hand, I often feel very awkward reading other people's blog entries about religion, especially where their views differ from mine.

It got to the point where I felt hypocritical if I blogged about it and nearly as hypocritical when I didn't, so I created this blog. This is entirely about my spiritual journey. The title is taken from one of my favorite quotes from Psalms: "He will instruct his angels to guard you in all your paths, to carry you in their hands lest you stumble on a stone."

This blog wil lmake liberal use of Hebrew--and the occasional Yiddish--words. It's just too complicated to translate them all into English. If you have questions, ask.

So who am I spiritually? I am a Conservative Jew, born and raised. I keep kosher, meaning I don't mix meat and milk, and only eat kosher meat, but I eat vegetarian in non-kosher restaurants and homes. I keep Shabbat by abstaining from all 39 categories of work to a point, but I still do things like climb trees, pick up stones, and rollerblade (within an eiruv, of course) on Saturdays. I wear a kippah and arba kanfot at all times, and tallis and tefillin when I daven Shacharit. 98-ish percent of the time, I manage to pray from the siddur once; 94-ish percent of the time, I daven Shacharit and Maariv. Throughout the day, when the mood strikes me, I raise my eyes and call to God: everything from "I don't want to die of Lou Gehrig's disease" to "Come on, God, I need to shave a minute off my mile time."

I work hard to see evidence of God's hand in my life each day, and to really feel God's presence when I pray. God is always just as close; we only need to tune in. Some days it works, and I walk with God from the moment I wake up until my eyes close in sleep; other days, I daven mechanically and then forget about God. I'm working on it.

Current Spiritual Goals:

1. Stop swearing; honor God through my speech as well as my actions.
2. Stop picking the skin off my fingers (a habit I've had for ten years); I have no right to defile the body loaned to me as a Heavenly gift.
3. Genuinely treat others the way I want to be treated, all others, all the time; honor God by honoring His creations.
4. Daven twice a day, every day, with genuine kavanah; find time to daven a third time as well.
5. Fast on all fast days, not just Yom Kippur.


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I am a bipolar, Jewish young adult (had my Hebrew birthday, the one I count, and turned 23 this past January) who also suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I love life and I live for my best friends: they are my purpose and my reason for trying so hard. I remain passionately devoted to those I love; I will not let my disorders make me totally self-centered. I like to read, write, and sew. My Rabbinical school plans did not work out, and I am now hoping to go into the field of Early Childhood Education. Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!