This past Saturday, I attended the Bar Mitzvah of my college roommate's younger son, a day-long party beginning with the ceremony in the morning, followed by a bagel lunch, then hanging out at my friend's house, and finally a "clowning around" party at night with circus food and lessons from professional performers in plate spinning and feather balancing for the kids.
I was raised Catholic myself and escaped what I saw as the iron hand of organized religion as soon as I was able. For many years, I associated spirituality with the rigidity and misogyny of the church. As I've gotten older, I've come to see the the power of self-chosen, self-directed spirituality. Yet, as I sat in the informal "California hippie" synagogue on Saturday, gazing at a beautiful quilt portraying the Tree of Life, I gained a new appreciation for communal spirituality in the music of the prayers and the rabbi's insights into how tradition informs our lives. Unlike the sort of top-down approach I knew in my church-going days, the 13-year-old who becomes Bar Mitzvah in this very liberal congregation not only learns to read the Torah in Hebrew, s/he prepares a thought paper on the relevance of his/her passages to modern life and leads the assembled group in a surprisingly profound discussion. This recognition of the young person's intellect, creativity and leadership was very moving to me, and I wished we had a similar coming of age celebration for my sons. (Of course, I am relieved to be spared the intense planning and expense!)
Writing is my spiritual practice now. When I do my best writing, I draw deep from all of my inner resources and hope to reach others on a deeper level. Perhaps that is why this poem, read at the Bar Mitzvah service on Saturday, spoke even to me (a woman with a bad case of poetry-phobia!)
A person reaches in three directions:
inward to oneself--
up, to God--
out, to others.
The miracle of life is that
in truly reaching
in any direction
one embraces all three.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav