And You Shall Love

Yesterday I attended Kabbalat Shabbat at The New Shul for the first time in years. As some of you know, I have a complicated relationship with my Judaism. I’m an atheist, so although I love many of the rituals of the religion, I’m often uncomfortable in services that mention God too much. I certainly don’t feel that I can say the Sh’ma, the primary tenet of the faith, without perjuring myself.

Still, Kabbalat Shabbat, the Friday evening service, at The New Shul is always a special event, with gorgeous music (especially gorgeous now that they’ve started incorporating Sephardic and Middle-Eastern Jewish traditions) and lovely community. And, incredibly, last night rehabilitated for me one of the core prayers that I am uncomfortable with, the V’ahavta.

The change was in the custom guidebook for Friday Night and it was in the translation of the prayer. It was a very minor change, just one word, and actually the word wasn’t even changed, just bracketed. But that made all the difference. Here’s how the first lines read:

And you shall love (God) with all your heart,
and all your soul, and all your might.

That’s all. But once the word “God” is in parentheses, the entire prayer becomes not about the divine being I don’t believe in, but about love. Instructions for how to love. You shall love with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might, and you shall take these words and speak them in your house and on the road and teach them to your children and bind them on your arm and between your eyes and write them on your gates. What shall you love in this way? Why, everything that you love. No holding back, if you love something, love it fully, and teach others to love just the same way.

Somehow, that really resonated with me last night. Maybe because I’ve been second-guessing myself around the topic of love and winding myself up in tangles trying to strategize the feeling away. But if this prayer is true, I don’t have to manage it, I just let myself feel the thing with every (as another translation has it) “inclination of my knowing heart” and let that be enough.

Making Sacred Time & Space As a Jewish Atheist

This Rosh Hashanah has been one of the most quietly transformative experiences of my life. Taking this time to rest, renew, and take a real accounting of my life in the days leading up to Yom Kippur has been truly wonderful.

Whether you read the rest of this or not, I’d love to see your answers to the following questions:

What is one new ritual you want to add to your life?

What stories are you telling that are serving you well? What stories might not do you much good any longer?

What time or space do you keep sacred? What time or space do you want to keep sacred? What can you do to make this possible?

It’s funny that lately I’ve come to consider myself religious but not spiritual. I’m a fan of ritual for my own purposes, but I don’t believe in God or the supernatural. The meaning we create is more important to me than the meaning that is handed down by the rabbis or sages or even the alleged hand of Moses himself.

Thus, it’s interesting to me that I’ve taken so much of Jewish ritual to heart lately, even as I have become more secure in my own atheism & lack of spiritual belief.

That said, I’m making a public commitment to make Shabbat and other Jewish holy days sacred times for rest, renewal, and reflection. I’m taking this Heschel quote to heart, especially:

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world. ”

What does this mean for me?

  • Taking a real vacation – away from e-mail and work and everything that is not a Wholehearted Yes – not just when I’m given permission to do so, but on a regular basis.
  • Taking time to reflect every day, even for a few minutes.
  • Before I say Yes to something, be quiet for a few moments and listen to my heart – Is this a Wholehearted Yes or just a not-No? – If I give myself space to consent fully and wholeheartedly or to say no to things that aren’t my Yes, then I’m supporting a consent culture on the wider scale.
  • Pick one new ritual to add to my life and do it wholeheartedly. I’ve decided that the ritual for this month or quarter or season or however long I decide it’ll last is to take 15 minutes to dust my room thoroughly from top to bottom as soon as I come home. Making sure my space is clean and dust-free is an act of self-love and compassion–I’ll breathe better, sleep better, and in general feel better about my space, and that’ll spread into all the other corners of my life.
  • Tell one new story about my life that I have not told before. Our stories create our reality. My new story for this month or quarter or season or however long I decide I’ll tell it for is that I love being alone. I feel rejuvenated and fulfilled when I have time to listen to my own thoughts. Quietude is refreshing.
  • Speak less, listen more, breathe deeply. And go to therapy – taking care of my own health is a radical act.

Ok, your turn! I’d love to hear from you, if you feel comfortable telling me.

What is one new ritual you want to add to your life?

What stories are you telling that are serving you well? What stories might not do you much good any longer?

What time or space do you keep sacred? What time or space do you want to keep sacred? What can you do to make this possible?