General Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

Sparks of Love, Sparks of Holiness

I performed a wedding yesterday. Nothing especially odd about that–I perform 7 – 12 weddings a year. What made this one notable (for me…they are all notable for the couples involved) was the intensity of the interaction between the couple underneath the huppah (Jewish wedding canopy).

The bride and the groom were completely focused on each other throughout the ceremony. This may seem commonplace, but in my experience, it’s far more common for the the couple’s attention to be fairly diffuse during a wedding ceremony. A little bit on me, a little bit on the guests, a little bit on each other. In fact, I routinely have to remind the bride and groom to look at each other rather than to look at me, while they are repeating their vows to each other. Not this time. The groom and bride were intensely focused on one another. It was as though sparks of love were flying between them throughout the ceremony. It was as though their love was powerful enough that it was a presence in and of itself. And in my line of work, we often call that presence “God.”

I’ve experienced this under the huppah before. It hasn’t happened often, but it has happened. Yet this time it took me completely by surprise. In all the other cases, I’ve known the couple had this connection going into the ceremony, and expected that focus. This time, it came at me from out of the blue. Most often, couples who experience this love focus on one another under the huppah have a deeply spiritual component to their relationship…and that tends to come out in our conversations. It doesn’t mean they love each other more than other couples I marry, but it tends to mean that they conceptualize the relationship in spiritual terms, often regarding the relationship as possesing salvific power. During our conversations, yesterday’s couple never talked about their relationship in that way, and I’m not sure that they consciously regard their relationship that way. Yet under the huppah yesterday, the intensity of their connection was electric.

I love doing weddings. To paraphrase, even when it’s bad, it’s good. Weddings are feel good events. Sometimes I feel like it didn’t go quite as well as I might have liked (rarely), but I almost always feel like I’ve been a part of a powerful experience for the couple and their family and friends.  It’s a part of why I became a rabbi: to help create meaningful ceremonies for people at critical moments in their lives. I strive to make every wedding a mean ingful and spiritual experience for the couple. Rarely, however, is it a spiritual experience for me (which is as it should be). Yesterday was a deeply spiritual experience for me, as I bore witness to their love.  Sometimes, when we expect it least, the Divine shows up and reminds us what really matters.


Anniversaries: You're Doing it Wrong

Tomorrow is Eva and my wedding anniversary. In what is a remarkably common experience for us, we are spending it apart from one another. Eva’s already in Boston, and I’m getting on a plane tomorrow, not to arrive until 12:15 AM the following day.

If nothing else happens, this will go down as a “so-so” anniversary for us. Much better than some others.

On our first anniversary, we watch election returns and learned the concept of a “hanging chad.” We of course didn’t get the results of the 2000 election for many weeks, but eventually, it brought in George W. And it happened on our first anniversary.

During our second anniversary, Eva went to New York to spend time with a dying friend.

During our fifth anniversary, we went to New York together, went to see a great show, came back to the hotel, only to discover that the person staying with our cats had given one of them an entire syringe of topical narcotic pain killer rather than the tiny amount out of the syringe which she was supposed to. We then spent several hours wondering whether this was going to kill our already very  sick cat (it didn’t).

There was the anniversary that we spent apart because I was helping my grandparents move from their home of 54 years to an assisted living facility. That wasn’t such a bad day, but again, not together.

Eva and I have come to the conclusion that it’s okay that our anniversaries tend not be great. We also feel this way about valentines day. Our thought is that given that we tend to do really well the other 363, we can take a pass on those two.

I love you Eva.

Rabbinic spirituality

Talking about People

 Three times in the last week I’ve had the occasion to speak about people. During a wedding, I described the relationship between the couple: what made them special as a couple, and unique as individuals. During a funeral, I gave a eulogy, describing the life of the deceased and what gave meaning to his life. During a bar mitzvah, I described the special gifts of the young men, focusing on how those gifts may serve them and others in the future. In each case, at least one person came up afterwards and informed me that I’d gotten that description just perfect.

When someone tells me I’ve gotten that right, it feels great. I work hard to try to find the heart of the people I’m working with, and sometimes I’m not sure how well I’m succeeding. I see what I think is the important parts, but do others see them as important? Is it even a side of them that they show to people other than the rabbi? Almost always the answer is, “yes,” but I am nervous enough about it that I find it wonderful to be told I got it right.

What I love most about the process is the ability to reflect  back at people a vision of their loved ones. This is a vision which they recognize, but which highlights people’s best, and hopefully, most central qualities. I help all involved see the person or people I’m describing in a way that is both true and meaningful. I’ve captured the essence of the person, and put it into a context which makes that essence good and important. When I get it right, it is a powerful experience for all involved, especially including me.

What I’ve realized in the last week is that all three of these lifecycle events, wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, are  fundamentally about love. Wedding is obviously about love of the couple for each other, but it is also about the love of those gathered for the couple. And that is the part of love that is present in all the events. A funeral is largely about the love of the survivors for the deceased (and of the deceased for the survivors). A bar mitzvah is about a family’s love for the young adult. Love tends to be the central aspect of lifecycle events, and part of why they are so much fun, so rewarding and so stressful.

On another topic entirely: Daylight Savings.
I feel like I’m really getting the first morning of daylight savings time experience. I got up this morning at 7 and it was still dark. A beautiful drive down to Salem. Pretty much clear skies, with an occasionally stunning view of Mount Hood in the distance. Very nice sunrise. As I got closer to Salem, there was some scattered low fog (really more like a ground hugging mist), until I was in Salem, and then hit some true fog. A very pretty morning.

I’m getting ready for a full day, teaching Sunday school, teaching adult Hebrew, meeting with some folks about a wedding. I definitely feel like there’s a little less pressure on my schedule now that the Bar Mitzvah is done.


Planning a Wedding

I’m going to spend a couple of hours this afternoon planning a wedding. Not mine. I’m happily married, and fully done with the details of our wedding, thank you very much.

No, this is a wedding I will be performing. And this afternoon I will be having the final meeting with the bride and groom.  We will iron out the details (which are basically all in place) and make any last minute changes. In part, the real purpose of this final meeting with the couple is very  often simply to reassure them that all the pieces are in place and that everything will be fine, and all they really have to do now is show up and they will be married.

I love performing weddings. As a rabbi, I’m invited into a couple’s relationship in an intimate way: I’m given a chance to talk with them about how they feel about each other, and how they wish to express those feelings in front of family and friends. Under the chuppah (the Jewish wedding canopy) there are three people: the bride, the groom and the rabbi. It’s a privilege to be trusted to help a couple begin a marriage, and a joy to be a part of their excitement.

Which means, even when I’m a bit tired (as I am this afternoon), even if I have a few other issues worrying me (which I do this afternoon), I know that the energy and excitement of the impending wedding will buoy me up, and I’ll be swept along as we make the final plans.

The last thing I do at a final wedding meeting is to take a few moments, and ask the couple to remember why we’re doing this: that is to say, to focus on their love and the reason for the marriage. It’s an opportunity to let any odd family dynamics fade into the background (and there are always some odd family dynamics around weddings–it’s the nature of either families or weddings, I haven’t, yet, figured out which). This is the opportunity for the bride and the groom to take a deep breath and acknowledge that regardless of whatever details of planning remain, the important thing is that in less than a week, they will be married. Everything else is just window dressing.