Saturday, February 21, 2015

On Shabbat

Despite the name of this blog, I'm not much of an actual Jewish girl.  I was born Jewish, I had a Bat Mitzvah, and I even had a "confirmation" when I was sixteen.  I taught Sunday school for a couple of years when I was in college --- I was assigned to third grade, because any class above that would have exceeded my knowledge of Hebrew and Judaism.

I'm not sure when I first started feeling uncomfortable in religious settings.  Maybe sometime after college?  Religious services started feeling less meaningful and more cultish.  The chanting, the conviction that improbable-sounding religious stories actually all felt strange.  Add to that the fact that my basic religious knowledge meant I couldn't fully participate in most services, and you've got a recipe for discomfort.

So I dialed back my participation in actual Jewish ritual.  I experienced a brief renewal in my spirituality and feelings towards Judaism after going on Birthright Israel in 2011, but my practices didn't change much.

After moving to Baltimore, I have found myself inching into the Jewish scene here.  Seemingly every week, a different Jewish group hosts a young adults/professionals Shabbat that are either inexpensive, free, or potlucks.  I've gone to a bunch of these dinners, mainly because they are something to do and a good way to meet people.  I've met a handful of cool people through these Jewish events and I certainly can never have too many friends.

Plus, I think on some level I enjoy reconnecting a bit with my religion, even if I'm totally awkward at these events.  A couple of weeks ago, I tried to strike up a conversation around the table about recreational activities during a period during the ritual when (unbeknownst to me) we were all supposed to remain quiet.

Anyway, I was inspired to write this post after my experience with last night's Shabbat.  I have had an extremely stressful day at work, even though we only had a three-day week.  There are a ton of exciting things going on and I've had a few huge professional successes in the last month, but the next few weeks are going to make me want to pull my hair out.  As the workday wound to a close I started feeling that familiar tension in my chest --- that feeling of having too much to do and too many balls in the air.

Then an unfamiliar feeling came over me --- one of impending relaxation and calm.  I think it came from the knowledge that I was taking a purposeful pause from work and life to go through the Shabbat ritual and have some kind of meal with other people.  For one of the first times in my life, I found myself looking forward to Shabbat.

I'd imagine I'd get the same kind of benefit from setting a fixed time to meditate and disconnect, but it was nice to feel it come from part of my religious heritage, even if I still struggle with the ritual and the theology.

I'm curious to hear about other weekly rituals that provide that sense of calm and focus.  What do you guys do for yourselves?

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