I have had a number of religious transitions in my life. I began in a Conservative Jewish family that was fairly traditional … with some wrinkles. Saturday mornings I’d run along beside my Dad – who, although he was a short guy, walked really really fast – on the way to the synagogue. We’d walk home (a little more slowly) and the family would gather around the table to have cholent for lunch. For those of you who aren’t familiar with cholent, let me try to explain it (you can click on the link if – for some reason – you want the history of cholent). For general purposes, it’s a pot filled with things like flanken (a Jewish take on short ribs), barley, lima beans, carrots, potatoes, and whatever else anybody wants to put in (or leave out in the case of vegetarian cholents). Thing is, you have to cook it for about 12 hours so it transforms into a dish that you either love or hate. Cholent.
Back to our Sabbath rituals.
After cholent my father would climb onto his bed and have what is called a “shabbes shluff” … the kind of restful, peaceful nap you can have when you’re not torn to be doing anything else at all. The womenfolk (my mother and various groupings of the 4 sisters) would head downtown, do a little shopping, have a snack at the London Cafe (that’s where I discovered you could have gravy with french fries) and meander home around 5 o’clock to have dinner and make havdalah (a beautiful ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the rest of the week). That was then, and then I left home.
In the ensuing 10 or 15 years I went from having a totally “unkosher” home to a strictly kosher one. I’ve gone from going to synagogue every Shabbat (Saturday/Sabbath) to going 4 or 5 times a year plus whenever I travel. Most importantly I’ve gone from feeling exaltation just because I finally learned the words and could “keep up” during the service to feeling that it’s just rote words I’m saying with little connection. I am comfortable “in” religion, understood the way that Dalai Lama’s frames it: “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness. ” So, in that sense I’ve always been a religious person, it’s just that I’ve had to seek different paths at different times in my life.
I knew that being a part of a community (a) whose company I could join regularly, and (b) who would provide a space in which I could feel whole … well, I knew that would be something I could enjoy more of once I retired. So now on Saturday mornings, from 10:30 to 1:oo p.m. you will find me Sacred Circle Dancing with a downtown Toronto “circle” (e-mail me if you’d like to join us and I’ll give you details). This morning I put a beautiful black-and-white photo of Freida in the center of the circle and as we danced – a most beautiful and gently transforming moving meditation, hands held palm to palm as we all became one movement swaying and grapevineing and offering our spirits to the dance – we brought her into the circle. May she always feel the love of a dance circle. A Buddhist saying tells us that “thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” May the candles that were lit as part of Freida’s naming ceremony spread their light and help us all to find a more loving way to be together on the earth.
Sitting together having lunch afterwards we talked of a more caring world, and meditation stools (I’m looking for one), and unity, and struggle. When I dance my spirit feels more connected; indeed, I feel more connected. And quiet. And centred. I feel the way I feel when I’m hiking in the desert, climbing a mountain, or walking alongside of a penguin. I feel filled with awe for life’s natural beauty. I feel truly joyful. Hhhmmm??? Should I be dancing more?
I can’t help but wonder what other ways women are finding to join communities of spirit when they retire.