Friday, April 10, 2009

Taking it all on faith.

This is one of those years where the juxtaposition of two major faiths come together in the celebrations of Easter and Passover. Tradition tells us that the Last Supper was actually the Passover seder, and it is interesting that this year, the second seder fell on Thursday night, which would fall in line with the Christian telling of the final week of Jesus' life.

As I was raised Jewish, we would traditionally have seder's most often at my aunt's house in Brooklyn. Well, they weren't always full seder's, mind you. We were adherents to the ideal that every Jewish holiday was based on one underlying precept: "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat." I mean, you really can't argue with that, can you? It's pretty precise when you stop to think about it.

Let's look at Passover. If there was ever a template for this idea, this is it. I mean it has everything: A hero (Moses), a villain (Pharaoh), a quest (free the people), and assorted other characters that complete the hero myth very nicely. In the end, the villain, try as he may to wipe out his workforce, wound up getting screwed over. Pharaoh was not exactly the brightest torch in Egypt, and he wound up being a bronze age version of Gordon Gekko.

Moses: Why are you trying to wreck our lives?

Pharaoh: Because they're wreckable!

Then, there's God. Ok, so you basically have Ben Kenobi and Yoda wrapped up in one Supreme Being with a generally unpleasant temperament, who likes to appear incognito (i.e. the burning bush), prefers staffs of wood to lightsabers, and then writes down instructions in stone. C'mon, you just defeated the ruler of Egypt, you couldn't have borrowed some papyrus? Whatever happened to the idea that "to the victor, belongs the spoils?"

The only thing about Passover that makes life difficult is the "no leavening" requirement. For the gentile readers, this means bread with no yeast, or for that matter any baked goods you want to eat. This has translated into matzoh, which translates into cardboard that you can consume. While today there are actually many different types of matzoh that are quite good (onion, egg, other varieties), you had better have some salad or other type of food that can provide roughage, as your intestines will rebel if you don't.

I can certainly appreciate the ideals presented in the Passover story (perseverance, community, overcoming oppression, ), I have moved away from celebrating them in a yearly ritual. Everyday life in the modern age can be a struggle into itself, so I don't need to be reminded yet again of what it is to survive adversity, and come through it with a new beginning, a fresh start. I also think that these stories are, more than anything else, metaphors that were written at a time to provide a framework for a society to find a common heritage and belief. Did Moses exist? I suspect not. Did Jesus exist? We just don't know with absolute certainty. It requires something that I don't have: faith.

"I don't need to have faith, I have experience." wrote Joseph Campbell. He spoke of the idea that all the gods, all the demons, all the heaven and hells of the world were projections of psychological states of being. This was not new, as people like Jung and others had suggested the very same thing. I think that my own life experiences have born this out time and time again to me.

So, at this time of the year, I choose to look at my own trials, my own crosses that I bear, my own efforts to free myself from any psychological slavery that might be encumbering me, and try to break free from them, and resurrect myself.

Phew, that was a lot. Let's go eat.


Peter said...

I guess many Belgian locals lost their fate too when confronted with
"Everyday life in the modern age can be a struggle into itself, so I don't need to be reminded yet again of what it is to survive adversity".

It must have been quite an experience growing up though, as the Catholic Belgian locals never experienced your family's
"They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat" message.

I can recall growing up in my Antwerp Catholic family without any sense of "added value" when it came to religion. The older I became, the more I realized most of us where just going through the motions (at weddings and funerals only), probably explaining why local churches are now only invaded by tourists, paying for an entrance ticket to watch the paintings.

Bina said...

I'm not sure what religion I grew up in. Okay, that sounds stupid. But my mom didn't go to church. I went with the neighbors for years to a Nazarene church, and I must say, I don't remember much about it. I've also gone to a Baptist church, in Ohio.

I guess I get so discouraged by churches because of the hypocricy and judging that goes on there.

And for Easter? I didn't have my kids so I worked out in the yard all weekend and cleaned house.

Jay said...

I didn't grow up as any particular religion, but became a Quaker as an adult. I like your idea of examining your own trials and your own efforts to free yourself and become 'resurrected'.

I no longer give anything up for Lent, but I do try to give myself some daily challenges. Just small things, but things I don't normally do. I think it's a good discipline, and really, that's what Lent is about.