Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I was privileged to attend Shabbat for Solidarity (for those lives lost in Pittsburgh) with a friend on Saturday. Having never been to Jewish services, I found myself exhaling into the ritual, the observances that felt both ancient and current; the expression of gratitude to God for this life, for our whole being, for our history and our future, neither of which are in our control.

As a kid, I sometimes went to Mass with my Catholic cousins, and again, resonated with the ritual - the holy water and sign of the cross, the incense and the priest's vestments. Where did my craving for ritual come from? In our house, the evening cocktail was ritual. There were half-hearted efforts to get me to various Sunday Schools, but none stuck, especially as Dad's drinking got worse.

I craved ritual and structure when, as a 10 year old, I'd cut out homilies and folk wisdoms from magazines, taping them to the wall beside my little desk. Ritual and structure are what I craved when I attended a local evangelical church with friends in 9th grade, though I instinctively knew I didn't have what it took to give up worldly pleasures. Smoke pot, or go to church - it was an easy choice. Ritual and structure are what I craved when I converted to Islam, desperately wanting a framework to help make sense of my chaotic life. But again, hedonism won out, in this case in the form of cocaine. Always searching, never finding...

And then, eureka, the 12 Steps with structure and ritual galore. Years ago I was at our local Alano Club at the holidays. All three meeting rooms were packed, so I perched at the top of the stairs, and while I couldn't make out the words in any of the groups, I was comforted by the cadence and tone of people speaking from the heart.Wherever, and in whatever language, there is a sameness in the way we gather and what we read, and how we share, the ritual and structure I'd been looking for in all the wrong places.

I have several friends who have returned to the faith traditions of their childhood. I don't have much to fall back on in that department. My mom did instill the belief in a loving and caring Power, but there was no practice, no tradition as she'd removed herself from the formal observance of her mother's religion. I've dabbled in organized religion and unorganized spirituality in the years since, but most consistent has been the 30+ years of practicing the spiritual way of life as outlined in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, which allow me to go as deep or as superficial as I so desire on any given day. Sometimes it is just about staying sober and sane. Other days, it is about digging deep into that conscious contact with a Power Greater than myself, and both ends of the spectrum are OK.

November feels like a quiet month, with crimson leaves that seem lit from within and rain on the roof as I sleep. I've made a commitment to return to daily meditation, which is a habit too easy to slip out of. Sitting comes more naturally with the shorter, darker days, and if I say it here, I'm more likely to hold myself accountable, more likely to establish and reinforce my own ritual of going within.

This is an early post as I'll be hither and yon - see you next week on my regular Wednesday.

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