Oct 11, 2008

Observing The New Year

It just turned cold yesterday. It’s clear that autumn is here. For those living in more inclement weather, it’s been obvious for a few weeks. But we had a heat wave the first week of October, so it’s only now reaching us.

Autumn is my favorite season. Summer has vanished, the light has changed, the air has turned crisp, and it brings on a kind of lovely melancholy. I grieve a little, get over it and get on with whatever is in front of me. It’s also the Jewish New Year. Jewish congregations just finished their new-year observances: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Yes there’s a joke in there: “growing up Norwegian Lutheran I thought Yom Kippur was a tasty tuna hot dish.” Yum Kipper. … Groan.

The Lutherans (sometimes called Catholic Lite) did observe the church year, but I really only remember Advent because of the purple candles. Of course we had Lent but we never got ashes smudged on our heads or fasted from anything. We never had anything as weighty as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah, the new year, brings in ten days of soul searching, taking stock, repenting, and seeking forgiveness. On the Day of Atonement God forgives your sins and you have a new start for the coming year. Now Jesus did away with the need for a blood atonement, so forgiveness is available any time.

Nevertheless, I think there is something healthy in stopping and taking stock, and fall seems like the time to do it. It is, after all, the end of the previous year’s harvest. It’s time to count what is in the storehouse, and plant for the next year. It’s the beginning of the school year; we’re kind of programmed to start new work in the fall. My own faith teaches me I need to examine my heart and repent of wrongdoing. And I’ve learned in the 12 steps that taking an inventory and getting right with God and others is one of the healthiest, freeing things you can do for yourself.

Moderns don’t really like words like “sin” or “repent.” We don’t really want to admit we might be wrong; we are too afraid or too addicted to activity to stop and look at ourselves. In a world where we declare that everything is permissible, what’s to repent of? But read the news and it’s clear things are FUBAR. But can we admit it? This 700 billion dollar bailout seems like we are enabling our addiction.

I listened to a Speaking of Faith podcast in which a young rabbi, Sharon Brous, talked with great passion about the High Holy Days that it almost made me want to be Jewish. She explained that “repent” repent really means “return:” return to who you really are, return to God, return to the person God really meant you to be, leave your wandering and self-absorption and return to what God has really appointed you to do in the world.

Another thing that Sharon Brous said that struck me, is this: at the beginning one may focus on one’s own failings, but soul searching needs to go beyond the self, and examine one’s responsibility to community and the world. Americans are so dang independent (read: self-absorbed) that we have a hard time taking responsibility for the problems around us.

Back in the early 1990s I attended a non denominational church that was heavy into the spiritual gifts. I remember one rambling “prophet” talking about the Jewish new year in “olden times.” He talked about it, and it stuck with me. Ever since then, when the high holy days come round, I think about fasting and praying. But I’m too addicted to food and activity that I don’t do it.

Well, this year I decided to do it. Larry’s got a lot on his mind regarding some work, he needs to make some changes in his job and … well, while I have this book in front of me, Larry’s vocational path isn’t so clear. So I did it. It helped that I was out of town for a couple days working on a short film. It’s a lot easier to fast from food when you are holed up in a La Quinta Inn in San Jose, and the closest munchies are pork rinds at the 76 station food mart.

For me, the hardest part about fasting from food … besides not eating … is deciding to do it. Ask me in a month if I’ll do it again soon and I’ll say no. It just takes up so much psychic energy. But once I make the decision it’s a lot easier. When the waves of hunger come, I tell my stomach, ‘you’re not hungry,’ and it shuts up. I do drink that Master Cleanser lemonade (lemon juice, grade b maple syrup, and cayenne pepper). I drank a couple V-8 juices and some Gatorade, so it’s not like I was totally fasting. But it’s enough to get my mind and time off of food.

Days one and Two, my energy level on the set was fine. The Sugar Free Red Bulls helped. But I think I caught a cold the previous weekend, so that got in the way. I was still working on the short film, so it’s not like I was in some corner praying and meditating. I did put on some music that got me in touch with God, and that was great.

I also got in touch with my real self. When my friend Tim and I were driving back from the set to our crappy motel, we got lost. And I got cranky. Oh and when I got back to the motel my tea bags were gone, so I went down to the hotel desk and said the maid had thrown away my tea bags. A few minutes later I found them. So I had to call the front desk and apologize for being one of THOSE kind of people. The next morning Tim and I were driving back to the set, stuck in the wrong lane, and trying to merge, a wall of cars zoomed past and no one would let us get in. So I rolled down the window and flipped tehm all off. Tim laughed out of shock. Poor guy. Did I mentione we met at chuch in New York? “This your true heart. This is your true heart on fasting. Any questions?”

Okay, so stuff I can pray about when I finally get quiet and have time to listen.

By Day Three (Wednesday) I wasn’t tired at all. We finished work and I flew back to LA Wednesday night. Thursday morning I woke up, cold in full bloom. I finally sat down to get quiet, pray, and listen. My mind wandered a thousand places. Then the Daytime Theraflu made me sleepy. It was daytime Theraflu! I knew, because I accidentally took it last night thinking it was Nighttime Theraflu and it kept me awake!

So I lay down and slept for a few hours. Note to self: things to work on this year: not getting colds, paying more attention in prayer and meditation. Not to take over the counter cold medicine before prayer and meditation.

Thursday was officially Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But since I started my own personal “days of Awe” later, I decided to keep fasting and wait until Larry and I could get away Saturday night and pray together.

Larry and I planned to get away overnight Saturday night to pray together about the upcoming year. Problem was, we didn’t make any reservations. He told me later he assumed I was going to do it. Well, you know what they say about ass-u-me. So Friday night I spent two hours online trying to get a hotel in the desert or the beach. I made a list and emailed them to Larry for his thoughts. An hour later he hadn’t responded. He said he saw the email, he just didn’t think he needed to open it. Grr. So I tried to get something on Priceline and it rejected my bids! It said, “up to half off” so I stayed above half! That damned William Shatner. What a freaking liar! Finally I thought about the ranch where I’d gone to write my book. I wrote down the number, handed it to Larry and asked him to call while I took a hot bath. “But you know him more than I do,” Larry replied. As if that was the point.

So after my bath, Larry and I had a little discussion about our communication breakdown. I kept calm but I was direct. Larry said it felt like he got blindsided. Okay so there are some more things to work on.

We didn’t go anywhere for Saturday night. But we ended up taking a beautiful drive up to Mt. Wilson, Larry’s namesake. The sky was clear, and it was remarkable to think that only a week and a half ago we were enduring a heat wave. The view was spectacular, too. We sat up near the observatory and prayed. Well, I wrote.

I had formulated a list in my mind of things I wanted to write down.

Lose weight.
Get back into yoga
Find a good 12-step sponsor and at least two regular meetings.
Be a better wife.
Root ourselves in a spiritual community.
Lose more weight.
Take inventory more often.
Work on solo show.
Be less of an asshole, especially when driving, or when nice, Christian friends are driving and I’m in the passenger seat.
Help Larry make his important decisions without telling him what he should do.
Get out of the way.
Let go and let God.

But when I started to write, I felt compelled tow rite as if I were Larry. Imagine what was going on in his head, the fears and concerns he was facing. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And I wrote what I felt God would say back to Larry. I then wrote from my point of view and what I felt God would say to me. It turned into about 13 pages. Only then did I write my list. And I don’t think I mentioned the weight thing. After all, I’ve been fasting for six days and my jeans feel loose.

In the end, when I looked back at what I wrote, I was taken by how much grace God has for both Larry and me. He doesn’t reprimand or shame us. He is firm with us, especially when he sees our character flaws. He is concerned that they go unchecked because he loves us. But he is always patient and hopeful even in his rebuke. For example, when I wrote down, “I don’t’ feel like I’m a great wife.” God replied, “well that’s not true. You have areas you need to improve, but you’re doing a great job. And remember you were by yourself for so many years, you’ve only been married two. Don’t expect Larry or you to come ready-made into a relationship.

Larry and I have been married two years. Marrying Larry was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Of course I get frustrated, I get complacent and lazy too. But I know that the purpose of marriage isn’t to make my life convenient –– it’s to change my character, and to help Larry change his. There’s no better place to bring my character issues than to the one person who has promised to love me and stay.

And I really do wish I could bring more of these observances into my life: taking stock, honoring the season. Not that I’m going to become Jewish. But fasting and prayer is a pretty good thing.

Larry and I drove back down Mt. Wilson and shared our thoughts about the afternoon. I didn’t read him what I wrote. I think I should live it.

He stopped and got Indian food to take home. It was the only time in the last week that I wanted to eat. I’m ending my fast on Monday morning. I think I’ll have Lamb Korma for Breakfast.


Wendy Melchior said...

a truly great post.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I've been drawn to converting once or twice myself.

I loved this post, Susan.

It's just what I needed to read today.

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