Put On Your Robes: TorahCycle Tetzaveh

Tetzaveh 2014

This week’s reading has very detailed instructions about priestly vestments. Think special in the way of prom and wedding dresses. Clothes we wear for high occasions, for initiations, and that ready the wearer for ritual. In this case, white linens and a jeweled breastplate, and rituals of atonement and renewal.

Torah names a select few, and one High Priest, as initiated and elevated. In my cosmology, humanity is a nation of priests, each for another.

Some days I can see my robes and on other days yours. When it’s yours, I transcend knowing you don them on one arm at a time, just like I do. Instead I listen up, and can hear deeper truths from you about how I’m off-track and screwing up, or doing well, making good choices. I credit your stories with more authority.

Most problems in life come when my non-robe-wearing self butts into your non-rob-wearing self. If we could remember who we really are, we’d be less easily annoyed and frustrated by what’s said. We’d listen better and argue less. We’d tell stories of friendship, growth, and hope.

There’re days when you feel like a priest and days when you don’t. Days (or at least moments) when you walk around glowing with wow. Others when you’re cranky and nothing helps, no matter what you’re wearing. In those moments what I most need—and can seem furthest away–is to laugh. Or at least a good story.

Neil Gaimon’s sequel to American Gods dramatizes the transition from gods whose stories were tales of carnage, red in tooth and claw, to the rise of trickster gods and clever heroes. Gods who teach by making us think. The God of Torah is yet another evolution: a god whose stories open our consciousness and our hearts. Who helps us out of stuck. Who readies us to elevate both our stories and our souls.

Good priests do that too. Beyond conducting a great ritual, they invite you to see yourself in a clearer light: to witness, accept, and ask for more insight–from yourself and others, from holy messengers in every form. They bring you closer to the holiness inside and around you. They help you make more moments of your life feel sacred, or at least better.

The stories we tell matter. They make us priestly or competitive, feel holy or provoked. Because thought is the greatest trickster god of all. A thought can make you hungry or sad, satisfied or victorious. It’s all in how you tell your stories, and the rituals you conduct to reinforce them. Why choose anger when you could choose love?

Try to be and see the priest in yourself and others, even wearing jeans and an old t-shirt. Even in your nemesis or the guy asking for handouts. It’s harder, and usually we don’t. More often we judge our own or others’ distance from the very holiness we profess to aspire to. Each time we do, we fail an initiation.

Putting on your robes lets you access your wisdom and experience. Lets you leave stories of hurt, cynicism, and doubt in your past. And gives you new stories of love and hope.

No Straight Lines: TorahCycle Behaalotecha

BehalotechaIf personal progress were linear and long-lasting we’d all be the people we wish to be and sometimes imagine we are. We wouldn’t battle recidivism or doubt, wouldn’t have to haggle with ourselves every time we’re confronted with choices or temptations, and would know how to get from here to there and from now to then in a manner that’s far easier and more effective than how most of us seem to journey .

Instead, many of us live much of our lives in the conditional subjunctive. The tense that says If only, Only after, the kind of If/when, If/then states of being that help explain why we, like the Israelites, need many years to get to where we think we want to go. We alternate huge sprints of positive and powerful momentum with periods in which we lurch along in bumpy spasms, or, worse, feel painfully stuck.

While we’re travelling, our goals may change. The journey will certainly change us. Things we thought we couldn’t live without may later seem shallow or hollow. Actions or events we never valued may inspire us. Gifts that appeared like manna from heaven lose their luster, or conceal big challenges. And when we’re in pain we sometimes become whiny, greedy children.

Despite the pejoratives, what we complain about also sheds light on what’s missing from our lives. Helps inspire us to get our butts in gear again. Though sadly too often we complain about what’s missing, rather than appreciating what’s good, and how far we’ve come.

Aspirations are great. Are you prepared to have every wish satisfied now? Are you ready to be at goal, whatever that is? Or do you recognize how you grow from the struggles of the journey?

I’m not talking gigantic crises. But rather the benefits from  weeks, months, and seasons spent examining the spots on your soul, whether they’re injuries you caused yourself or wounds imposed by others. These come from unconscious actions and careless speech more often than intentional desire to do harm. But they still cause pain, and keep us tethered.

Every time we’ve been hurt or wounded, every time we’ve suffered sadness, disappointment, regret, fear, jealousy, envy, or any of a host of painful experiences we hobble ourselves. The reason progress takes so long is that we’ve become practiced at embedding these into our hearts and souls, and at projecting those negative feelings onto others. Every time we do, we add another layer of pain that needs to be removed, sooner or later, to get to goal.

The active present tense is a great way to clean those spots. And now’s great time to look yourself in a clear bright mirror, and take an inventory, chakra by chakra, of your emotional traits, habits, and history.

Use your now to get to goal. Focus on one goal at a time and look both backward and forward. See what your journey has taught you, and also what old baggage you’re carting around that’s making you heavy, slow, or stalled. Take some time this week to compost it by the side of the road, so you can move forward with new inspiration and enthusiasm.