Sorry I have not posted since the prehistoric era. I had a wonderful trip to Budapest and Germany. I will post pictures very soon, I promise. It was magical.
I also got into Grad school for Molecular Biology and started a few weeks ago. So, I was hectically moving to Washington D.C. (I now go to Georgetown) and getting into classes and had no time to write. I will tell you the engaging story of how all this came about very soon. I pinky promise.
However, until then, I still did not want you to think I had totally forgotten you. I signed up for an Intro to Judaism class at a nearby temple, and I have to write a weekly journal. It was the first time in weeks that someone has forced me to write, so I thought I would share it with you. Mostly I just ramble about food, and then try to pull out some meaningful life analogy from it (in similar form to a disturbing number of my posts). Anyway, I hope you enjoy. I just made myself really hungry and now I am going to go eat some of the turkey soup I made last weekend.
Journal topic: What is your experience with religion? In
what religious tradition were you raised? Why are you taking this class? What do you hope to learn in this class? What are some of the questions for which you hope to find answers in this class?
My father is a closet religious scholar. The shelves of my childhood home are bloated and bursting with books, covering every obscurely academic religious topic imaginable: from the neuroscience of prayer to the philosophical development of the tribes of the Indus valley in pre-biblical times. Talk of religion as a concept so thoroughly saturated dinnertime conversations that it flavored the very food we ate. Yet, I have never witnessed my family pray. Though religious figures took up residence in every corner of our house, religious practice was checked at the door.
I served in the Army from the time I turned 19 to my 22nd birthday. In those three years, I was subjected to some experiences that were very difficult to digest. Many of my closest friends were deeply religious (offering a smorgasbord of practices—Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Hindi, Buddhist, and even one Sikh). Regardless of the differences in their practice, holding on to their individual faith and their traditions gave them a source of strength I could not tap. It gave them handholds on the cliff-face of life and I deeply wished to share.
So, I began to slowly inch toward religion. I held long conversations with friends about their beliefs, and even got up the nerve to go to a respectable number of Christian-variety services. I found them unfulfilling. I found most Christian churches very welcoming and accessible; they had belief, but they were totally devoid of faith and only held a tertiary relationship with God. They were missing deep practice. I am of the belief that religious practice is for the practitioners, not the deity being honored. People imbue things with meaning through dedication and sacrifice. That which is free means nothing, while that which costs us in blood, sweat, and time are cherished in the human heart. If I adopt a religion, I want to cherish it. I want my belief to cost me, so that I come to treasure the relationship with God that grows from a practice.
I think of religion like turkey soup. There are few activities that nourish the soul like making turkey soup. When we make turkey soup, my sister and I somewhat fanatically go to the market and talk to the farmers who raise the turkeys. From there we select our bird, lug it home, and immediately dump it in salt to brine overnight. The next day, we slow roast the turkey and share it over a big family meal. This meal is simply a checkpoint however. The end game is more than a day away.
We strip the turkey and set the meat aside. Then we roast the bones and the skin for a few hours. After roasting, we crack the bones to let out the marrow and boil the bones and scraps for roughly 12 hours. We strain out the solids, and are left with this dark, rich broth that holds the essence of this turkey’s entire existence a condensed gelatinous mold. We take this broth and mix it with the “leftover” turkey meat, herbs, and fresh vegetables (which we have normally grown in our garden). At the end of three of four days we get this bowl of soup. Semantically it contains the same ingredients as a bowl of turkey soup I could get from a can in the grocery store, and yet the two experiences are completely different. My soup is a distillation of love and a whole season of effort. It presents everything that the turkey and the cook together have to offer. More than that though, it is made essentially the same way that prehistoric tribes made turkey soup over the fire outside their tents. Techniques and flavors that have endured for centuries, unchanged, manifest and the whole package is presented to you in one small bowl. With homemade soup, you are eating a shared human experience of nurturing and love that resonates through all of human history. While with canned soup, you are eating a sodium-enriched necessity. I am looking for the religious equivalent of homemade turkey soup. I am cautiously suspicious that Judaism might be able to offer that.
I am also incredibly intimidated. Judaism is appreciably less accessible than canned soup. It is filled with foreign words and alien practices, and its practitioners hold such a cohesive community that it feels in many ways like an impossible door to open. Yet, despite all of these factors creating inertia, there is this implacable push in the back of my consciousness patiently, and unrelentingly, moving me in this direction. So, by pure chance I ran across this class online (two days before it began), and with the courage that is only born from making significant life commitments at 3a.m., I find myself as a member of the Intro to Judaism class. My list of reservations is longer than my list of questions, yet that force in the back of my mind—whose origins I cannot begin to understand—is finally stronger than my inertia. I feel like a rover on Mars. I want to unobtrusively take samples of the soil and maybe snap some pictures, in order to figure out if this is a path that I truly want to pursue.