There is this line in the Counting Crows song, “Round Here,” that resonates deep within me. The secular song can take me to a place of reflection and exploration as quickly as a prayer from our beloved sacred texts:
“Says she’s close to understanding Jesus.
“And she knows she’s more than just a little misunderstood.”
You may have made an assumption already, and I assure you my perspective is deeply Jewish. I find real nuggets of truth here, of dwelling in that place of feeling misunderstood. Will you walk through this with me for a few paragraphs?
I am a Jewish person who cultivates a very personal and chronicled (Dear Diary) relationship with our Creator. I try to capture the essence of the words in my heart by drafting original prayers, both for me and my loved ones seeking comfort. I contribute to public conversations about God, and reveal myself in periodicals, telling of the struggles and joyful moments in my relationship with the Almighty. I purposefully participate in praise of the miracles around me, and enjoy out-loud mentions of the support I encounter from God when in simple moments of contentment. The wrestling with God we read about in the Bible, trickles all the way down to me. It can be painful when the “why?” questions go unanswered. I long to share all that this list entails with my community and my friends, but often find awkward silence, or a quick redirect in the conversation, when my take on God seems to get too personal.
My husband, Barry Rothschild, and I have six grandchildren, and five of them are little girls, all under the age of 6. I’m kvelling. When they come to our house, we quickly make our way to the backyard and peer high up in the tree branches at the wooden owl house. “There she is!” they whisper loudly. We are enchanted. Our little group has seen owls only in storybooks, before she moved in. The points drawn on her gray face magnetize us. She stares back at us with her wisdom.
I encourage our “almost-minyan” to make the most of this precious moment and thank God for the owl and all the goodness here. “Who would like to go first?” I ask. They all squeal with excitement and raised hands. Unabashedly and without pause, Avery begins. She closes her eyes and summons concentration. “God…is God…Thank you, God. Thank you for the owl and the tree!” Avery’s prayer of thanksgiving is met with cheers and dancing feet. Maggie Pearle offers us the Shema prayer, thoughtfully and with a rhythm like “Row Row Row Your Boat,” complete with an authentic heart that you just know the angels adore. Laila goes next. A pause in the dramatic preparation. “God, thank you for the owl and the flowers!” Everybody cheers in loud whispers so as not to scare our owl audience member. Toddler Ezra interrupts the cheering to be heard, and the older girls affirm her prayer composed of words we don’t exactly understand. But she’s in it, nonetheless. The owl continues to look on. Eliana sucks on her pacifier, and tries not to let it fall out, because now we are laughing. We decide to take this party to the fairy garden in the front yard, and place a few crystals there. Don’t you want to pray like that?
Picture a Heisman Trophy winner, an Academy Award recipient, or even the survivor of a plane crash, walking away with little more than a few scratches. These scenarios typically have one thing in common: the enthusiastic praise and recognition of the role of the Divine in their lives. Remember the girl in the song, “Says she’s close to understanding Jesus”? She, too, feels up close and personal in her relationship with God. So my question is, why does a reciprocal, lovingly-tended relationship with Shekinah, or any of the sacred names you respectfully use for our Creator, when mentioned in pleasant company, create a space of awkwardness? And why, following that moment, do I let the shadows in, that bring with them feelings of being misunderstood?
Perhaps my feelings of being misunderstood really aren’t about community responses. Perhaps these feelings expose the work I need to do with myself. What if the real work is about the foundation I need to lay more fully, and the heart I need to crack open more widely? We Jewish people are charged with tikkun olam, the repair of the world. I know it has to begin with me. I am thinking more and more, that for me to be received in grace and enthusiasm, I need to believe in God’s process with every cell that is Debbi, elevated by the Divine spark, and shining so brightly back at you.
Debbi K. Levy is a rising Kohenet, studying with the Kohenet Priestess Institute. She is lookimg forward to her smicha (ordination).