Sunday, September 27, 2009

Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Rock 'n Roll

Blogger's Note: This is is less of an essay, and more of a brain dump. I wanted to get into the whole concept of repentance and what is supposed to happen on these High Holidays as we approach Yom Kippur, but there isn't time. Continued discussion is welcome though.


Prepare to be wowed by the depth and profundity of this:

When you get an itch in the middle of your back, G-d makes it so you can reach back and scratch it.
If you can't do that, G-d gives you a back scratcher to help you reach.
If you can't do that, G-d provides you with a trusted friend to scratch your back for you.
If you don't have that, G-d gives you relief with the notion that the itch will eventually subside.
What's that you say? Didn't G-d give you the itch in the first place?
Shut up.


I, and about eleven or twelve hundred other people, went to a Porcupine Tree show. (I promise this post is not really about Porcupine Tree.) It was Friday night, Sabbath eve, or Erev Shabbat. And this wasn't just any Shabbat, it was Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Return or Sabbath of Penitence, which always falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

For some time, I have lamented letting go of much of my Jewish observance, but it was only recently I started to do anything about it. When it began, it was like a big file drawer was opened in my mind. I was having lots of religious/spiritual memories. Most notably, I could remember Hebrew songs. I remember songs in their entirety that I have not sung in years. I sing them to my kids at night; they love the sound of them even if they don't know what the words mean.

The opening band was King's X, a guitar-rock band that turned out to be a bit of crunchy fun. During their set I was thinking that although I'm not supposed to be here on the Sabbath, G-d is still here, at least in some capacity. So I started saying all the Friday night prayers I could remember. Then I tried to do a bit of teshuvah.

This is the time of year when we are meant to be seeking forgiveness for the wrongs we've done, but there are a number of chances to get it right. In order to improve yourself in the eyes of G-d and possibly transform the severity of whatever G-d has planned for you in the year to come, it is said that you must do teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah; repentance, prayer, and charity or good deeds. So I did what I could there in the midst of screaming guitars and pounding drums. I did feel the presence of G-d.

Recently, I was suffering from an ailment that causes a very uncomfortable symptom. (This is not strictly a female ailment, but I think it is more common in women.) The symptom seemed to continue even after I started the antibiotics, and I worried that maybe I had something more severe. I didn't so much pray, but thought to myself that if this symptom would go away, I could handle any of the usual life crap I typically complain about.

So G-d challenged me. He took the symptom away, but gave me a couple of emotionally challenging situations to deal with instead. The first of these was a bad thing, but one that I had some control and influence over.

Just after Rosh Hashanah, my son Einstein's asthma became exascerbated, and I took him to the emergency room. It turned out he had pneumonia. Of course I would have taken my discomfort over his. But I could comfort him, get him water, tell him how brave he was, advocate for him, make his stuffed animals do goofy things so that he'd laugh, rub his back until he slept. He's better now.

The PT set began. It seemed G-d was still there. I tried to listen and hear everything.

"But after a while
You realize
Time flies
And the best thing that you can do
Is take whatever comes to you...."

The life crap, regular or unusual, can get you down. I am good at pulling myself out of a funk, but lately I feel myself getting pretty low. It has made "proper" teshuvah difficult. But you do what you can. There are methods, and rituals to follow, but it really all comes down to finding a way to have the presence of mind, and the desire.

"Silence is another way/To say the things I want to say." Maybe G-d is hearing me even when I'm not doing it right. Help me do it right, I thought. The next morning I could not get to synagogue, but I said the Sabbath morning prayers, with the Shabbat Shuvah bits added in, in my pajamas.

"Down in my soul you are..."
My left hand held on firmly to my right arm. I may have been in a crowd, but I was keeping myself company. Maybe forgiving myself.

A little teshuvah and a little tefillah in an unlikely place. I have the hand-stamp to prove it.


Phil Robinson said...

From looking at setlists of the recent King's X shows with Porcupine Tree, it looks like they aren't playing "Run" on this leg of their tour. Too bad, as it would have fit perfectly with what was going on in your head in regards to your spiritual life:

I had to run
I had to hide
In the world outside
A better chance, out there
If God is everywhere

"Run" is bassist Dug Pinnick's outcry to an oppressive church atmosphere and experiences within the Christian church, the basic gist being that because of judgemental attitudes within the church, he has a better chance of "finding God" outside the church.

Kim said...

I did make it to the show after all, but I had such a hard time getting into the showgoing mood. In part I ran into some friends that are more snarky than joyous about showgoing, (I love them, but man, are they snarky!) and in part because I had to rush there at the last second. I was just thankful I managed to see the second half of the Porcupine Tree set.

I am glad it had such a positive effect for you. :)

12tequilas said...

Phil, welcome to ATG. As you can see, we have reeeaaallly comfy chairs here, and an open bar. So I hope you'll come back. I really liked King's X, and the part I left out was that after I'd done a bit of praying, the singer announced, "welcome to the First Church of Rock and Roll." He went on to preach a bit about how there is no sin in this church, and eventually came to the point that one must pursue what one wants to pursue in this life, and don' let no one tell you diff'rent. It was rather uplifting.

Kim, thanks for commenting, I was a bit worried that someone like you who met me only recently would think "she felt...the presence of Porcupine Tree. Okaayy..." Does this mean you missed The Incident? I hope not. We did look for you, and saw one or two people we knew, including Jim Rezek from Iluvatar.