Tu B’shvat- The New Year of the Trees

Hag Sameach!

Tu B’shvat, the New Year of the Trees, just began a few hours ago. This is the first year I celebrate Tu B’shvat, and I was lucky enough to attend a seder for the holiday at my synagogue.

I spend my work week studying Judaism with my academic hat on and especially lately, have been analyzing liturgy. Of course, there is some intersection and overlap between my personal religious life and the material I read and write academically, but it is easy to get distracted by the academic questions.

Tonight, with the beautiful poetry and symbolism in the Hagaddah, I was able to let the visions of peaceful trees and nature take over me. More than once, I got caught up in the beautiful feelings and lost track of what was going on around me as I focused on one word or idea that had significance for me in that moment.

It is those moments, when I just lose myself, that I know I am in love. I know I love Hashem. I know I love Torah. I know I love Judaism. And I know I love all the people of Israel and cannot wait to be one of them.

The intensity of the feeling, like all feelings, passes or fades, sometimes even as quickly as it came. That does not mean that the love is no longer there or that I can never have it back. Our relationship with religion is like any relationship. We have cycles with highs and lows. We have days we want to give it our all and days we just want to hide in bed. That is okay. It is more realistic, and healthy, to not ignore any emotion but feel them for what they are and honestly acknowledge their presence in the moment. Judaism teaches that each new moment is full of new potential. Do not dwell on moments past, but be fully present in this moment so that it too can pass and you will be given a brand new moment, a brand new breath full of possibilty.

In this moment, I want to thank Hashem, the Source of all, for giving us the wonderful trees and plants of the earth to shelter and nourish us. May we continue to be inspired by the ever changing seasons and renewal of the trees that show us that new seasons, new days, and new moments bring new possibilities for renewing our whole selves.

“Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”

I was not lost, but I certainly found.

The famous author of The Lord of the Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote the words, “not all those who wander are lost.” This line has become a well-known quote because so many people can relate to the idea of wandering. Throughout our lives, we encounter many moments of wandering. We move from school to school, city to city, and job to job. Throughout the numerous processes of wandering, many of us are fortunate enough to stay rooted by family and friends. No matter how many times we move to a new city, we always have our “hometown.” In these instances, it is clear it see that those wandering are not necessarily lost and retain their roots.

On a deeper level, we wander in our minds, hearts, and souls as we explore ideas of why we are put on this earth and what direction our lives are headed. It seems like the deeper types of wandering happen when you don’t have a clear direction. Even if you are not lost, you are lacking clarity in a meaningful way. Some of us begin to learn more about different religious traditions as we wander through profound questions that either were previously unanswered or not sufficiently answered. With the majority of conversion stories I have encountered, from a variety of religious traditions, the converts describe their experiences as going from being lost to being home. They often begin in a state of little to no religious conviction and make a total transformation when they find their religious tradition and realize life now makes (more) sense. I can definitely relate to the end result feeling. I understand what it feels like to have this new found religion as the home you never knew existed but where you most certainly belong. But the first part, the experience of being lost or without a “home,” I have never felt.

I grew up in a very stable and loving two parent household. My parents, like their parents and their grandparents, created a nurturing, Roman Catholic household.  I had church every Sunday and catechism classes every Wednesday. I participated in many Church activities, like Vacation Bible School, youth days, and Christmas’ pageants. Besides a brief rebellious streak when I hit thirteen, I loved going to church, catechism classes, and all other things Christian. I had a clear religion with clear beliefs in a clear community. I never felt lost. I never had profound moments of doubt or skepticism. I never felt like my needs were not being met. I had the Church and never expected to want anything else.

When I began learning about other religious traditions, in junior high and high school, my study was based on interest of cultural diversity and had little, if anything, to do with theology. I began wandering even though I had a firm conviction in what I believed. I cannot easily relate to the story of other converts who were not spiritually fulfilled before they found their religion, but I can relate to their feeling of finding home, finding more fulfillment then you ever imagined possible, and finding a relationship with God and a community. I have never had a child, but I imagine that my experience is similar to the feeling of a parent. You led a fulfilling life before your child, but then you have your child and realize your life takes on new meaning, experiences, and fulfillment that you never knew you were missing. I never knew I was missing Judaism until I found it, and now I cannot let go. I did not wander because I was lost, but I can not deny that I found significant meaning I never knew I lacked.