17 March 2013

Mazel Tov, Incense & Burning Sage

Mazel tov!
Years ago I was a guest at a wedding at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. I saw the groom crush a glass with his right foot, and then I heard myself join the other guests shouting "Mazel tov!" It was a moving expression of humanity.

I remember the mysterious sweetness of burning incense from Sunday mornings as a boy attending mass at Our Lady of Peace in New Providence. I recall being mesmerized by the wafts of smoke emanating from a thurible swung around the altar. It was high theater meant to acknowledge the mystery.

In Boulder this past winter I joined the lighting of a bundle of sage as my family members gathered around a backyard fire pit flame that engulfed the boxes that once contained the remains of beloved ancestors. We talked about the Japanese ritual of passing around the disintegrated bones of the deceased with chopsticks. We invented our ceremony. The burning of the bundle of sage was extemporaneous. Our actions were heartfelt and as grounded as a sod house on the prairie. It never struck me that others might find it odd.

Burning sage.
Religiously speaking, I am filled with wonder. I am baffled by the endless mysteries. I revel in considering the questions, but have no answers.

I find dogma in all religions to be toxic. But I understand that religion is born from deep yearning - the same deep yearning I share with the rest of humanity.

I appreciate the beauty of ritual. I acknowledge the capacity of ritual to connect us with our humanness. But I denounce the small-minded tendency to presume my rituals, the ones I practice, are more meaningful, or less absurd, than the next person's rituals.
No more meaningful. No more absurd.
Listening to friends at a social gathering deride the rituals of an unconventional wedding was disappointing. I know little of the rituals of this particular religion, but as they were described, it struck me that what others felt comfortable snickering about, I would have likely experienced as heart-felt, joyful, or profound.

Open-mindedness is a discipline that requires practice. The catty snickering over someone else’s marital rites reminded me that to practice open-mindedness is not unlike the discipline of daily exercise. It reminded me to support people making connections through the sometimes awkward practice of ritual. And it reminded me to approach the rituals enjoyed by others with beginner's mind.

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