Sunday, October 5, 2014

Right of Return

Saturday afternoon: as the sun prepares to set on this Day of Atonement in the Jewish year 5775, those of us who attend the final service of Ne'ilah will meditate one last time on the New Year call to t'shuvah--"repentence," but more literally, "return": return to our original natures in their divinely ordained goodness. The repentance of the High Holidays doesn't grovel in self-loathing. Instead, it points toward the ways human nature is meant to do better and is capable of doing better. Which is why I go back, year after year, gentile in a Jewish congregation that I am. I find there an invitation (one I never answer fully) to be the best of myself. For me, that call often gets lost in my own Christian tradition, especially in the pieties of Lent, tinged with self-loathing as they still all too frequently remain.

The sober self-assessment this day invites us to exercise is grounded in the fundamental goodness of who we are at our core, of who we were made to be. That core includes the discovery, the rediscovery, and the living out of our authentic sexuality and gender identification. Our core embraces the force for good, in ourselves and in the world, that acting on the truth of our sexual being can be.
T'shuvah calls you to repair the self, not to deny the self or to turn it into some other self. T'shuvah calls you to show kindness and respect; to embrace your own capacity for desire and pleasure as miracles to which the proper response is gratitude and celebration, within yourself and in erotic communion with others. It calls you not to shame others; not to belittle them; not to evaluate and use them as objects.
It calls us to affirm the best of who we are and to resist everything, both inside and outside ourselves, that denies our right to return to the truth of our queer souls.
That scrutiny of who we are at our core surely also includes a close look at the complex, often painful heritage of our early religious upbringings. The impulse to walk away from traditions that served us badly is strong. Sometimes walking away from a spiritually abusive heritage is the healthiest thing queer men can possibly do.
But I know from my own experience that the alienated rage I felt for so long towards the Lutheran tradition of my childhood and youth screened a deep pain--the pain I felt at losing the riches it held along with the abuse it doled out. For me, t'shuvah--return--has meant finding a way back to embrace again what  fed my soul as a child and as a young man. My own queer t'shuvah eventually meant claiming my right to return to religious language and symbols that from my early childhood on were woven into the truth of my soul.

My path of return is all the more queer because it wanders on its course through rich traditions not my own--and guided, this day and this evening, by the sound of the shofar in the wilderness.
(Photo by the late Oscar Wolfman.)

1 comment:

  1. Once again, David, you have beautifully articulated some important themes in this life of embodied spirit. My trainer at my gym is Jewish and was sharing with me something that she was doing on Rosh Hashanah. It was the forming of an intention and putting it away for a year, seeing at the next Rosh Hashanah what state the intention finds itself in. I immediately determined that that was a discipline worth trying in Lent. A way of "repairing" the soul. As for self-loathing, I think that unfettered masturbation is quite a good antidote for that! The worst sin there is, in my opinion, is an exaggerated sense of sinfulness. Talk about isolation and separation from the Source! In my opinion that is "the sin against the Holy Spirit" of which scripture speaks. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection on the Day of Atonement.