Monday, September 24, 2007

A Virtual Dim Sum

My religious and spiritual path has been eclectic, twisting and curvy so far, a virtual dim sum of different traditions. I may just be an inch deep and mile wide since I'm not especially disciplined about regular spiritual practice. But being in all these different milieus keeps my life interesting. I described a typical week in my Bay Windows column, which was published last week:

Finding My Way

Judah Leblang/2007
Word count: 880

For me, September is a season of change, exploration, and renewal. Suddenly, the air is crisp, nights are cool, and daylight recedes before the encroaching night. My summer schedule, languid and laid-back, shifts into high gear. I find my spiritual life speeding up and shifting, too, as I search for a combination of places and practices that feel right and authentic.

Last Sunday I sat at Arlington Street Church, a Unitarian church in Boston. Being there, hanging out with my gay male friends, gives me a sense of coming home. I enjoy the church’s Sunday services, which are short, heartfelt and accessible, no complex liturgy or practice required.

I’ve been going to ASC for several years, and I though I identify myself as a Jew and not a Unitarian, I recently decided to join the church. Still, occasionally I have my doubts. When I looked at the beautiful stained glass windows of the church recently and noticed that many depicted Jesus in scenes (I presume) from the New Testament – which I do not know or believe in – I paused. At times, I wonder how I fit into this community, which comes from a primarily Christian tradition.

A few days later, I took a day off work and attended a Rosh Hashanah service sponsored by Am Tikvah, a local GLBT Jewish group. The Jewish New Year begins a time of reflection, leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we ask forgiveness both for ourselves and for our community/people. I’d been going to a mostly-straight synagogue in Brookline for the past seven years, but wanted more of a connection with other gay and lesbian Jews.

And so on this morning, I found myself in a small room at the Day’s Inn in Brighton, praying with about 25 other members of my tribe. Sitting in the cramped space, I scanned the prayer-book as the service rolled on. Various participants, men and women, rose to chant from the Torah in Hebrew and then read the English translations, while I fidgeted in my chair. I’d heard the story of Abraham and his near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac, many times before. As the readings went on and on, I wondered why I felt compelled to stay connected to the rituals of Judaism, which sometimes seemed outdated and ill-suite d to a modern-thinking man like me.

The next evening, I drove through a working-class suburban neighborhood on Boston’s North Shore. I’d been attending some healing sessions in Allston, led by an herbalist and doctor of Chinese medicine I’d come to know. I’d been trying to avoid surgery for removal of a benign tumor, located behind my left kidney. The herbalist hosted sessions for a healing technique called Tong-Ren, in which trained practitioners tap on plastic models of the human body, working with energy points – like acupuncture without the needles.

I walked into a modest storefront healing center in an unfamiliar town, with a group of about 20 folding chairs filling the small room. Instead of taking off for more familiar surroundings – I was consumed with a desire to bolt for home -- I found a seat near the back of the space and checked out my compatriots. Many of the participants were overweight. I noticed pastel colored sweatpants, bouffant hairdos, and rose-colored press-on nails. My inner snob was in full voice, whispering ugly nothings in my brain, judging those around me.

The head practitioner, a dark-haired, olive-skinned woman with a Brazilian accent, welcomed us. Then she went around the room, and one by one, asked us what we were trying to heal. One woman had a sore knee, another was recovering from lymphoma; a third had a tumor in her chest. A man, about my age, was in the early stages of MS. The woman offered each of us words of encouragement as she tapped on her small figure, working on the energy or healing points on her plastic model.

I sat there, half skeptic and half believer. One of my good friends had used Tong-Ren sessions to heal his shoulder after a car accident. I’d heard other stories of individuals who used the technique to supplement their “western” medical treatment. Now, even doctors and nurses were coming to explore this strange phenomenon. I didn’t care how it worked; I only hoped I could tap into a force or healing energy greater than myself.

Listening to the simple, matter of fact stories of the men and women around me, I no longer focused on our differences. Instead, I realized how my own health problems – hearing loss and a rare tumor – paled in comparison to some of the challenges faced by the men and women in that room.

In the space of one week, I found myself in a Unitarian Church, at a gay/lesbian Jewish service, and a Chinese-style healing session. In each situation, I felt out of place, a bit different from those around me. But once I dropped my initial resistance, I felt connected, too.

I’m still exploring my spiritual path. September, and the High Holidays of my Jewish tradition, seem like a good time to go a little further in my journey, even if I don’t know where the road will take me, or where it will end.


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