Actually, that might not give a totally accurate view of the full diversity we had there, but you get the gist. A more accurate title might be “A Jewish Atheist, A Catholic Christopagan, a Protestant Almost-Buddhist, a Celtic Pagan, A Nordic Buddhist Pagan, a Familiar, and Three Tarot Decks (They Really Need to Be Counted as People) are at a Seder, and A Catholic Shows Up Late” but that’s not really as snappy, is it?
This post is a joint effort by the Catholic Christopagan (me, Danny) and the Protestant Almost-Buddhist (Nat) to describe the experiences we had at the Passover Seder we had with our friend who unfortunately could not go home to have it with her family this year.
I know, I know, a couple of Christians talking about their Jewish friend, how trite, but hey, I’m a religious studies major, when I have a religious experience, I can’t help myself.
The Seder was not really what I expected. I mean, I don’t know what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t a completely traditional one. We joked a lot. We asked for clarifications a lot. We interspersed discussions of each of our own spiritualities, and the clear relations we saw. It was all wonderful, however few things stood out to me.
The first thing that struck me was the ceremonial hand-washing. This struck me as a Roman Catholic who had once been an altar server, that this was the first time I saw the origins of what I had done many Sundays on an altar for years. I knew for at least half of those years that the Last Supper that we acted out every Sunday was a Passover seder. The sheer fact of doing the Seder, shortly after Easter, was powerful. I was excited, thrilled, to be participating in something integrated in my religion in it’s own religious context, in a context closer to how the man I followed would have done it.
But it truly hit me at this moment: We shuffled through the bathroom, our Jewish friend turning the faucet on for each of us in turn then offering a towel, until she was the only one left. She handed me the towel and said, you’ve done this before, because I had, and I had known I had, basically, but I didn’t fully realize it until the towel was on my arm, and I was turning the faucet, that for years and years standing on an altar I held a jug of water, a towel, and a basin, and poured water over my priest’s hands before the Communion, and I was doing this ceremony again, differently, in a new way, with a completely new mindset.
The second thing that struck me most was the Dayenu prayer-song. The blessings given to the Jewish people as they left Egypt, escaped their pursuers, and received the Word of God were listed, and each time, at each step, we spoke a chorus “Dayenu”, a Hebrew word that means “it would have been enough”. At each step, if nothing else happened, if no more blessings were bestowed, we said, “it would have been enough”. This is beautiful and grounding and perhaps one of the greatest gifts given to me in this experience, this reminder. It was such a grounding concept, to think each step of the way, at each great gift, that even if nothing more followed, even if there was still negativity and bad conditions around, the gift was still there, and it was enough, it was something to be grateful for.
The final thing was the moment when we ate matzah with horseradish and an apple-cinnamon mix. For those who have not had this lovely experience, you eat through half of the matzah covered in horseradish, through to the apple mix. This is supposed to represent passing through hardship and bitterness to get to sweetness. I got the horseradish in my mouth, and then my body did this lovely thing where it refused to let me swallow because of how much I hate the taste of horseradish in my mouth, so I just sat there suffering with it sitting on my tongue, because I did not intend on being rude (or a wimp) and spitting it out, but my throat would not swallow.
But let me tell you, when I got that canned apple pie filling (this was a college student Passover, after all), it was the sweetest and most lovely thing that has ever been in my mouth. It was a type of visceral symbolism that Catholicism had never given me, not cruel, not over the top, but perfectly satisfactory to the occasion.
We spend religious holidays together at school when we can’t go home for them, because we don’t want each other to be alone. I did this for a friend, but I think I got more of a gift than she did. I say this not to make something so entirely Jewish about me, a non-Jew, but instead to express how lucky and grateful I am to have had such an experience. I felt closer to my Lord than I had after many a Catholic mass, and though I don’t think I suddenly know what it means to be Jewish, let alone a first century Palestinian Jew, I think I’m a little closer to understanding the messages He left. My spiritual landscape is changing, I am shifting paradigms and my relationship to the Divine, and if participating in a Passover Seder was the only thing the Lord gave me to guide me on my path, well, it would have been enough.
This was actually my second Seder. The first happened a couple weeks prior, in my hometown, with my grandparents and their Christian congregation being led by Messianic Jews in the community.
It began innocently enough, with everyone a bit impatient but curious, and very respectful. But gradually, the regard for the sanctity of the event was lost to political commentary and crude, oversimplification of things like the “Palestinian-Israeli situation.” It got so bad, and I became so upset that I quietly left the auditorium where the dinner was being for a brief evening walk in the last lights of the day.
I don’t claim to have a personal stake in the issue. I’m not Jewish nor do I have relatives who are affected by the conflict. However, I have worked with women’s grassroots organizations working for a peaceful solution when I interned this past summer. And I do have friends whose hearts are close to this issue. And seeing an event, a sacred practice and ritual that is meant to bring people together be used to further divisiveness and fuel conflict and hatred was just too much.
Which brings me to my second Seder.
This one took place at my apartment, which I have with great commitment and pains attempted to nurture good and calming vibes. Some peacefulness in the life of anyone is good, but particularly stressed out undergrads. This Seder was led by my Jewish friend, someone I consider very close to me, and was attended/participating with others in our friend group. A diverse, eclectic group of people from varied backgrounds, childhoods and upbringings, religions, and academic disciplines. But what we had in common was what brought us together that night, and was, I believe, one of the main purposes of rituals like the Seder.
First, we wanted to support our Jewish friend who was far from her community and her home. Second, and the more selfish but more honest reason, was to participate in and honor the struggles of a people who overcame enormous odds and hatred to not only survive, but thrive. For a brief evening, we were allowed to enter into this community and experience the minutest portion of this struggle, perseverance, and overcoming to help us realize our own determination to overcome and succeed. For me, it was both a reminder of others immense struggles and a reminder of the ones that I have overcome and will overcome.
I am immensely grateful to have been a part of such a tradition, and I have only thankfulness and respect for the people of this tradition.
Next year in Jerusalem!