A small c convert

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

I had a dream awhile back. Don’t remember much, but I do remember being around the table at CBE. Rabbi Jamie was there, I don’t recall who else. At some point, I said, “I’m a convert.” And, I suppose it’s true enough in some ways.

Definitely a convert to CBE. Both Kate and I are members. She, who is a convert, with her Jewish identity and me, a pagan “suckled in a creed outworn.” to quote Wordsworth in “The World Is Too Much With Us.”*

This community is diverse in its way: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist flavors of Judaism show up in conversation and have persons who either identify with them or used to. There are transgender folk and there must be some gay folks. One or two people of color, rare for the Evergreen/Conifer area. Politically conservative, liberal, and radical. I’ve not met a libertarian, but I imagine there are some of those, too. A lot of former East Coasters, but a number of native Coloradans. Some come from Evergreen, Conifer, but many live in Denver or its burbs. A few from Israel, others who’ve lived in other countries for some period of time.

Nearly all though are at least well enough off to own a car, a home. I don’t know the average educational attainment, but it’s high. Might even tip over into the post-graduate level. Almost all are white. Almost all are Jewish. I’m the only outlier who is a member, as far as I know.

CBE reflects an old immigrant motif in America where folk of similar religion and, often, of country of origin, gather in a religious community. Polish Catholics. Shinto Japanese. Muslims from many countries. Irish Catholics. Puritans. Buddhists from many Asian lands. Up here in the Front Range there aren’t many options if you’re Jewish. You come to CBE or go into Denver which has a large Jewish community. (There is one other small Jewish congregation up here.)

But the dream notion of conversion goes deeper than just the community for me. I’m a convert to the reconstructionist way of approaching religious questions. That is, if it’s working, keep it. If it’s not, change it.

In my pagan turn, which came many years ago when I started researching Celtic lore, I have found most of what passes for pagan these days just plain silly. Much of it comes from rehashing, in not very careful ways, 19th century Victorian fantasies, or grabbing parts of other auld faiths, like Nordic mythology. See Asatru, for example. Some of it tries to revive the Olympic deities in various ways. There’s even a clever Satanist twist which has claimed Lucifer’s rebellion as a model for standing against the established order.

At CBE I’ve found a series of parallels with my own (possibly silly to you) approach to paganism. Jews use a lunar calendar, for example, and much of their liturgical year has its grounding in agricultural practices. In fact tomorrow at CBE a Sukkot ritual will celebrate the harvest, out doors, in a structure that by tradition is open to the sky. There is a ritual for each new moon, not often observed, but it’s there.

There is also in Judaism a distinctive body positive attitude that encourages good eating, good sex, good self care. Asceticism is not Jewish. One of the aspects of Judaism, related to this, is a candor about death, a way of including mourners in the community through sitting shiva, care of the body immediately following death, and including mourners in every worship service.

With the horrible turmoil after my mother’s death I find this approach soothing. Wish we’d had it then. This is, btw, the 55th anniversary of her death this month, her yahrzeit.

In the kabbalah, which I have studied a bit, there’s a universalism that comes from believing that every bit of the universe has a shard of divinity, of ohr the divine light. I can move from this understanding to an animist position very easily.

Here again I’m a convert to CBE. I don’t have to give up or alter any of my beliefs to be a full member. In fact I lead adult education, taught middle-schoolers, and participate as an “out” pagan in all parts of CBE’s life.

Jewish tradition and Jewish civilization has much that is humane, justice oriented, thoughtful. It is, like many faiths, a repository of human wisdom, of poetry, of answers to the big questions. I’m learning a lot at CBE and am glad for the particularity of its Jewish life. So, yes, I’m a convert. A small c convert.

* The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. 1802

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