I figured out how to embed the partner songs! Mostly.
I grew up Jewish (surprise!). Mostly this meant that when I wanted to eat at the end of a long week I had to sing a bunch of nonsense songs first. Also no leavened bread during Passover, but there’s a small industry of Passover-specific desserts so that was okay. In time I came to appreciate the religion a bit more, and eventually I embraced the culture as well. Growing up different had some strange side effects, for example while most of the people I know seem thoroughly railroaded into the Platonic notion that God is good, I grew up with a much more…human God. A God who knows both good and evil, who makes mistakes and does both good and evil – though in slightly different senses than the Christian good and evil that dominate Western thought today. The end result is I never needed a devil or a trinity to explain evil in the world, which is actually very…parsimonious. Fewer moving parts, so to speak.
Another difference between Christians and Jews is the general way we pray, the clearest example of which is probably our respective mealtime prayer regimens. Christians may draw on a certain number of liturgical graces, but there is also a tradition of occasion-specific, improvisational graces – perhaps it is worthy of mention that they rarely surpass two minutes in length. An observant Jew, on the other hand, begins a meal with up to six prayers (each pertaining to an arbitrarily designated food group) in a specific order, though of course there are prescribed exceptions and special circumstances. After the meal the observant Jew recites the Birkat Hamazon, a prayer made of four-ish smaller prayers, though more are added and/or taken away in prescribed exceptions and special circumstances. Some will tell you that the Birkat Hamazon is actually only said after meals containing specific grains, most of which tend to involve gluten, which means that if I become observant enough I will never have to say this prayer again! Maybe I’ll do that.
A comparable rigamarole exists before bed, where we again see a general Christian (especially Protestant) emphasis on individuality and a Jewish emphasis on ritual. I grew up reform, so instead of the optimally observant six bedtime prayers we triaged it down to just the short version of the Sh’ma, declaring that God is One in the hopes that God would keep our souls safe through the night. Since none of us ever died in the middle of the night I could only figure it had worked pretty well, so I said a Modeh each morning. Partly in thanks, partly out of politeness, and partly because that’s what Jews do. I don’t think I ever really believed in the efficacy of prayer per ce, I just never had to deal with God ignoring personal requests during my formative years.
Obviously things couldn’t stay that way. Seeing how evil the world can be as you grow up while simultaneously believing in an even remotely munificent God tends to cause profound dissonance, no matter how it resolves. Along the way I did experiment with personal prayer, at which point I noticed that they tend to go unanswered. It was years later that exasperation and morbid curiosity compelled me to start praying for things to continue as they were or get worse, and that actually worked pretty well. So I prayed for worse and worse things to happen on the off chance that a double negative was the precise kick in the pants that God needed to get back on track. Experiment conclusion: reverse psychology does not work on God.
So my crisis of faith got a little mired in its bargaining stage, but in the meantime I was doing pretty well at managing all four stages of Master Yoda’s Simple Sith Synthesis at once. On the off chance that you haven’t gone through the exact same thing I’ll say that I was chiefly scared stiff at the multitude of highly ingenious ways people seem hardwired to hurt each other, and angry that God wasn’t doing more to actually help people be good according to God’s own moral code, assuming it was so important. In the end the only logical conclusions I could draw were that God is either nonexistent, nonfeasant, or just plain sadistic (remember, no devil), and in none of these cases was God even remotely worth investing in. As I once posted to Facebook, “God I would rather do without, but I’d like a reason to believe in what’s left.” Thus began the search for my plan B, which I naturally found somewhere in the Talmud. Berakoth 7a reads: “R. Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. It is not said, ‘their prayer’, but ‘My prayer’; hence [you learn] that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers. What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: ‘May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice’.” You can see where this is going, yes? Because if we are made in God’s image then each of us should have basically the same attributes, right? So we could probably all benefit from saying that prayer from time to time, right? Of course humility would necessitate that we pray to God, but if God is absent at best then who else is going to listen? The logic only works if one simultaneously accepts and refutes both God and the divine truth of Judaism, but I was in a low place and feeling like a smartass. So one day between a rock and a hard place I sat down on the edge of my bed and and prayed to myself that my mercy would suppress my other attributes. It worked. Eventually I broke the habit because it felt really weird, but for a time my spiritual self-employment proved eerily effective. Maybe it was because with all the awkwardness factoring in I only ever prayed when I really meant it. In the end, prayer or no, I can’t help but notice that I tend to let myself down far less than God ever did. Sometimes I still get lost in the strangeness of it all, that one of the most important lessons in my life came from an imaginary abusive parent.