The Vernal Equinox has come and past, and although I hear it is still snowing a few states north of here, the buds and blooms around in NC. This year I tried out two new spring rituals–some self-education that will perhaps spill over into the classroom someday.
The first was an attempt at hamantaschen, the traditional cookie of Purim. Celebrated on March 4th and 5th this year, Purim marks when Queen Esther defeated Haman’s plot to kill the Jews of Persia. Apparently what originated as a fairly minor holiday has now developed into something more meaningful, a marker of how so many times throughout history the Jewish people have survived and thrived despite persecution. The celebration itself is joyful–in Jerusalem there is a carnival aspect as people dress up in costume, use noise-makers, and drink and feast. The cookies are meant to represent Haman’s tri-cornered hat. I used the recipe found on Judaism 101 (a wonderful general resource for information on the religion, from an Orthodox perspective), but there are many online. One of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen, has a few different versions–more options to try next year!
Right around this time in my classes, my students were presenting projects on different rituals and holidays in Judaism. Many of them kept showing Sesame Street video clips dealing with Jewish topics that they found online. I had no idea where they came from, but when reading about Purim I found the source: Shalom Sesame. An American version of an Israeli version of Sesame Street, the show aimed to introduce Judaism to kids unfamiliar with Hebrew, the show has a number of famous guest stars and your favorite traditional Sesame Street characters. Apparently, Cookie Monster LOVES hamantaschen!! The clip below was great inspiration for my baking.
The other ritual I took part in was far more spiritual, for me, but was also very much a physical practice. I read that a local Methodist church was setting up a labyrinth during the Lenten season and was opening it up to the public. I’ve always been curious about walking labyrinths: how has the tradition survived since the Middle Ages? What does it represent? How does the physical movement encourage reflection and prayer?
I have tried walking meditations before–I’ve mentioned how my afternoon walks with Teddy sometimes fit that bill for me, and more formally when a Won Buddhist nun came to visit our school. The labryinth though, with its twists and turns, and the experience of doing it in community with others, forced me to be much more reflective about the steps I was taking. I have heard that the labyrinth was originally a replacement for pilgrimages to the holy land. Worshippers at the Chartres Cathedral would walk it on their knees. I think today that the labyrinth is more universally translated as a metaphor for life, and it is used by Christians and more New-Agey types alike. As I sorted through the resource books available at the church afterwards I found suggestions for using a labyrinth for healing from trauma, as a Lenten opportunity to reflect, and simply a type of meditative relaxation.
When we got to the church, the woman suggested some different ways of using the labyrinth: as a place to simply recite the Lord’s prayer, to pray for ourselves on the way in and others on the way out, to let go of our worries and then to give thanks. Walking through, I found myself thinking about the turns that life takes. At points I would come close to my friends who were walking with me, and then the path would steer me away, a reminder that at times we do things together and at others we are more alone. Focusing on each step, I spent time in meaningful contemplation than I think I would have if I simply entered the church to pray. The path required you to slow down, follow the curves, and have faith that you’d eventually make your way through.