9 Comments

Doubt

I am tired.

As I am also a second-year college student with two majors, a job, and around five hours of kung fu practice a week, this should not seem remarkable. But it’s more than simple fatigue. I’m tired, spiritually and mentally and emotionally. And I’m starting to have doubts.

Converts are generally not strangers to doubt, you know? I got here because I doubted in my former life as a zealous hippie-Christian. I doubted the divinity of Jesus, I doubted the structure of the Church, and I doubted the simple ease of belief as eraser of sin. Now I’m starting to doubt again. I’m doubting that I’m converting for the right reasons.

I’m at a crossroads in the conversion process right now. The class at the local college of Jewish studies that converts in the liberal denominations are required to take may or may not be cancelled this spring, depending on how many of us sign up. On the other hand, due to a series of conversations with my major adviser, who is Orthodox, I am beginning to seriously consider pursuing a Modern Orthodox conversion instead–she has contacted a rabbi friend of hers, as well as others in the Modern Orthodox community who she thought would be interested in helping me through the process.

Because of this, I feel like it might be kind of dishonest to sign up for the class. But what if it’s cancelled because I didn’t sign up. I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS KIND OF PRESSURE YOU GUYS. I AM NOT THE DECIDER.

I’m also not feeling very… “spiritual” right now.

I hate the word spiritual. Whenever I hear it I can’t decide whether it reminds me of 19th century Southern protestant revivals, or white people who think they are Hindu because they do yoga and believe in the healing power of crystals, man. But that’s beside the point.

The point is, I’ve been involved in this largely Christian intentional community recently, and they’ve asked me to bring in some prayer that works for me, from my Jewish(ish) perspective. I love that they want that to happen. I just don’t love that I honestly can’t think of any prayer that works for me right now. I feel like I no longer know how to connect to God. Maybe it’s because I’m at such a middling part of the conversion process that I can no longer identify with Christian prayer, but I also don’t know enough about Jewish prayer to feel confidant doing it on my own. Or maybe it’s because I am making a HORRIBLE MISTAKE THAT I WILL REGRET FOREVER. I don’t know, you guys. I just don’t know.

So I guess what I’m looking for now is any recommendations you guys have for dealing with doubt, or for learning about praying as a Jew, or even for just reconnecting to prayer in general. Because I’m tired now. And I don’t think I can do this by myself.

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9 comments on “Doubt

  1. Wish I could offer quick and easy advice! The middle point of the conversion journey is the loneliest by far — between worlds, between identities, not this but not that either. The only quick thought I have is this: get thee to a rabbi!

    The Modern Orthodox community you mentioned might be an avenue worth looking into — Orthodox conversions are so demanding that rabbis tend to be a bit more attentive than their counterparts in the liberal streams, and communities tend to be more tightly knit. If it’s a loving community and you can stomach the minimum level of observance they expect — which can be a lot — it can be very supportive and nurturing.

    Hope this helps! I came across your blog not long ago and really like it. Fellow travelers are lurking everywhere! Kol tuv — Shim’on.

    • Nice to meet you!

      I’m actually looking forward to the higher demands in terms of observance. As a university student who tends toward hyperimmersion (yes, I did just make up a word) in academia, I tend toward overdoing things in terms of intellectual strictness and cohesion, so I feel like strict observance would mesh well with that tendency.

      I’m hoping that the community I’m currently in contact with will turn out to be that supportive. All I know about them is that my major adviser seems to like their rabbi. Here’s hoping, I suppose! And there are other communities, of course, if I don’t fit in in this one. It feels almost like dating, this process of looking for a compatible community.

  2. More reasons we are similar:
    There’s an Orthodox rabbi who comes to our campus, and after I talked to him vis-a-vis about my conversion, he (unwittingly?) convinced me to really consider MO more seriously than I had before. He definitely had a part in that, for sure.

    What is this class? Is it “How to Be Reform 101”? I don’t love liberal-themed classes, per se, but I’m taking a Reconstructionist conversion class with a bunch of people who are converting Recon even though I’m definitely not, cause I do that kind of thing, apparently. Sometimes, painfully, it makes you look your beliefs in the face, and better confronting your doubts now rather than later, I suppose.

    Also, I used to always think I was MAKING A HORRIBLE MISTAKE as well, until I realized it was really inevitable so never mind that. The idea won’t keep coming back again if it wasn’t meant to be, you know?

    I’m having trouble with prayer as well. Haven’t done it for months at this point. I’m not someone who “has trouble with the language of the siddur,” but darn it I’m having trouble with the language of the siddur. Sometimes, theologically, it’s hard to be like “God, you are so good to me” when you just, like, got an F or something. Often, especially lately, it feels like we are definitely not bros, so why am I praying if no one is listening?

    • I have never spoken to an Orthodox rabbi in my life, but all my Jewish friends (most of whom are like, middle aged and MO) keep saying “Oh, you would love Rabbi So-and-so! Let me call him and see if he works with conversion candidates!” So oddly enough, MO has started to feel more welcoming to me than the liberal denominations. Shit is real weird, I guess, but I’m cool with it.

      The class is called “Intro to Judaism” and it’s apparently interdenominational, though exclusively liberal, and mostly made up of engaged couples. When I called them on the phone they asked me for my fiance’s name. And then it got canceled anyway. Very awkward. So as much as I like immersing myself in groups of people whose beliefs I disagree with, this route is apparently not the one for me.

      I sort of find prayer easier when I call God “bro.” My prayer has morphed recently from dignified quiet meditative time to walking to class and thinking in my head “Hey, man, could you maybe give me a hand with figuring out how to talk to you? Also help me not be such an asshole to people. Okay, later, dude.” Which, while less dignified, is at least something I can keep up even when I feel so alienated from religion that formal prayer seems off limits somehow.

      We need to be internet friends, as the sheer number of ‘reasons we are similar’ is pretty striking.

      • I sort of find prayer easier when I call God “bro.”

        Ahaha I just came back to this comment, and I’m glad I did. I have to admit, sometimes “Help me not be an asshole to people” is exactly the thing you feel like you need to say.

        Are there any updates since March 6?

        We need to be internet friends, as the sheer number of ‘reasons we are similar’ is pretty striking.
        I have a bunch of contact info on my blog, if you’re so inclined.

  3. With the class situation I was put in the same position. I don’t remember what I did…so that tells you how important it seems down the line. I’m really trying to remember. I think I said no?

    Prayer is difficult. The concept of Jewish prayer is so very different from Christian prayer that it can be hard for the convert to grasp it. I think so anyway. I have little connection to prayer so it’s something I have to continue to work on and may for the rest of my life. You don’t have to have arrived in all areas to be a good Jew.

    Now if you want some book recommendations some people like Making Prayer Real by Rabbi Mike Commins. He’s the creator of TorahTrek Spiritual Wilderness Adventures and the Institute for Jewish Wilderness Spirituality. That gives you a little bit of insight on his perspective. I have the book. I can’t just sit down and read it all the way through but I find bits and pieces helpful. I actually got it out yesterday since I’m working my way through a book on Jewish Meditation.

    I’ll also let you know that it’s totally normal for you “sprituality” to ebb and flow. It’s normal for conversion students and it’s normal for Jews. Sometimes you’ll be totally wrapped up in all things Jewish…other times your focus will be elsewhere. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward (it might but not necessarily). I have weeks where I eat, sleep and breath Judaism. Then I have weeks where I may go to a class or two and check my forum but it’s not consuming my thoughts.

    So that’s what I’ve got for you right now. Are you a member of my forum (JewishByChoice.org)? I think so but I’m not 100% sure. Please feel free to post there if you want to talk. Also, feel free to email me if you want 🙂

    • I don’t think I currently am, but I’ll join posthaste now that my computer is working again! Thanks for the book recommendation, too. I’m currently looking at “Entering Jewish Prayer” by someone whose name I can’t remember but the surname might be Hammer or something to do with tools like that. I’ll be sure to check out Commins next.

  4. 1) You owe no one. If the class doesn’t get filled up–even if you would have been the deciding student–it is NOT your fault. It is not your obligation to help others along their Jewish path when it does not also help YOU along YOURS. You owe yourself something and no one else.

    2) Why do you doubt you’re converting for the wrong reasons? What would you think the right reasons are? Your reasons for converting are NOT going to be like anyone else’s: sure, there may be some overlap but the right reasons for you.. reflect you. And as far as I can tell, there’s only one Kung Fu convert.

    3) Go and investigate that MO community ASAP. Like next Shabbas. You may find that you hate it. You may find that holy poo, you love it. You may also find that one visit isn’t enough for you to determine whether it works for you or not.

    4) My religious studies prof, on the first day of class, drew an XY axis on the chalk board. X was labeled religious. Y was labeled spiritual. I placed myself at dot (infinity, negative infinity). I think spirituality is hogwash. But that’s me and my personality. I know people for whom it is the most important thing about them. We’re all different. A healthy faith tradition allows different people to take different things from it.

    5) Prayer is hard for me. I love the words and language of the siddur more than I have other prayer patterns in other faiths, but I never had prayer modeled for me and I’m not a HUGE minyan attender. But this is one of my favorite prayers ever, from the Out Of The OrthoBox blog: “Um, hi. I don’t know who You are and I don’t know what to call you, and actually I feel very strange talking to You because I feel like I’m talking to myself. Oh… you probably already know that… OK, I’ll get to the point. So I’m feeling disconnected… unmoored… uninspired… so maybe you can help me. I don’t know how You can help me, but probably You know how. Help me to become more integrated in myself, to be the person I know I can be, to be in touch with my spiritual side, and to feel good at the end of the day. Help me make a difference in this world, be a good example, and do good deeds with all the amazing gifts and resources You’ve given me. Kay. That’s about it. So… thanks. Um, have a good day… and let’s chat again tomorrow.” Maybe take the Shema. Simple prayer, hard to explain (haha…see what I did there). Or whatever line in whatever siddur makes you go “oh hell no”.

    6) Everyone knows they are ready to convert at a different time, and for different reasons. I knew when an Orthodox guy wished me a Gut Shabbes on a BART train while I was eating a treif sandwich, Star of David clearly displayed on my neck, and still felt entirely connected to this wider tribe. My friend? She found a lost jump drive she’d been looking for for a few weeks. One of the guys in my class? Because after 6 months of not receiving any signs, but also not NOT receiving any signs. Maybe you’ll never convert. But do so on your own time table and for your own reasons.

    • To be honest, for I while I felt like I might be converting because I was doing that thing, which I feel like was at one point listed on Stuff White People Like, where I wanted to belong to an oppressed culture for the sake of assuaging my white guilt. Or something. I don’t know, I think I’ve gotten over that, and now I’m pretty sure I’m converting just because Judaism is right for me and I feel like there is some part of me that is inherently Jewish and just wants to come out and be accepted in the outside world, if that makes sense.

      And that is exactly my kind of prayer. Currently I’m working on not stressing myself out about praying, so I just kind of talk to God like a bro. Occasionally I mix it up by repeating the Shema to myself when I’m stressed.

      Especially since the first bit of the Shema is a haiku. Which is, you know, awesome.

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