More than enough

At that moment, as my Passover tablemates and I grinned wildly at one another, it dawned on me. “More than enough” is a theme that runs throughout Judaism; even Hanukkah has it: the lamp oil was only supposed to last a single night but it lasted for eight. Hence, the menorah’s eight lights. The goal is to help us understand not only that we have enough, but that we are enough.

Because the forces that rob us of freedom are just as likely to come from within, from our own thoughts and beliefs that prevent us from living fully. Many of us are imprisoned by the feelings of fear and anger we haul around as a birthright, the sensation of somehow falling short, which can provoke us to act in a myriad of destructive ways—aggressive actions, compulsive thinking, addictive behavior—that temporarily alleviate the suffering by blotting out our demeaning dialogue until they lose that power and become a private punishment, a prison built for us by us. In this sense, the most radical religious undertaking is to work past these difficult and universal feelings to free ourselves from the confines imposed by our human perspective. Overcoming them does not come easily or naturally, which is why we call on the assistance of a supernatural strength, a higher power, God.

Those of us who’ve grown up without any religion may not know this: with faith and assistance and a bit of struggle, we can make peace with and learn to honor not just ourselves but whatever force brought us here and will eventually snatch us away with the hope that we will not just survive, but thrive. Religion might not be the only way, but it has been used for centuries by people whose inner struggles are no different from ours.

After dinner, only the rabbis and their families remained; they had been serving the guests and were just now getting a chance to eat. I didn’t want to leave, so I asked Rachel if I could help clean. She showed me how to scoop up the plastic table coverings—plates, cups, cutlery, everything—into one big trash ball. I cleared the tables and then picked up items that had fallen on the floor—napkins, forks, chunks of matzah. Underneath a table, I found a coloring book page of the ten plagues. Some kid had drawn little germs of pestilence with bright pink and purple.

The mother approached to thank me for helping. I reached for her hands and held them briefly between mine. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.

After she left me, I paused to appreciate the room: the rabbis and their families chatting and eating. This was their normal life and I was in the middle of it. I had overcome all that divides us.

I was congratulating myself when Rachel approached and asked if I would mind helping with something in the kitchen.

I followed her to the back where the burners on two industrial stoves were going. It was at least 100 degrees in there. “Would you mind turning them off?” she asked. I paused, considering the situation. I had read about observant Jews employing a non-Jew to stoke their fires and do the activities forbidden on Sabbath, but I had thought the practice was comical and old timey. Hadn’t timers and slow cookers taken their place?

Sweat was beading on my brow. “Are you asking me to be your Sabbath Gentile?”

She laughed and nodded.

I tried to imagine a rabbi roaming the block explaining his need to passersby. It was almost midnight. Would he slip a $20 to a homeless person to do the task?

“It’s nice to have someone who understands,” she said.

Not exactly the honorary status I had imagined but she was right, I did understand—and maybe that was more than enough.

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32 thoughts on “More than enough

  1. You have certainly had an extended stay renewing history and thoughts and experiences of renewal and feelings related to Judaism on several levels. It sounds as if you have enjoyed it all and have a better understanding of rituals and the value in there meaning.

  2. Some thoughts generated by your awesome post! No need to answer.

    “The goal is to help us understand not only that we have enough, but that we are enough.”
    Life is as it is/enough. People are as they are/enough, including ourselves.

    “Because the forces that rob us of freedom are just as likely to come from within, from our own thoughts and beliefs that prevent us from living fully.”
    From where within do these thoughts and beliefs that prevent us from living fully originate?

    “Many of us are imprisoned by the feelings of fear and anger we haul around as a birthright, the sensation of somehow falling short”…
    What’s the reference that we fall short of?

    “which can provoke us to act in a myriad of destructive ways—aggressive actions, compulsive thinking, addictive behavior—that temporarily alleviate the suffering by blotting out our demeaning dialogue until they lose that power and become a private punishment, a prison built for us by us.”
    Can our thoughts cause us to suffer and imprison us?

    “Overcoming them does not come easily or naturally, which is why we call on the assistance of a supernatural strength, a higher power, God.”
    Can we see ourselves as a manifestation of that higher power? If we can, aren’t we seeking what we already are? If that’s the case, can’t the prison we created with our human perspective be demolished by our human perspective?

    ‘with faith and assistance and a bit of struggle, we can make peace with and learn to honor not just ourselves but whatever force brought us here and will eventually snatch us away with the hope that we will not just survive, but thrive.”
    “If we are simply experiencing life as it is/as enough without the thoughts and beliefs that prevent us from living fully, wouldn’t that be living in joy and peace?

    • Hi Sam, Excellent questions/observations! In much earlier posts, I present my theory that most humans will experience fear/anger inherently. In a nutshell, the fear comes from our (mostly) subconscious understanding of how improbable the chances are of having been born and we are terrified we won’t do/be enough to ever deserve this life we’ve been given. The anger comes from the knowledge that this life will be taken away. I call it the “one-two punch” of the human experience. As I go through this experience, I’m seeing how religion addresses these fundamental feelings we humans share simply because we are human. To your last three questions, I’d say: yes, yes, and yes! Glad you’re here.

        • oops! Hi Sam, welcome to Corinna’s blog! You have some great questions, and my thoughts in the next comment were not directed at your comment…I pushed the wrong button. :(
          I do have one comment about your excellent questions. You had a question asking from where the thoughts originate that prevent us from living fully, from thriving….
          I’ve enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis, whose book, Mere Christianity, addresses the “law of human nature”. Here’s his summary of that: “… human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly,…they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in,” (p. 8). The “curious idea” is delivered via conscience, and generally deals with something in our relationships with others.
          Lewis was not unaware that people would question that everyone (even non-Westerners) have a conscience that tells them the same sorts of things. He did some homework on this and finds that, while not identical, the things we attribute to conscience (e.g., fair play, the golden rule, helping others at risk to ourselves, etc.) are universally similar across cultures. He charts this in his book The Abolition of Man.

          Again, welcome!

          • Thank you for the welcome, Walt.

            Some thoughts based on your post:

            “human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.”
            If we can’t get rid of the curious idea, can we at least not believe it when we observe it as it arises?

            “Secondly,…they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it”
            What’s the Law of Nature ? Seems like we’re setting ourselves up to be “not enough” since we’re always breaking it.

            ” The “curious idea” is delivered via conscience, and generally deals with something in our relationships with others”
            Could the “curious idea” be self centered/ego based thought that creates an illusion of a relationship with others? A relationship that separates instead of unites? Could this be the origination of the “thoughts that prevent us from living fully, from thriving?

            It seems to me that thoughts that create an illusion of separation, when we’re really not separate, are the basis of preventing us from living fully, from thriving, in joy.

            • Hi Sam:
              Your first question raises an interesting point and one I struggled with most of my life. When we were new Christians in 1971-72, as I see now, I was unable to distinguish the types of things Lewis spoke of as the Law of Human Nature–i.e., how we expect others to behave–from the performance-driven and legalistic mindset (list of rules, such as don’t drink, smoke, play cards) that we became immersed in as we got involved with a strongly fundamentalistic Christian culture.
              You asked what is that Law? Lewis was not inventing it, but merely describing what he himself and others experienced and found to be a cultural universal. As I mentioned above, it’s how we expect others to behave (e.g., fairness, keeping promises, the golden rule, not being self-centered, not running away in battle or deserting your friends, etc., things that concern human relationships like cutting in line, cheating on tests or on the stock mkt, etc etc.). It’s not to be confused with instinct, but will, for example, serve as an arbiter between our instincts of self-preservation and group loyalty (or herd instinct), and exists apart from what we teach our children in family and school (rather like sums). We may be setting ourselves up in one sense, but we can’t really ignore it either. Lewis speaks of the “great unease” we all sense at times as we consider our actions and wonder if we have to give an accounting for it to some deity. It’s kinda like Scrooge crawling into bed after Marley’s visit, or, if you saw “Blood Diamond,” with Leonardo DiCaprio,
              “Danny’s” cry as he looked to heaven thinking about the enormity of pain blood diamonds had brought about” “how can you ever forgive us!”
              As to ignoring it: of course we do. Say the word “Nazi”. I myself am a veteran at ignoring that little voice. However, even Nazis at Nuremburg tried to find a way to justify themselves by appealing to their following orders.
              Of course we are all self-centered to some degree or another, and to that extent, we sense a separation from others, whether it really exists or not.
              My tome here is long enough. I hope that clarifies things a bit, though, no doubt, I’ve mucked something up… :)

              • Thank you for your reply, Walt. You’ve mucked nothing up.
                What I take away from your explanation is that in our breaking of the “Law” we wind up sacrificing others and ourselves.
                I guess my arbiter is the bodily sensation that gets produced by a thought that precedes an action.
                The funny thing is, the more I try to make sense of life, instead of living/experiencing it, the more separate I become. If I perceive myself as separate it’s easier to sacrifice those that are separate from me. I think that when I sacrifice someone/something I sacrifice myself at the same time. I become something that disregards life instead of serving life. I break the “Law”.

    • “private punishment, a prison built for us by us.” These words struck home for me, for I have experienced that prison, which I think you know. “We are enough….” I am enough….Such thinking. Yes, the human perspective is such that we often secretly think we are lacking, that we are never adequate…enough. And yes, I’m thankful that God loves me simply because I am a human being that he created and reflect him. It goes without saying that I am a very distorted image of him, and he has plans for me a better mirror, but his love is not dependent on that happening.
      Corinna, thank you for these reflections….which I suppose may be in lieu of some more explicit final thoughts on Judaism.

  3. I was struck by your sense of connectedness (“grinned wildly at each other”; “this was their normal life and I was in the middle of it”) which was splashed away by Rachel asking you to be her Sabbath Gentile. And it seemed like you were being excluded, but you had the grace to realize you, Corinna, are enough as you are, right here on your journey. To me this looks like balance. As samdamico says, “experiencing life as it is. as enough”. There’s a phrase from the long version of the serenity prayer that seems to fit: “taking life as it is, not as I would have it.” You have my admiration, Corinna.♥

  4. What do you think, Corinna? Is it not the relationship with Rachel and her family (and the others) that is the important part? Didn’t being friends fill you with satisfaction? Abraham had that kind of relationship with God– he believed God and looked to Him for purpose, and lived into what he just knew God was bringing him. To Moses God was real enough as a person that Moses stepped into an extraordinary role simply by believing and being led. As he got to know HIm, he sought out God more because he wanted to know him as a person. Elijah prayed so much that amazing things happened. Don’t miss the personal. Loving God…loving people. Knowing them and being in relationship–it’s the same with God. Just curious. Is God scary to think of in that way?

    • Hi Ginger, At this point in my religious career, it’s still difficult for me to wrap my mind around thinking of God as a friend or what it looks like to have a personal relationship with God. I suppose my efforts to reach out to people are also my efforts to better understand how a personal relationship with God might work. Maybe Rachel and her family are my stand-ins for God. Part of my problem might be that I’m projecting a lot of preconceived notions of what a “personal relationship” means or what this was like for Moses and, so, I’m thinking of very specific signs that I’ve entered into some sort of friendship–and of course it probably won’t look like that.

      • I have to smile because you, Corinna, sound so much like myself in many ways. Although I maintain a high interest in spiritual thinking and definitely feel a personal relationship with God without needing to feel special or the need to belong to a Jesus centered group. While I appreciate the words that Ginger, Walt and Tim and others who feel a personal relationship to Jesus/God I have to admit that I don’t pretend to understand it. I certainly don’t mean to belittle it but it always, to me, has the ring of a teen-age crush between two young people who believe they just can’t live without each other. I’m sure they would tell me that it’s much deeper than that. Unfortunately I can’t fathom the depth. This lack of fathoming I have lived with for a long time and I’m o.k. with it. I don’t feel any the less for myself. It’s just the way it is for me. I still have deep moments of inspiration and have philosophical beliefs and feelings of how life is. This way of life has given me a sense of deep contentment while feeling deep insights of self-evolution and revelation. Always, life is good and getting better.

      • I think that is good. You are slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully approaching God. You know, I appreciate the discussion so much. It is hard in this culture to stop long enough to think about these things, much less have a conversation. You are drawing a lot out of all of us and making us stop and listen to one another. That’s “common grace.” God smiles on that. That’s loving your neighbor. :)

        • Thought some of you might like to read an article I wrote that was printed in our local newspaper.

          http://www.thevalleychronicle.com/Articles-Faith-and-Values-c-2013-12-02-86050.113122-Clergy-corner-A-Holy-Season.html

          On Sun, Dec 8, 2013 at 10:16 AM, One None Gets Some wrote:

          > Ginger Hertenstein commented: “I think that is good. You are slowly, > carefully, and thoughtfully approaching God. You know, I appreciate the > discussion so much. It is hard in this culture to stop long enough to think > about these things, much less have a conversation. You are drawing a ” >

          • Thanks for the article, Frank. Your picture is just the way I pictured you! (except possibly the mustache). Beautifully said.
            I too have struggled with what it means to have a “personal relationship” with God, as Corinna said. Everyone seems to have their own ideas. A couple things I’ve found helpful come from Jesus. He illustrated his Father a few times by comparing him to earthly fathers (of course, we have to think in terms of a perfect father….). Further, the way he encourages disciples to address God is by using the term “Abba,” an Aramaic term akin to our “papa”. He speaks of the Father in terms that we can comprehend, terms that are familiar to us, not like some theologians or others do.

  5. I love this thought and the way you expressed it…., “The goal is to help us understand not only that we have enough, but that we are enough.” How perfect to be reminded of it at this time of year.

  6. Not meaning any disrespect here, but I have to say it: if we WERE enough and ARE enough, why has man spent so much of time over the ages looking for Other/Oneness/God? I cannot agree that we are enough in and of ourselves.

    Yours in Christ

    • Mankind searched because it became a way of answering questions around phenomena that they couldn’t find an explanation for and sometimes that is still the reason. However, science has been able to explain much in the way of what was once considered unexplainable. If we believe scripture we’re told we are made “in the image and likeness of God”. What more could we ask for? Obviously we and others sometimes forget the fact of our own wholeness and enoughness and so some of us then reach out for “God”. Some of us feel like we need a “patch” like redemption and salvation. It makes us feel better about ourselves and we feel whole again.

    • Hi Patti, I see your point. Sometimes I think the words we use get in the way and make it seem like what we are expressing is more different than it actually is. I think Sam expresses it well. We are enough when we recognize that we are a little piece of this greater thing.

      • This greater thing that we can’t comprehend. We don’t like that, so we search for answers and create constructs that fit our limited view to make sense of it all.
        Some things we can’t make sense of. So what?

  7. Frank & Patti.

    In following the conversation, I’m thinking of Corinna’s original statement: “with faith and assistance and a bit of struggle, we can make peace with and learn to honor not just ourselves but whatever force brought us here and will eventually snatch us away with the hope that we will not just survive, but thrive. Religion might not be the only way, but it has been used for centuries by people whose inner struggles are no different from ours.” Then I considered it in terms of Franks’ post comparing a personal relationship with God as a teenage crush. I understand his feelings; that saying has become so trite and used by so many superficially religious people, it has lost its meaning.

    However, I think, for someone truly committed to faith, it does have a meaning. After her death, passages from Mother Teresa’s personal diary were released to the public, and many were stunned to read that for many years, she had no feeling of the God’s personal presence in her life. Yet she never doubted His existence and certainly didn’t stop doing His work. Over 20 centuries of Christianity there have been many mystics and profound theologians who devoted their lives and intellectual powers trying to understand and articulate God’s overwhelming love for us. My own parish priest, (who just earned a PhD and has spent her entire adult life in God’s service) put it beautifully: “I didn’t devote my life to a theory”.

    We are indeed made in the image of God—all of us, and since I believe that in both heart and mind I do my best to respect the thoughts and beliefs of others who may not share my belief system. By respecting them, I respect God’s creation. But therein, too, lies the rub. We were made in His image—that doesn’t make us God Himself. He would exist if humanity had never walked the earth. That He embodied His love through His greatest creation, a creation made “a little less than angels”, speaks both of His power and our inherent dignity. That’s one of the reasons I have trouble with the philosophy of “total depravity” we discussed before. We are not without worth. Just the opposite—God has made us in His image, and He has worked endlessly to establish a relationship with us. But He has not nor will not force us into that relationship, because He gave us the gift of free will, which makes us most like Him.

    I’m certainly not trying to change anyone’s mind, nor do I feel anyone is trying to change mine. However, I think those of us who have a firm belief in God have a duty to explain that belief, and in more articulate and meaningful terms than saying I have a personal relationship with Him. I don’t like that phrase for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the biggest one is that it’s too limiting. The majority of human relationships are transient—even marriage, which can last a lifetime, is limited by our time on earth, and as we all know, many marriages do not end well. God’s relationship is eternal, which among others things, means to me He doesn’t express that love in the short-term things we think are important. As Corrina said, He wants us to thrive with Him.

    • PS: Sam, I was just reading down through these comments and saw your other one about being one with others. It seems to me that the law of human nature will actually also show us our oneness with one another, not just how much we blow it.

    • Hi Tim. Great thoughts. One thing I’ve come to about a “personal relationship” with God in the past 6-7 years concerns his nature as our “Father.” I was part of a strongly Calvinistic church for many years, which focused on his sovereignty, majesty, and fierce anger toward sin. I came to a place of desperation and literally cried out to God “What do you think of me?” The verse in Proverbs 3:12 came to mind about how discipline is given by God just like a father who delights in his son. I was amazed intrigued and began to read Scripture with new eyes, looking for understanding this relationship with God as a son to his Father. Jesus taught in his time on earth many things that reinforced this picture of God in his role of father, including and especially addressing him as “Abba” (like Papa) a term of intimacy. Paul elaborated on this as he explained our adoption by God. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at my blog, but I have written a bit about it on posts that deal with our freedom as Christians.

  8. Thank you, Tim. I appreciate the fact that you often express my feelings infinitely better than I can for myself!

  9. I agree with you Patti. Tim has written a beautiful and articulate explanation for a relationship with God. Unfortunately terms do get tainted. For example, I would not describe my relationship with my husband by saying, “I have a personal relationship with him.” That would be shallow and just odd! I would more likely explain, “I love him; I find him interesting and unique … and sometimes frustrating. But I like being with him and I plan to do whatever I can to make our relationship flourish.”

    So with God, I think Tim’s right. Every person is made in God’s image, from one blood, made by one God, no matter what the culture, tribe, language, or geographical region. So when God looks at us there is no exclusiveness or superiority. Why does that matter? Because in other religions that’s not the case. So the Judeo-Christian view of humanity is unique. “Love your neighbor as yourself” has deep implications. Yes, as Tim said, God wants us to thrive with Him. God also wants us to thrive with one another. God as Creator has that right. God has the right to do anything He wants. That’s scary. But then when I look at Jesus and see the love, truth, and grace of God expressed in Jesus’ life, that goodness utterly draws me. I want to know Him.

  10. Ginger, your comments about your husband reflects the relationship that actually often exists with Jesus, who did describe himself as “Bridegroom”. I think that your description often admirably expresses the relationship we find ourselves, as Christians, having with Jesus. It is the hardest work I have ever done, and yet the most rewarding. And you nailed it.

    Yours in Christ

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