This is a big year for me, one I have been anticipating without my knowing it for a while. Now 68 years old, most of my B’nai Mizvah year has been as a 67 year old, the same age my father was when he died. I feel I have a lot of life left in me and feel relatively young. It is mystifying to me that he left this world so young. I go to the gym daily, work a great deal, make pottery when I can, and generally stay connected to learning things in an ongoing way. When I saw that the Rabbi was offering an adult Bat Mitzvah class this year I felt drawn to it. I didn’t know what I was saying yes to, and, like many “yeses,” I am growing into this yes, beginning to discover this new (to me) “room.” It is rather ironic because my father rejected religion as a young man and did not encourage a focus on Judaism in our family. We identified as secular, decidedly politically left leaning Jews. I, in retrospect, realize that I have gravitated to the spiritual dimensions of life, this longing a strong one, quite varied, and non-linear.
Shortly after I began the B’nai Mitzvah class, I also started attending Rabbi Nancy Flam’s Torah Class. It was, I believe, there that I heard a reference to Isaac Luria’s Genesis Myth which inspired me to ponder it’s meaning and to make pots that embody this sacred story.
The pots I share speak to Isaac Luria’s re-imagining of Genesis. Making pots has always been a way to “center,” find myself, as well as a way of connecting to an underlying experience of aliveness. I feel connected to the ancient ones of humanity when I work with clay. In this sacred story, imperfect humanity is tasked with gathering the primordial light of G-d that powerfully has dispersed throughout creation when the pots could not contain the light and they shattered (shevirat ha-kelim). From my unschooled perspective as a neophyte, this in-gathering is linked to engaging in my work of “completion.”
Engaging in my bat mitvah studies is part of gathering up the sparks of which Luria speaks. In this sacred story, G-d, occupying everything, contracted to make room for darkness out of which creation arose. My evolution includes being in the contracted state of darkness (tzimtzum) before light (creation) arises with regard to my experience of Judaism. There has been a darkness in me. I did not know what I did not know, for many years. The “yes” to this year of preparation, in a sense, was the shattering of the vessel of what I knew and experienced in my past to make room for new experience. This year is the beginning of the process of gathering up some of the heretofore imprisoned (hidden) sparks that I am now beginning to connect with and weave into an expanded cloth of my existence. As the year has unfolded more elements related to life and death and my pondering life’s fragility have emerged. This past fall my ex husband died suddenly. He too was my age. For the first time in my life I began the practice of saying Kaddish.
I would describe my experience of this year, as one of first putting my toe in the water of my Judaic background, then perhaps my foot, and now I’m beginning to acclimate to the water temperature. Many years ago, a mentor said to me, as I was studying in my doctoral program, that by the end of my schooling I would know just a little bit about psychology. Today, I would say the same holds true for my venturing into the world of my Jewish heritage. The more I venture into the water, the more I realize I know but a little, and the complexity keeps revealing itself to me, as vast and compelling.
My portion of the Torah describes the ages of those that attend to Aaron and his sons. They are what we would call today in the prime of life. For me, ironically, I feel I am in the prime of my life. Despite lacking the energy of an earlier time, the crucible of the past has set the stage for me to be of service with a clarity and willingness to bring to bear the cumulative experiences of my life, now including my developing relationship to Judaism.
Years ago I dreamt of the multifaceted eye of the dragonfly, multiple prisms, colorful, bending light, illuminating particular aspects of what each lens faced. This year’s exposure has given me a glimpse into the vastness of a Jewish way of seeing into the world. This year, my 67th, has evolved, unwittingly into discovering more of its essence. I am finding I am connecting spiritually with the deeper wisdom to be found by realizing that I am not performing, but rather, sharing the words from the Torah, respectfully with others. I am slowly understanding the significant impact of this life-changing experience in a heart felt way. I find this experience is folding into other spiritual pursuits that are already present in my life, like the faceted lens of the dragonfly’s eye, my spiritual pursuits are mutually interpenetrating, reinforcing, and generative as I move forward.
About These Pots
The inspiration for these pots originates in Isaac Luria’s re-imagining of the Genesis story. G-d, occupying everything, contracted to make room for darkness, to allow the light of creation to manifest. God placed the light into 10 vessels. Unable to contain the primordial light they shattered, (shevirat hal-kelim). In the sacred story, God tasks humanity with gathering the holy sparks of creation to restore and heal humanity. As someone who makes pottery, it occurred to me that part of my journey this year would be to make a vessel for each person in our group. Each pot is unique, burned in the fire, sparks flying, sparks contained. When they go into the fire we don’t know exactly how they will turn out.
Engaging in activities that expand who we are, we are all gathering in this light. I imagine that the sparks of G-d’s primordial light within each person, led each one of us to say “yes” to undertaking becoming a Bat Mitzvah. We began our fourteen month study in one “state,” and, having been burnished like these pots, are now experiencing new ways to connect to Judaism.
My first run of pots failed to embody completely, the glaze firing was unsuccessful. My spiritual response was to return again, discover and recreate anew the pots you see here. I hope that through sharing these pots, people find what I am finding, that a spiritual path includes bowing to success and failure alike, with an openness to rededicate oneself over and over to that which is personally meaningful.