Friday, March 10, 2017
Religion is too often identified only with solemnity, piety, ritual observance and faith in the Divine. As such, it begs the question: How many of us want to spend our lives as Holy Rollers (a term originally coined to describe Christian churchgoers of the Pentecostal traditions. It came to describe those whose enthusiasm of faith caused them to literally roll on the floor in an uncontrollable manner)?
Religion also possesses a softer side, even a sense of humor! For Catholics and Anglicans it is Mardi Gras (literally, “Fat Tuesday”) celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, or the beginning of Lent, the time for fasting and self-denial leading up to Easter. Named “Fat Tuesday” because it was the last chance to consume richer, fatty foods before the fasting associated with Lent. The celebrations, most notably in cities like New Orleans, have created an almost anything goes atmosphere.
Judaism has its lighter side, as well. It is called Purim. Based on the Book of Esther, clearly the most head-scratching book in the Bible (is it a melodrama or black comedy? Why no mention of God’s name, even once?), the holiday of Purim is a chance to step back from the all-consuming tensions of daily life and enjoy some frivolity and fun. Going to the synagogue on Purim night (or the following morning) is almost like attending a showing of the cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Most attendees are costumed to look like one of the characters in the Book of Esther. The book is read aloud in its entirety. Each mention of the villain Haman evokes a cacophony of loud noisemakers. There is even a custom among some to drink so much that one is unable to distinguish between the names “Haman” (the villain) and “Mordechai” (the hero). Purim, like Mardi Gras, is a lead-in to a more solemn occasion. For Purim, it is Passover: the Jewish celebration of freedom.
I still remember the words of my Psych 101 professor: “If you take life more than half seriously, you’ll go insane.” Religion is a part of life; for some, it is life! Devoting one’s spiritual, intellectual, and physical energy to realizing God’s kingdom on earth, working toward a better world for all God’s creatures, is unsustainable without some meaningful “R and R”. For Jews, it’s Purim.
Rabbi Howard Siegel