When I was a teen, I tried to find space for myself in the tradition of my childhood. My mother encouraged me to talk with her spiritual director, a sister of St. Joseph. I told the sister about my sense of myself as an outsider in our patriarchal tradition, including my alienation from masculine God language. She told me a story about praying together in a community of people speaking many different languages. How beautiful it was for each person to be praying the same liturgy in their own language, a cacophony of connected prayer. She invited me to make space for myself by bringing the language I wanted to pray. I took a prayer book from church and rewrote it with inclusive language. Then I brought that prayer book to mass with me and prayed with it again and again until I became accustomed to praying in my own voice.
Sister Ann dePorres liberated me into a life where I could put myself in dialogue with the religious practices I encountered in order to adapt, adjust, and create prayer and ritual that was both mine and communally connected. It’s like praying the Amidah, the silent communal prayer at the center of Jewish services. We pray aloud and we pray silently, together and apart, in community and alone with ourselves and the Divine. Unshackled by the limitations of tradition, I became an enthusiastic experimenter and playful creator of ritual.
The first time I got married, lesbian weddings were still an oddity, something people were inventing. Bound by the limitations of our families’ homophobia, and perhaps also our own, my partner and I got to work creating a ritual that would sanctify our commitment to one another. We read the one book chronicling the emerging concept of lesbian weddings, pored over guides explaining the architecture of Jewish weddings, and studied the Book of Ruth which some had begun to read as a model for intimate female partnership. In the end we created a kind of deconstructed Jewish wedding with time alone and time in community, rich with symbolism and ritual power. It was beautiful, authentic, and real. We gently and insistently made space for ourselves to celebrate our love.
This past month I got married for the second time. Thirty years later and having navigated myriad obstacles to be standing strong in our ten-year relationship, I found myself longing to be held by the rituals of the tradition of my adulthood. I wanted to gather loved ones in real time and space, stand under the chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy), and consecrate myself to my beloved “according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” When the rabbi we chose to marry us offered us new rituals and creative possibilities, we waved them off opting for a traditional Jewish wedding where she was in the driver’s seat. Yes, we did thoroughly deconstruct the ketubah (Jewish wedding contract) and co-create with an artist friend a new kind of document that honors our commitment to one another. But on the wedding day, I got to show up as a bride, not an orchestrator of new ritual, and just stand under the chuppah, surrounded by our young adult children and other loved ones, and immerse myself in the sounds of the seven wedding blessings and the ritual power of the moment. What a gift to just be present! And what a blessing to arrive at a point, in history and in my own life, where my voice naturally blends into the cacophony of Jewish voices across time and space and I am able to invent and be held in equal measure