Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Life Flow and the Mikva: A Spiritual Web Journey

This week I will have the pleasure of bringing a Jew by choice to our local mikva, where he immersed as the climactic moment of his conversion. Preparing for this event reminded me of the growing significance of this ancient symbol of purification and transition. Whether it is used for conversion, for the purposes of family purity, or to mark a major life transition, such the onset of Shabbat or a holiday, for some, or a recovery from a major illness for others, these natural waters are the perfect metaphor for the ebb and flow of life.

I recently taught a session of the Melton adult education series on this topic, and next week will also touch upon it in the next session of our acclaimed “Kosher Sex” series for young professionals. In preparation for those two classes, I came across some excellent materials and websites that I share with you here.

Take a look at them all, including the Conservative Movement’s Law Committee’s recent rulings on the matter.

While the laws of family purity still appear sexist and repressive (and obsessive) to many, the mikva’s significance goes far beyond those laws. For some women, a monthly immersion keeps them to be spiritually attuned to the rhythms of their bodies and of nature. For women and for men, immersion in life-giving waters is a way of defeating death – for when we lie in water we are suspended for a moment, naked, defenseless, un-breathing, as if dead; and then we re-emerge as if “born again.” The waters also soften us as they transform us, affirming our vulnerability and fragility, as well as our connectedness to nature.

Water is a symbol of life, and blood symbolizes death (though it contains the power of life)... shades of the first plague!

It’s time to take another look at the power of water.

This is the site of the new, pluralistic mikva in Boston, created by Anita Diamant, author of “The Red Tent.” It's called Mayyim Hayyim (Living Waters). See here creative, spiritual ceremonies of immersion:

For a woman following menstruation
For a bride
For a groom
For Passover

Also see http://www.mikvahproject.com/

And see from Ritualwell, The Use of the Mikva in Healing from Incest and click here to see various healing ceremonies involving immersion, including incidents of rape and abuse.

Also see (from Ritualwell):

Kavanah for Mikveh Prayer By Carol Rose
A meditation for the mikveh invoking God's healing presence

Prelude to Mikveh Poem By Cynthia Wallace
A kavanah for ritual immersion that focuses on the experience of mikveh as an experience of the Divine

Healing Well Prayer By Ariel Lee
A healing prayer to be said when immersing in the mikveh

Communal Misheberach for Healing Prayer By James I. Greene
An original prayer in both feminine and masculine forms

Waters of Healing Meditation – Kos Refuah/Cup of Healing Ritual Component
By Ariel Lee A meditation based on Miriam's Well

You can find an Orthodox explanation of the Purity Laws (Niddah): from the OU and from The Jewish Womens' Health Network

And the Conservative approach, which combines traditional observance with a more contemporary, feminist view: http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/teshuvot/docs/20052010/grossman_niddah.pdf

Here read some of the questions posed by observant women about the commandment to refrain from contact with their husbands during their time of “uncleanness.” It can get pretty complicated! http://www.yoatzot.org/article.php?id=115, http://www.yoatzot.org/question.php?id=2153, (Is it OK to be sitting on a couch with your husband?)
http://www.yoatzot.org/question.php?id=2841 (Can you hand a baby to your husband?)
http://www.yoatzot.org/question.php?id=7401, http://www.yoatzot.org/question.php?id=5106 (Can you touch your husband’s chair?)
http://www.yoatzot.org/article.php?id=85, http://www.yoatzot.org/question.php?id=2727

Read this from “The Golden Bough” http://www.bartleby.com/196/47.html on blood taboos in ancient societies.

A fascinating report on mikva from PBS: Religion and Ethics News Weekly - also see this feature, "Memoirs of a Mikva lady"

Finally, read the Jewish Enclyclopedia’s classic studies on the subject, at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=222&letter=B&search=baptism and http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=338&letter=A

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