Within the heart of each of us is a spring of eternal hope. A common theme in traditions and religions throughout history is the hope and renewal that the season of springtime brings. Jews around the world celebrate Passover during the spring each year, and I have come to learn how universal their celebration is to the human experience. Many years ago, I began to “facilitate” a Passover Seder at the church that we were part of at the time. Initially, the Seder was a novel alternative to the traditional Maundy Thursday Service, but through the years, it grew to be much more within me. First, for the disclaimers: I don’t pretend to be a scholar of Judaism – or any other religion for that matter. I have dear friends who are Jews, including some who would consider themselves “secular” Jews, some who would call themselves “Progressive” or “Reform” Jews, and some who would call themselves “Fundamentalist” or “Ultra-Orthodox” Jews. Over the years, I have sought insight and advice from some of these folks on the holiday, meaning, and tradition of Passover. While I have learned much from this insight, I also realize that in my mind and in my life, I have transformed the Jewish holiday of Passover into a more universal spiritual experience and tradition. I want to apologize to anyone of Judaic tradition who finds offense in what I have done, and I want to thank those of that tradition for sharing a wonderful tradition with me, allowing me to grow from the experience. In the common usage, Passover is a noun – the Jewish holiday. In my life, I have come to see Passover in 2 new ways. First, the “noun” Passover has become more of a lens for me than a specific holiday. It has become a way to look at the world around me. When we look at the world around us in a new way, this should evoke action on our part – a new way of seeing things will hopefully beget a new way of acting, right? This is the second meaning of the word Passover in my life – it is a verb that describes a new way of interacting with the world around me as a result of this new lens through which I can see life. Like many traditions and teachings, Passover is complex and multi-layered. The old “peeling and onion” metaphor is particularly useful when learning to understand both the verb and the noun that the word Passover represents.
The First Layer – Physical Slavery
At the most fundamental and literal, Passover is a story of redemption. It tells the story of a people who are held in slavery, and of their journey from slavery to freedom. Human history is absolutely packed full of the reality of slavery – of one tribe finding ways to use another tribe to get ahead. As painful as it is to admit, this is a ubiquitous theme that we all must face and feel. In our culture, I think that we have effectively built a box around the word slavery, so that we can think of it as an awful thing that other people did in the past, but that we don’t do now. The truth is that slavery takes many forms and many degrees. At its most basic level, slavery is a condition of servitude and oppression. A few definitions include: • bondage: the state of being under the control of another person wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn • work done under harsh conditions for little or no pay wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn • Slavery (also called thralldom) is a social-economic system under which certain persons — known as slaves — are deprived of personal freedom and compelled to work. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery
In today’s world, we have the condition of large portions of the population of the world who live in squalid conditions, barely able to survive. In many cases, the more powerful cultures are able to perpetuate this condition in order to assure that the less powerful deliver goods and services to the more powerful for a very low price. This is how ancient Egypt built pyramids, it is how ancient Rome built roads and temples, frankly it is how ancient Israel built temples and cities. And it is how we maintain empires today. Today, just like 3500 years ago, a large portion of the human population on earth bears the yoke of slavery and oppression. They need to know that there is a journey from oppression and slavery into freedom. They need to feel this story and touch the hope that it represents. And for each who bears the yoke of oppression, there is one who holds the key to the chains of that yoke. Each person who holds such a key needs to hear this story, and feel the sorrow and pain that must eventually come to those who refuse to hear the sound of a greater Voice of Freedom and Justice. We must each see and feel our accountability for the oppression and slavery that exists, and we must each cry out against the Pharaoh within our culture.
The Second Layer – The Slavery of Addiction
If we allow ourselves to fall more deeply into an understanding of just what slavery is, then the notion of “Journey from Slavery” can become more real for us. The physical box of one person enslaving another is most easy to understand, but are there other ways for us to fall victim to slavery? Look around you at the next 10 people that you see, and look for what they might be slaves to in their life. Depending on where you live, you might see someone addicted to cocaine, or alcohol, or pornography. These are common and easily identified addictions. But what about TV – look at the time that most people spend in front a the TV, and then look at what they are actually getting back from it, and tell me that is not an addiction. Most of all, look at the degree to which most in our culture are addicted to “consumption”. It is this addiction to consumption that is the biggest factor in our continued enslavement of others in the world. At the end of the day, if we each look deeply into our lives and our hearts, we will see those addictions that oppress us personally. This is slavery of a deeply personal kind, but oppressive and deadly nonetheless. Moving from the slavery of our addictions toward the Spiritual Unity to which we are all called is the greatest Journey of Freedom that we can undertake. We can cross the sea of adversity, and reach the far shore, but we will quickly see that without Spiritual Connection, our new desert is a forbidding place indeed. It is only the manna of Spirit that will feed us on this journey. To find the manna, we must walk away from our oppression, and cross the sea. Then, we must see the manna.
The Third Layer – The Manna of Redemption
Where to we draw our nourishment? The body can be fed, but will remain in slavery unless the Soul can drink from the well of Spiritual Unity. This is where the Journey to Freedom takes us – to Spiritual Redemption. On the far shore – in that place where we can only begin to taste freedom from oppression – we will easily long for the days of oppression. Life may not have been perfect, but it was predictable and understandable. We knew our place, and we knew how to survive. To survive on a new shore in life, we must open our hearts to that redemption, and see the manna of spiritual connection that reaches toward us each day. It is not our job to provide the manna, or to understand it. Our job is only to receive the manna, and let it nourish our soul. With a soul well-nourished, our body and our life can begin to heal, and can begin to journey to the places we are meant to be. From this day forward, our job must be to keep the basket of our life as pure and holy as we can, so that we can most effectively receive the manna being poured toward us. Each time we stop collecting the manna – each time we allow the basket of our life to be filled with things other than the manna – then we are at risk of falling back to oppression and slavery.
The Fourth Layer –
A Call to Approach Unity in Spirit On our journey through the desert of our redemption, a new way of seeing the world will unfold each day. There will be days when fountains of life-saving water seem to spring forth from dry rock. Our spiritual needs become more urgent, in harmony with the spiritual manna that continues to fill our basket. The miracles of life become more apparent to us each day. We begin our journey in slavery, and each step we take brings us closer to Spirit. Early in our journey, we require certainty and knowledge, but the further we move along the path, the more wisdom and faith inform us, and the less we rely on knowledge and certainty. Sometimes, we approach Sinai. Sometimes, we learn to accept not only the gifts of Spirit, but the Presence of Spirit in our lives. This can only come when we suspend our need to understand the facts, and allow ourselves to be. The more we let go of ego, the closer we might approach Spirit. Approach closely enough, and the Presence will burn you in ways that will change your life. Passover teaches us this in many ways. The traditional “liturgy” speaks of 4 “types of people” or “stages of faith” that we might pass through. We learn to respect the stage that our fellow traveler is on, and to help each other on that journey. The number 4 is common in Judaic tradition. Within the Passover, there are many “themes” of 4. In addition to the 4 “stages of faith” referred to above, the common “liturgy” will include 4 different ways of interpreting scripture, 4 important questions, 4 cups of wine, 4 blessings, and other repeats of this refrain.
Layers Still To Discover In keeping with that tradition, I will stop here at 4 layers of the “onion” that is the Passover tradition. In reality, the beautiful tradition that is Passover holds many more surprises, much more beauty, and much greater wisdom. I encourage you to dip your toe into the tradition this year, and see what it holds in store for you. For example, few are aware that one of the most erotic texts from ancient history is the Old Testament Song of Songs. Modern apologists will couch the discussion of the book into a context that makes it out to be an allegory of the love affair between G-d and His people. While there is probably good wisdom in reading this interpretation into the text, we must also accept that the text stands completely on its own as an explicit outpouring of love and passion between 2 human lovers. At Passover each year, most tellings will include readings from Song of Songs. At journey of Passover tells us how to approach our relationship with Spirit, by whatever name we apply. This particular story happens to be told in the vernacular of Judaic tradition, but a deeper understanding of the story makes it clear that the story and the journey are universal to the human experience.
Neil Hanson is a writer, a business and IT consultant, and a landscape designer. He lives with his wife in Parker, CO, and has 3 grown children. He calls himself a “closet theologian”, having spent most of his life studying theology and spirituality as a hobby.