Monday, September 26, 2011
The summer before last, we made our third visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem just outside the Temple Mount and off limits from the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is the center of the religious universe for what many like to call the Three Great Monotheisms. You can’t help but get a sense of that lofty description as you stand there in the shadow of the ancient stone wall, chiseled with an uncanny precision, massive blocks somehow lifted and placed in perfect symmetry by some unimaginable technology long lost to the still undiscovered records books. Every day, folks dressed for the occasion in traditional garb, often black, many of the men bearded, most all with heads covered, come to pray. Some men are orthodox and arrive under broad brimmed back hats. The rest are under a yarmulke, a round cap, often embroidered. Women’s heads are delicately covered with a properly folded scarf, or sometimes a stylish hat. If you have no head covering, one is made available to every visitor, no matter what your ethnicity, religious preference or nationality. All are welcome. But best to cover your head.
This is a place of tradition. Though the years, it has been known as the “Wailing Wall.” Jewish visitors from all over the world come to pray for the restoration of the biblical Temple. For Peace in Jerusalem. They leave their prayers in the cracks of the wall; little notes rolled up small enough to squeeze in between the massive stones. The guardians of The Wall clear the paper from time to time, but keep all of the written prayers in a permanent archive in perpetuity. They are considered sacred.
It is not uncommon to witness a joyous Bar Mitzvah at The Wall. According to a tradition thousands of years old, men and women are separated at The Wall by a distinct border. When a Jewish son reaches thirteen and has completed his course in basic Hebrew and a study of the Torah, a great celebration is planned. It includes dancing and laughter and singing and the obligatory recitation in Hebrew by the youngster. A properly attired Rabbi superintends the ceremony. The highpoint of the celebration is a declaration by the boy, in Hebrew, “Today, I am a man.” The crowd cheers, from both sides of the barrier.
I captured an image that day which later moved me with deep emotion. It has almost a Norman Rockwell quality about it, though this is an exceptionally Jewish moment, rarely American. A beautifully dressed mother reaches over the barrier to hold her son as tears stream down her cheeks. The boy is wearing his yarmulke, the Rabbi holds the scroll, and two lovely sisters, smiling broadly, join the mother in reaching over the fence to touch their brother, whose father watches over the scene with obvious pride. All join in together in a long anticipated moment of joy and accomplishment. The son/grandson/brother officially transitions from boyhood to manhood. Here, in the shadow of the Great Wall.
It is a rite of passage.
As we left the scene, and as I have studied my photograph, I have wondered – “Why is there no such rite of passage in my own tradition? For my own son? For my daughters? For me?”
Jim McBride wonders, too.
So he wrote a book: Rite of Passage – A Father’s Blessing. Jim is executive pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church. It’s the church that gave us Facing the Giants, Fireproof and now Courageous. He served in the Marine Corps. He’s a tough guy. It wasn’t until he had children of his own that he got serious about God.
And he’s concerned about the myriad of lost kids everywhere – who live their lives without a father’s blessing. It’s an epidemic. He documents the stats. It will only confirm what you see all around you. His book is a call to do something about it. He shares his own experiences with his own kids, Buddy, Tommy and Sarah.
Jim points out that there are rites of passage in our lives and our children’s, but we miss the opportunity if we fail to be intentional in capturing those moments and affirming our kids as proud, loving, affirming parents. We can create some of our own custom rites, too. He shows us how. We also ought to involve our community – to bring in those who are close to us and share our values to celebrate these meaningful moments of transition with praise and joyful celebration.
That Bar Mitzvah moment remains one of my favorites, maybe because it calls up those memories of our own three and their passages into adulthood.
And perhaps that is the most meaningful part of our lives at this stage – to be there with affirmation, affecion and pride.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011