For over thirty-six years, we have gathered to celebrate the Passover, a re-telling of the Hebrew peoples’ crossing the desert into the Promised Land of milk and honey. We read the Haggadah, we drink the wine, pass the matzo, flick the plagues off our fingers like an Italian curse gesture. We sing Dayenu, the song that voices the wonder of any small act to be sufficient for knowing God’s abundant love and grace to us, the people who follow the law. The youngest ones present ask the four questions, why is this night different, why do we eat reclining, why do we eat bitter herbs and only matzo, why do we dip twice? And we are off, back in time to the story and the ongoing drama and trauma of freedom from oppression. In our yearly Seders, we have named numerous oppressions, holocausts, genocides, racisms and sexisms. It is part of the tradition to know that the story is not confined to the Biblical account, but an ongoing revelation and experience.
I have often asked myself, why, as a non-practicing Jew, I have been compelled to celebrate the Passover, dare I say it, religiously. I am reminded of Jung’s assertion in Psychology and Religion, that rituals are the containers for the experience of the Numinosum, a safe space where the psyche can be held, like the infant in the mother’s arms, from the perils of direct contact with the Source of Mystery. (Jung, 1938 p 53). It is only when the experience is dead that the ritual loses its meaning and efficacy, and becomes rigid and arid. What have I experienced of that liberation from oppression that continues to have the power and energy to keep me setting the table, cooking the traditional foods, and inviting others into my home to eat, recite and sing?
This year, the question is not difficult to answer. What is driving the ritual remembrance of the Exodus is my involvement with Seeing Red, an inter-disciplinary initiative out of the Assisi Institute: The International Center for the Study of Archetypal Patterns. When Loralee Scott-Conforti, the Executive Director, invited me to be part of exploring the underlying roots of oppression and violence against women, I said yes. What I didn’t know was that my assent would lead me through the desert of sojourn, sometimes on my knees and sometimes resting by Miriam’s well. As Passover neared, I realized that in the past, I had been captured by the suffering of others. This year, I had to traverse the suffering of my soul, entrenched and captured by inner oppression.
It is one thing to blame patriarchy, especially coming out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and name the many injustices women have suffered, from the original disobedience to stay unconscious, to the sundering of the feminine into the Madonna/whore. It is easy, in fact, to look out into the world and point to the horrors that happen to women, girls and children, because they are the ‘weaker’, the Other, the ones who bear the scars, if they survive at all, of violence.
Actually, I don’t think it is easy, it is horrific, sobering, and traumatizing to see the images posted on Facebook, the New York Times, other social media and news feeds, of violence, rape, torture, and random attacks on the feminine. When the oppression is recognized as “out there’, we can join the chorus exposing and opposing injustice, we can act. It is another thing to recognize and feel the sadness, shed the tears for our own internalized oppression; the myriad ways we cut ourselves, do violence to our dreams, friendships, relationships, our very destiny. It is excruciating to face the demons that seek to eat our very lives, name them, perhaps, for the first time for what they are and fight tooth and bloody nail against them.
The redeeming grace is that we walk through the desert, relying on the mana and the water of our contemporary companion sisters, as well as those who have come before us. They hold us as we keen and grieve and take from Egypt, the narrow place of oppression, that which belongs to us - the land of our soul. No longer sojourners in a strange land, we lay claim to our own fertile knowing. On May 9th, Muriel McMahon, a seasoned traveler on the road, a guide and voice in the wilderness, will present a webinar on Walking with our Grandmothers: Exploring Trans-Generational Complexes at www.seeingredconference.com. Wherever you may be on this journey, I invite you to join us, as we traverse the terrain of liberation together.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor