It is deep within the ground that seeds decompose and produce new fruit. The cycle of creation involves necessary destruction. Things are always in flow, in flux. My body- and all that it holds- is my ground. In the creation story in Genesis we learn that the human was formed from earth and then given life and spirit through the breath of the divine. The human is a magnificent coming together of matter and spirit: “Truth shall grow from the ground, as righteousness looks from above.” (Psalms 85:11)
In the last six weeks, I have become one of a few handfuls of women who have been ordained as clergy through institutions affiliated with Orthodox Judaism. For many years, without a title, I have been performing the roles that clergy perform including counseling, performing life cycle events, teaching sacred texts and giving sermons.
My choice to complete the program, as well as giving me educational opportunities that I treasure, was also my attempt to be part of a cohort of women spiritual leaders, and most primarily, to move into a space of owning my own voice and the authority of my lived experience and allowing my voice to be heard in the public domain.
The discomfort of pushing myself to keep writing and speaking beyond my comfort zone and through my feelings of shame, is only matched by an equal, if not greater discomfort, holy irritation, of the fire burning inside me to create, to invoke, to share.
In a sense, these feelings of shame have caught me by surprise. I am too familiar with the inner recordings of discouragement, of “what’s the point?”, of “whatever you say will be obvious so it is not worth saying it”, but I have been taken aback by the intensity of the shame that is coming up as I cross this portal.
But maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. I may have had an intention as part of my ordination to speak and to allow my voice to be heard. But what I didn’t take into account was that there was an internal emotional structure that was in place that actually kept me quiet. It stopped me from sharing my thoughts and feelings with the world. And that mechanism was so firmly in place that it necessitated me to take action to un-silence myself.
I am forever encountering gifted, powerful women who just need “to learn a little more”, who just need to “wait a little longer” who have a million and one reasons about why they are not taking the next steps in actualizing who they are and sharing their light and wisdom- and being of service in the world in the fullest ways possible. I am not blaming them as I don’t blame myself. But at the same time there is something unbearable to be and to watch others be shackled in chains- some of which- are not actually there and just need to be acted upon in order to fall away.
There may be many reasons why we feel shame. In “Why we feel shame and how to conquer it” Margaret Paul has a compelling explanation. She says that when we were treated badly or even “merely” unrecognized by our primary caretakers it would have been too destabilizing for us to see that flaw in them, so instead we blamed ourselves and thought something must be wrong with us. This is a very widespread phenomenon. It is more all- encompassing than blame and guilt. And it is this feeling that we are flawed, that something is wrong with us, that is the source of shame. Whereas with guilt we feel bad about something we have or have not done, with shame we feel bad about who we are. According to Paul’s paradigm, the shame defended us against devastating feelings of loss, abandonment, isolation and disappointment. And so when we start unraveling the structures that have kept the shame in place, we also unearth the core feelings that the shame was protecting and through this very difficult process we can find healing.
The shame was formed in an interpersonal context and it is in an interpersonal context that it can be transformed.
Are we willing to take the risk and imagine that things can be different? Can we risk saying what we think and allowing ourselves to be seen in our truth? And what about enlisting the support and companionship of someone or several people who can help reflect back to us the reality of who we are.
And “Truth shall grow from the ground”. The earth – in its bounty and generosity – continues to provide. It gives us an anchor and sign of the benign reality.
Rabba Dr Melanie Landau lives in Jerusalem with her family, works in conflict transformation and, fostering women’s spiritual leadership, and was ordained in June 2015 as orthodox Jewish clergy at Yeshivat Maharat.