Religio-tourist that I am, I convinced my wife that passing by Notre Dame at night wasn’t enough. We had to go visit during the day – to walk through the halls and smell those distinctly Catholic smells. How could we not? Sure, we had come to Paris for the rugby and the romance (almost the same thing in our relationship), but here was a monument to the meeting of human effort and Divine inspiration: skyward ceilings elongated by the statues and archways and pillars, hollowed and hallowed space, candles in dark corners.
Notre Dame was a monument that seemed like forever – it elegantly roared above the surrounding skyline before me and would continue after me. But elegance, memorial, devotion, even Christian Holy Week, didn’t keep it upright. Nothing of the material world, no matter how holy, is forever and certain. Only the Divine Itself stretches beyond time and will.
In our addictions, in our despair, in our destructive thinking, it seems like our pharaohs will live forever – controlling our actions and driving us to desperate isolation and manipulation. In these moments, forever is no longer than the next fix – however long it takes to get the money to go use, or drink, or gamble. And in early recovery, forever is those first few days, and weeks, when we’re told it will be better without using, but the demons in our thoughts plague us with pain we’ve been avoiding for years. Our pharaohs are powerful and for them we have built pyramids, monuments that despite our efforts, cannot and do not last forever. And what have we built for ourselves? For our own souls? In dignity and freedom?
We have been building our stories. Whether we know it or not, even in our slavery, we have been building our stories.
Recovery, freedom, is building not through straw and mortar, not through stone and glass, but through stories. Stories, like the Passover story so central to Jewish ideas and identities, build us up. Our stories of recovery move us daily from slavery to freedom. They connect us to who we are as individuals, as communities, as peoples, and as humans in relationship with Something Bigger Than Us (call it God, the Universe, the Divine – you choose). They connect us across time and space to those who came before and those who will come after.
And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to Adonai, because God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when God smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’” The people then bowed low in homage. (Shemot 12:26-7)
When your children ask you, what do you mean by this story? You shall say: I was enslaved to a pharaoh – drugs, alcohol, gambling – and I cried out for help, and people helped me, and I took the next right action each and every day and I became free.
That story, our story, from slavery to freedom is forever.
Rabbi Kerry Chaplin