City and Sky

On the lookout in Massanutten resort, I sat and watched both the stars and the city lights of Harrisonburg. I wonder if I put some pictures in juxtaposition, would they have some similarities?


Sorry, I meant to attach this. If you want to check out the marriage swap (I just think it is hilarious if you make it all soap opera), it's found in Genesis 29, but since we like things easy: Jacob's Marriage .

All about traditional

My friend invited me to his wedding slated for the 22nd. Weddings can be very drab events to go to, especially when in the awkward college age with being too old for one crowd, too young for another. For anyone in the local area, the wedding took place on River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia. River Farm is actually a horticulture place filled with gardens and a great view of the river. Apparently, many couples have their weddings here during the warmer seasons for its scenic value. I dedicated most of my time to helping set up and feeling useful, leaving very little room for a full detailed exploration of the property. Lucky for me, this wedding offered me something far different from the traditional wedding scene. I received an invitation for a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. I kept a handout given to me just prior to the ritual. The little purple booklet detailed the series of events with explanations and interpretation of the symbols. The process fascinated me. Rather than simply paraphrase, I typed out some of the steps to the ritual with a few notes concerning the crowd or any relevant details. My confession must be stated that I sat in the back row and could see little of the movements.
Before the ceremony even begins, a group of people, typically close family, separates from the crowd to a small room in the River Farm's main house. They all go to act as witnesses of the Ketubah, a wedding contract. “The Ketubah dating back almost 2,000 years, was one of the first legal documents giving financial and legal rights to women. Today, the [couple believes] the Ketubah symbolizes their commitment to love and honor one another.” The legal binding acts as a strong mortar of dedication that digs deeper at loyalty. This loyalty taps, in my mind, a sense of love that makes allowances for days when the couple may get angry or frustrated. Perhaps simply stated as, love that makes allowance for anger and mistakes?
“Immediately following the signing of the Ketubah by the bridge and groom comes the Bedeken. The Bedeken is a ritual based upon a tradition that requires the groom see the bride before the ceremony and cover her face with the veil.” One of the Patriarchs had been deceived by the father of his bride, marrying the older sister, Leah, instead of his chosen bride, Rachel. This came across as an inspection goods, but because the veil is placed on her is also a sign of protection. Take the time to look up the biblical episode concerning this tradition. Seeing the roots to all of these symbols can be a humorous process, particularly at marrying the wrong girl.
The bride hired a jazz duo to play the wedding processional which signaled the wedding party into action as they walked down the aisle. I had never considered the order of entrance important, but what is the symbolism of the man waiting at the altar for the woman? The party circled around the Chuppah, the Jewish marriage canopy. The Chuppah represents the “first home together and is understood as a sign of God's presence at the wedding.” The open tent invites all friends and family to share in this new home being created. The rabbi explained that this “home” took its foundation in love but should be viewed as the beginnings of the actual home rather than an image of the perfect home. I didn't get a good understanding of this myself. Since most couples getting married have no clue what the future looks like, the love can burn out when trouble hits. So, although love is the basis, time and dedication play a pivotal role.
Everyone took their place around the Chuppah with the bride, groom and rabbi underneath the tent. From here the rabbi helps to explain different points of the ceremony. At times she sounded a little less than sure, but I was again sitting far away and dealing with the sun in my eyes. The bride circled the groom, “seven times, representing the binding together of the bride and groom and the bride's protection of the household.” The number seven plays a fairly large role in most circles of religion and comes up multiple times in the Jewish faith. The sheet mentions the days of creation, but there are numerous examples in the Bible. The seven circles points to an act found later in the wedding called the Seven Blessings. The couple added the interpretation of creating a new family circle with the establishment of space they will be sharing.
The next segments became slightly muddled due to a language barrier. “Erusin, the ancient betrothal ceremony, includes two blessings and the ring ceremony, and is followed by the reading of the Ketubah.” The rabbi gave a cup of wine for the newly wed couple to share, concluding the first part of the ceremony. The ring ceremony pops up at every wedding, regardless of religious background. It makes me wonder where it actually came from. What group has ownership of the ring ceremony? At least the Jewish tradition changes the location of the rings to the right index finger, which is believed to be connected to “an artery that goes directly to the heart, and so the couple's hearts are joined.” The rabbi added that it is the finger that they would point to each other with. However, pointing also can be seen as an accusation. The interpretation, I am sure, has been brought up before but seems shaky. The reading of the Sheva B'rachot (seven blessings) is where the language issue really bothered me. This ceremony “reflects the themes of creation, joy, and the bride and groom.” The rabbi actually sang for all the readings, but the Jewish crowd would sing along or have a low reply. I wished I could understand exactly what she was singing.
The groom concluded the ceremony by shattering a glass. The shattering interested me the greatest. Even the word gives a sense of not just a gentle falling apart but a chaotic ripping in twain. The rabbi reminded all of us that it is important to realize how fragile things truly are, even in moments of extreme joy. The couple was to remember that fragile things will break, but it is what they do after the breaking and chaos that would make the difference. I wanted to talk to the rabbi about it in further detail. I had never seen a wedding that forced the newly weds to understand the difficulties of such a blessing.
A traditional wedding would lead right into the reception with guests practically crawling all over the bride and groom. The Jewish traditions give the newly weds a short time to breath and come to grips with the just passed ceremony. “The complete seclusion of the couple in a closed room is a public act symbolizing their new status as husband and wife. Yichud (the seclusion) provides a period of respite for the newly married couple, an interval of tranquility for them to enjoy together in total solitude to express their love and joy for each other in a personal setting.” Any couple would love to have this as an addition to the wedding, rather than be swept away in festivities immediately. And who can forget the wedding feast?! I absolutely loved “getting down” to traditional Jewish music and dancing with everyone. It took away the awkward feeling of coming without a date that typically accompanies the average wedding. At some point the men slide two chairs into the circle and sit the new couple down. They life the chairs and begin to bop up and down to the beat of the music as everyone claps. People are just all smiles! I had to leave early on in the feast, but at least got a good taste at the action. Give it a chance and enjoy the mitzvah!


Unchangingly Shifting Focus

I have been privileged to train with a martial arts instructor in Woodbridge, Virginia, who gave me the opportunity to travel down towards Richmond to train at Harrison park off of rt. 5. We were about to meet another group of martial artists who wanted to mingle with other styles to perhaps learn more about their own art. By working with various styles and modes of thought, I found out a great deal about my own lacking areas and new exercises to train with. A teacher from Richmond helped to facilitate our practice over the course of the day (06.21.08)

The group of men moved and fought in a small area marked off by four pvc pipes in concrete bases. They warmed up through an exercise called group sparring. The teacher from the Richmond-based school used it as a springboard for dealing with multiple opponents, taking away the habit of tunnel vision when fighting. Before beginning again, he mentioned reasons and methods for dealing with “adrenaline dumps” a main factor in tunnel vision, where the body goes into flight or fight mode and the disciple relinquishes full control of his body. In a match or street fight a person can go berserk, losing the entire art to devolve to mere brawling. The contemporary martial arts attach mental discipline to physical prowess. Full on wars involving hand-to-hand combat faded away, leaving in their wake a more philosophical approach to the art. One student expressed concern over his own incidents of "blacking out" and attacking without hesitation. There is something to be said of the rage that overcomes our own faculties.

Initially, the group sparring exercise struck me as awkward and wasteful. The movements in this group sparring exercise are done at a slow pace to prevent most accidents. Certain techniques, however, require a specific speed to perform. The exercise forced participants to move slowly in on one opponent while still being completely aware of his surroundings. One-on-one battles, in light of this, become an easy beast to tackle. As I came in for a take-down, another person slipped behind me and reversed my move, hurling me to the ground. Before being able to get up, I felt a foot tap my side and an elbow knock my hand. “The fight is not finished when you fall.” The closest thing connected to this would be Aikido's randori exercises . The main difference lies in how the group fights. Group sparring demands each individual fighter to attack each other without a singular target. Everyone stands alone. The sparring creates confusion, and fighting became more complicated by having everybody attacking each other. Randori, by comparison, has a group attacking one individual. The focus on one target leaves room for strategy but also can discourage multiple opponents from attacking. The opponents will create their own obstables as they attempt to rush the one; randori teaches the students to use this to their advantage.

We broke up into smaller groups of two with on group having three. I got placed in the odd number group. Again we took it at a slow pace to gently make use of tactics and techniques. Being able to focus on a smaller number allowed me to open up a bit more, but I struggled to use solid movements. As I got smacked around I learned about my own faults, even with only a few words of advice from senior practitioners. I found the smaller numbers helpful, but I now saw how the larger group exercise is necessary to having a heightened sense of awareness. I managed to finally put up a bit more of a fight. One of my partners performed a take-down on me. As I fell I swung my leg into his knee to buckle it. I failed at the buckle but at least tried to counterattack before finding a way to get back on the ground.

We moved on to ground fighting and locks (chin'na). The person could either be in the high or upright position, attempting to neutralize, lock, his partner on the ground. The ground fighter's sought to take the high down. My partner helped me to understand a few basics of ground fighting, but his stance interested me far more. He dropped to what is called a “low tiger”. The stance may appear vulnerable, but don't be fooled! I rushed in to knock him down from his stance. A leg shot out from nowhere, wrapped around me. In an instant, his entire body and the ground completely locked me as pain shot through various points in my body. My teacher raised an eyebrow at the stance, watching my failed attempts to neutralize him. He made a few attempts to attack the problem himself. Really the only method is to have him attack you. Incredible! The stance completely baffled me. His mastery of the movements furthered the strengths and advantages of the posture. I gained a bit of the theory, which perhaps sadly became overshadowed by such a unique move. Time to work on that flexibility!

The teacher started to pair us up for “push hands” training. For once, I found an exercise I had a fair amount of background. I got the pleasure of working with another young student from the Richmond school. His absolute calm and composed personality, matched well with his teachers lessons as he gave me pointers on what I thought I had down. The teen's ability to center and root surprised me. In reality, he worked in the martial art spheres long before I even became interested about five years ago. The exercise seek to demonstrate a knowledge of body mechanics in being able to root and also feel another person's movements through your own. Arms make contact at the wrist, beginning to move in circles with the intent of finding a moment of weakness in a stance. The weak point allows the individual to almost effortlessly lift his partner off of his feet and knock him backwards. I have to admit that I had trouble even attempting to make him budge. He demonstrated an interesting two-handed method. Both sets of hands sway, twist, and push. The weak points are difficult to find. The teenager had a helmet and boxing gloves thrown on him for 3 two minute rounds to get him accustomed to being attacked with more force than the slow sparring. I had the chance to spar with him in the small group session and could tell that, while good at rooting and push hands, the more vicious fighting presented unfamiliar waters. He did well as I watched on, cheering for him as if it were a prize match.

I felt the challenge to become stronger and smiled, literally beamed with joy at finding new ways to work. By treading unfamiliar waters filled with choppy water in the form of defeats and words of correction, I found myself growing. It is for this reason that simple things such as a work out, make it into the discussion of life and language. Without the trading of thoughts ideas, running the fear of failure, we can't grow.