Religiously, is your life a Freud-type life or an Erikson-type life?
These two great psychoanalysts disagreed over the relative influence on a person’s life of events that happen after childhood. Freud maintained that “the child is father (mother) of the man (woman).” He emphasized the influence of the first five years of life. He saw features of unresolved issues from those years in the problems faced by his adult patients. Erikson extended Freud’s system. He taught that crises throughout a person’s life determine the unfolding course of that life. In his scheme, the adult faces a new crisis that did not determine that person’s previous development: will the adult remain generative, or will the adult stagnate? The older adult, too, faces a new crisis: will that person achieve ego integrity, or will the elderly individual succumb to despair?
If there is a Wunderkind out there reading my columns, please identity yourself! But my words in these columns are addressed to an adult and a senior adult audience. So let me ask my readers: in the religious domain of your life, is the pattern you set by age 15 the pattern of your entire life? Did you attend religious school when you had to, and stop after 7th grade? Did you attend shabbat worship for a year or a few years until bar/bat mitzvah, and then stop? Judging by the pattern of our community, for most of us, the answer would seem to be yes. So your religious life was a Freud-type life… unless…
Unless you tackled the inevitable challenges of adult life religiously as well as in your secular selves, but outside the resources of the synagogue world. That is, of course, possible, and some of you may be able to report spectacular spiritual journeys that simply did not need any of the support that the synagogue offers. But the realist in me insists that most of us did not accomplish that difficult task. We went about the business of our lives; we suffered; we succeeded; and we did so without much help or support from our Jewish tradition. There’s so much lost opportunity in such a life.
Selichot, tomorrow night, and the High Holidays, beginning next week, invite us to reflect on how we could have done better for ourselves; and how we could still do better.
What do you know today that you did not know 20 years ago? I don’t mean, ”what factoids do you know”? Rather, what do you know about life that has only come from living through the decades of laughter and tears? I know that my basic attitude to life at 60 was not the same as my attitude at 40, which was different again from the attitude at 20. At each of those way stations, the teachings of Judaism have helped me to face the crises that are part of attaining those stages.
This is one of the major gifts that we give ourselves as individuals when we stay involved in our religious practice after childhood, or transcend our parents’ minimalist choices to become involved.
Are you ready to give yourself this gift? We, your synagogue community, are here – and I am here--- to receive and support you.
Rabbi Michael Panitz