The Painting Cabinets and Hisbodedut

Painting cabinets takes patience.  I know this because this is my first week trying it.  First, there’s the preparation, which I probably should have paid more attention to.  I didn’t sand, but instead went all in with gripper primer.  Quickly, the cabinets that I’d chosen to start with in the Shabbat RV 2.0 began to look “rustic” with bright white brush strokes.  Now, I’m in the midst of a process of applying a coat of paint, then letting them sit 24 hours, then applying another.  I don’t know when it will be enough coats or when it will seem finished.

Painting cabinets might as well be a metaphor for life, really.

Just like painting anything else, I can plan all I want and still things will happen I couldn’t have foreseen.  I’m not completely in control of the process and somewhat at the mercy of the whims of the weather and humidity levels as well as the wind and whatever it might decide to blow onto the fresh paint on the cabinet doors as they dry in the garage.  Then, there’s that bit of fear that comes with the first brush stroke.  What if my plan isn’t really a good one?  I could be making things worse, ruining these cabinets instead of making them better.  What if I chose the wrong paint?  What if I’m really not up for the challenge of this project?

Still, once that first brush stroke carves its way across a cabinet, I’m committed.  I have to see this through to whatever conclusion comes.  Maybe I’ll need to switch to a different color, but for now, I just need to keep applying coats to see how it will turn out.  It will likely take longer than I’d planned.  At a certain point, like with any creative endeavor, I surrender and just let the process carry me along and then, suddenly, painting cabinets becomes relaxing…even meditative.

There is a Jewish tradition of meditation, particularly in Chassidic Judaism, known as Hisbodedut/Hisbodedus.  I’m sure most Rabbis would probably cringe at me comparing this to painting cabinets, but a few of the basic concepts are similar.  The word itself actually refers to seclusion, the act of going off by oneself to think deeply or to clear the mind.

As I painted my cabinets, I began to realize it isn’t often these days that I spend much time alone.  I’m almost always in the company of my family or coworkers or at the very least my dog, Sam.  I don’t even sleep alone, with his furry body nestled against mine.  In the RV with an open can of paint, though, it’s rather a necessity to work alone.  I fell into an unhurried state because hurrying is not exactly productive when dealing with wet paint.  I began to ponder my life and I began, a bit self-consciously at first, to talk to G-d.  I realized I’ve fallen into the habit of reserving prayer only for more formalized blessings and prayers and fallen out of the habit of informal prayer unless I’m kneading challah dough.  I used to be more open, but then, I also used to have a drive to work that I did alone.  It’s tougher to feel like you’re still sane if you’re talking to G-d in the car with other people.

And so, we talked and I painted.

My conversations with G-d have taken many forms during my life.  They were often angry and defiant as a teenager.  When I was particularly angry with Him, like the first time my brother was diagnosed with cancer, I would even talk to Him and angrily tell Him I didn’t believe in Him.  Somehow the irony that I would choose to argue with something and then in the same breath deny its existence was lost on my hurting teenaged brain.  As I grew older, my conversations were more confused than angry.  Now, I still argue at times, but I’ve learned to do so with a bit more respect, at least I hope.  I have more gratitude than complaints most days, but I still take my complaints there, too, but they more become pleas and requests.  I long ago realized that G-d isn’t intimidated by me and mostly what I ask for is the strength and faith to be able to handle whatever it is that I’m going through or I ask to be shown what it is I’m supposed to learn.

Yesterday, I mostly talked about how I really, really want to do what the “right” thing is, but it’s so often hard to see what that “right” thing is.  How do I know for certain that there’s not some reason I was born a non-Jew, something important that G-d needs me to accomplish that I wouldn’t be able to do as Jew?  It could also just as easily be that there was a purpose for which I was born a non-Jew, but was always meant to complete conversion.  And what of my children?  I see their joy in Judaism and I take that as some kind of sign that we’re on the right path, but I accept that I can never really “know.”

It’s a thing of faith.

I believe we’ve picked out the right primer and paint and we’re a few coats in to this process, but I can’t really know in this life if I shouldn’t have chosen something else.  I just have to surrender to the process and trust that if I keep doing my best to apply each coat that anything that needs to change along the way will become apparent in the process.  For now, though, it’s enough to just hold the brush correctly and slowly apply each coat, not knowing if or when the cabinets will be done or if I’ve improved them or damaged them with my painting.

I just ask G-d to keep my hand steady, to give me patience and endurance, and to be with me while I paint.

And yes, there will be before and after pictures…as soon as there is an After!

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