Kaddish for a Gay Mormon
Honorable Mention, 2003 Affirmation Writing Contest
By Braulio Ventura
Leaving home a year ago to begin a Master's program overseas was in many ways a rite of passage for me. It meant bidding farewell to a phase of my life and entering a new realm--facing an unknown future, but hoping never to look back. Along with my five-piece luggage, I brought a great deal of hope and faith, in spite of the apprehensions commonly associated with starting over. I badly wanted a chance to be myself in a new environment, leaving behind many of the insecurities, fears and inhibitions that had hampered my progress for so long. I left my dear family and friends, my suffocating job with the military, the LDS ward that I had grown up in and my beloved city and country. Not only was I accomplishing a childhood dream (by pursuing a degree abroad), but I also hoped to lay the foundations of a new era in my adult life.
I was no longer an ultra-orthodox Mormon when I landed in France--I had already undergone several changes throughout the previous two years, particularly after "coming out" to myself. But during my time in Paris, the questioning was pushed even further and reached new heights, as I was confronted with so much diversity, knowledge and wisdom from all kinds of sources--a variety that I could only dream of hack home. Besides, I dared to do things that I had never done before, taking leaps of faith that I had never thought that I actually could. Along the way, I met wonderful people, who helped me deal with some of my problems and eased the crushing burden of loneliness. As I became involved in different social groups, the doors of a whole new world opened before me.
And I even experienced the first sparkles of love, something that I had anticipated for so long (over a quarter of a century), an exploration that had been denied me because of unreasonable Church, family and social conventions. Therefore, I started to experience some other joyful aspects that life has to offer--a far cry from the unbalanced, unfulfilling celibacy that had been my lot until then. A monastic, ethereal existence may sound heroic, noble and elevated, but in real life it is tremendously lonely and empty, despite the Church's preaching in the desert on this topic. To suppress our basic human yearnings and to deprive ourselves of a God-given faculty amounts to renouncing some of life's choicest experiences and to turning our backs on a heavenly gift. I had already realized this in the past few years, but now I had the confirmation. And it has been thrilling to begin this process of discovery and transformation.
Therefore, I am no longer the good Mormon boy that left sunny Brazil last year. Ever since, l have started to tread what the LDS Church might consider "forbidden paths", as I have allowed myself to think freely and to act for myself in different respects. Not that I am an evil, corrupted individual now. Just someone different, who has tried to rise above old prejudices and restrictions. And although I have not totally cut the umbilical chord that ties me to the Church (I still attend on occasion), this physical presence does not mean that I am still under the yoke of its dogmas or subject to its Orwellian control. They no longer hold sway over my soul, my beliefs and my desires. In the process, I have learned more about my real self and strengthened my personal sense of worth.
I have learned a great deal throughout this past year, not only from
my new alma mater, but mostly from life -- in all of its fullness
and splendor. In many ways, it has been a new birth. A friend of mine
talks about a "loss of innocence", and maybe this applies to the situation.
At any rate, the blissful ignorance that characterized my Mormon past
is no longer an option for me. Now that I have partaken of forbidden
fruits, my eyes have been opened, and I yearn to live an even more accomplished
life, keenly aware of good and evil, joys and sorrows, trials and blessings.
A life -- although tempered by sobriety and responsibility -- without
unreasonable expectations and constraints. As Fantine said in Les
Misérables, a life with "no ransom to be paid, no song unsung,
no wine untasted."
My journey in this past year was permeated with contributions of different religions and philosophies. As I strive to be "deprogrammed" and to discard the superiority complex that is part of the Mormon mindset, I have been overwhelmed by the richness to be found in the world. I feel that I have so much to learn from different cultures, peoples and traditions. And during the past year, I was particularly glad to explore Judaism, which was possible through friends that I first met in the local Jewish gay group. My life has been truly enriched by the contact with this ancient civilization, and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.
I first started attending synagogue services about six months ago, and in my regular visits, I have learned wonderful principles and had moving spiritual experiences. I do not contemplate conversion, but I greatly admire their legacy and I feel that I connect with it in many ways. I no longer believe in absolute truths, but I believe that I can benefit from the wisdom that is to be found in different places. (Just as I think that not all in Mormonism is harmful, and that I can still get something out of it.) I have read articles and books on Judaism, attended conferences and parties, and learned prayers and songs in Hebrew. One of my favorite prayers is the Kaddish, which is said in memory of the dead. In the liberal synagogue that I have been attending, it is sung in every service to a poignant, heart-rending melody. I am deeply touched each time that I hear it or sing it.
Notwithstanding their funerary connotations, the Aramaic words of the Kaddish do not even mention death. They are simply a sanctification of the Lord's name, and a pledge to submit to His will, whatever the circumstances. The Kaddish is not at all negative in nature, in spite of the emotions that it may stir because of the occasions on which it is said. (It is recited from the day of burial of a loved one and daily for the first eleven months, and finally on the anniversary of the death.) In our days, it is basically used as a mourner's prayer, but in the past it was also recited in religious schools by rabbis and disciples after they studied the Torah. The central theme of the Kaddish is the greatness and majesty of the Lord, Who rules the entire universe and watches over each individual. There is a plead for peace, an expression of faith in Him and in His compassion, and a yearning for the establishment of His kingdom on earth.
As I transcribe it here, I do it in a spirit of respect. It is considered a very holy prayer, and not to be taken lightly.
Yitgadal veyitkadash sheme raba, Amen. Bealma divera
khiroute, veyamlikh malkoute, veyatsmah pourkane, vikarev meshihe.
Behayekhone, ouvyomekhone ouvhaye dekhol beth yisrael, baagala ouvizimane
kariv. Veimrou: Amen.
For some reason, the Kaddish is very meaningful to me. Its beautiful words reflect many of my own feelings and aspirations. Besides, life and death are mysteries that have always fascinated and disturbed me. And symbolically, at this time of my life, I feel that I have been given a chance to be born again--especially since my "coming out" and particularly after I left home last year and was granted a new and exciting beginning under new skies. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity.
Yehe sheme raba mevarakh lealam oul alme almaya.
Yitbarakh, veyishtabah, veyitpaar veyitromam veyitnasse, veyithadar
veyitale veyithalal sheme dekoudsha berikh hou.
Leela mine kol birkhata veshirata toushbehata venehemata daamirane
bealma, veimrou: Amen.
"May the great name of the Lord be glorified and sanctified throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in the House of Israel and among all humankind, speedily and in our days. Say 'Amen.'
May His great name be blessed forever and ever!
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, above and beyond all blessings and hymns, praises and consolations which are uttered in the world. Say 'Amen.'
May there he abundant peace from heaven, and life for us and for all Israel. Say 'Amen'. He who makes peace in His celestial heights, may He bring peace upon us, and upon all Israel. Say 'Amen'."1
To mark the end of my former life of a scared, baggage-filled gay Mormon boy and the beginning of a new journey of fulfillment and discoveries, I wrote a Kaddish-like prayer. And just as the Jewish Kaddish does not mention death, mine will not do it either, but will be a celebration of life instead. In my odyssey as a gay Mormon, I have faced many trials and frustrations, but the joys have by far outnumbered the sorrows. As I have left behind many of the unreasonable constraints of Mormonism (such as its stance against homosexuality, that I thoroughly reject), I have found joy and peace that I simply cannot express. And although I have been discarding many of the tenets of organized religion in general, I have not given up my faith in a loving Father in Heaven. I still believe in Him, love Him and feel grateful for His intervention in my life. I strongly feel that He is continually watching my steps and helping me along the way.
At synagogues, we stand and face Jerusalem to say the Kaddish. And I say mine facing my own "wailing wall", the curved blue walls of my humble attic in the heart of Paris. As in the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, throughout the last twelve months I laid before my blue garret walls my requests and lamentations. These are the same walls that witnessed my distress in so many difficult moments of my French sojourn. But it is also a place of rejoicing and thanksgiving, as I now bury some of the woes of a painful past of choked dreams and missed opportunities. Although there is occasional turmoil in my soul, associated with daily struggles and frustrations, I am mostly at peace now, and I envision a bright, joyful future. With my Kaddish, I am interring my old religious, mental and social hang-ups as I look ahead full of hope and faith.
Before my wailing walls, in my "cuartito azul"--my little blue room, as the melancholic tango that I heard on my first night in Paris described so well--I indeed nurtured some of my first crushes, as well as wept after some of my first disillusions. In this room, I also spent so many lonely hours studying, reading and pondering--some of the most intense moments of my late twenties. Just as I spent most of this time alone, alone I say my Kaddish--although the original one is meant to be recited in public. And just as the Kaddish is recited for a year after someone's death, I say my final Kaddish after having spent one year in my new surroundings, one year since the day that I set foot on the airplane that crossed the Atlantic to bring me to the Old Continent.
As I face my blue walls, I also see my window, which looks out on the golden dome of the Invalides, where Napoleon was laid to rest. As I celebrate life, I am inspired by this remarkable character that, in spite of some debatable actions, led a life out of the ordinary and encourages me to reach my potential. As I gaze upon his shining mausoleum, from the seventh floor of my old Parisian building, I can nurture dreams of greatness, and undaunted by a possible Waterloo, I move on.
As I say my own Kaddish, I have all these images before my eyes. But
I cover the mirrors of the room--as tradition requires in the case of
mourning. There is certainly pain in leaving a life behind and starting
afresh. I do not tear a piece of my clothing, though. But I do rend
old traumas, fears and anguishes. I light a candle in my menorah,
and I let my newly found self-confidence burn bright. I cover my head
to show respect for Him who is on high, and I submit myself to His will,
ever trusting in His tender mercies. There is pain, but definitely there
is much more hope, gratitude and promise:
May the name of the Lord be
exalted in the life that He has graciously granted me according to His
perfect will and loving-kindness. May He continue to accomplish His
all-wise purposes, even when I do not initially comprehend them. And
may it be done with my humble participation, in my surroundings and
in all the world, in my lifetime and forever.
May His name be forever blessed. May His will be forever done. May His voice be forever heard.
May his holy name be extolled and exalted above and beyond all praises. And may His goodness be proclaimed high on the rooftops, boldly from the belfries and from the tips of the everlasting hills.
May it sound in every human ear, mind and heart. May it be felt in the secret chambers of my soul and in all corners of the universe. And may I ever be grateful and aware of the eternal debt that I have
to Him, and strive to thank Him by reaching out to His children, my precious brothers and sisters scattered over all the face of the earth.
May there be heavenly peace for me and for all the world. May it reign in my soul and in the hearts of the entire human family, regardless of nationality, racial origin, social status, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation.
He who makes peace in His celestial heights will make peace bloom bountifully upon me, upon those around me and upon the entire humankind. And this peace will last forever and ever, as the eternal snow of imposing mountains and the ever-flowing streams wrought by His almighty hand.
Note 1. Siddour Taher Libénou, Mouvement Juif Libéral de France,
Paris. 2001. p. 93-95.