The Things They Carried - a d'var Torah for parashat Naso
The new Koren Talmud Bavli

A rabbi and a nun walk into a bar

It ought to be -- it probably is! -- the opening line of a joke: a rabbi and a nun walk into a bar...

Okay, it isn't a bar; it's a restaurant, though I do have a beer. (Who could resist a brew named Rapscallion Blessing?) And we begin our wanderings hours earlier, at Thorne's marketplace, where Drew -- happily chatting with everyone in the mall as he shows off his small wooden robot and his box of raisins -- accepts the presence of mommy's friend in the grey Buddhist nun's robes without blinking.

All afternoon we roam Northampton: from Look Park (an ice cream despite the chill, dashing about from the blue playground to the red one and back again), to Cup and Top in Florence (tea for the grown-ups, a snack for the toddler, a small indoor slide and assortment of toys, and surely every other toddler family in town), to my in-laws' apartment (where Drew demonstrates both his love of Thomas the Tank Engine and his skill at knocking down towers of blocks.) In between entertaining Drew we snatch snippets of conversation. Parents and parenting. The monastic life and how it both is and isn't similar to my householder existence. Clothing as religious signifier.

And then, thanks to my sister-in-law's willingness to babysit, we nip out to the aforementioned restaurant, where there is glorious food and even more glorious uninterrupted grown-up conversation. About what it's like to weave the words of a second language into one's own -- words for prayer or for practice, words for ideas which aren't neatly expressed in the tongue we share. About gender and the rabbinate, gender and the monastic life. About life and travel, New England and Korea, Hebrew and Tibetan, silence and chanting.

We could have talked all night. (Well: more properly, all morning -- we're neither of us night owls anymore, not given Seon Joon's responsibilities to her temple family and mine to my congregation and toddler and spouse.) As it is, we savor every moment we are given, and we part with a hug and a promise.

There is something incalculably precious about friendship between people committed to different spiritual paths. The glimmering shift between one set of lenses and the other: this is how we do it, and oh, that's how you do it, how wonderful! The same and not the same. We speak in terms of God (though, as I quipped last night quoting my beloved teacher, "the God you don't believe in, I don't believe in either") and you speak in terms of Buddha. Before meals I bless this way, and you bless that way. The differences sparkle because they're set against so very much common ground.

Equally precious, I think, is friendship cultivated over distance and time. First via blog and email. Then in person. Then via blog and email. Then via paper letters, envelopes adorned with foreign stamps and creased from long travel. Then via blog and email again. Then by -- well, walking into that proverbial bar.

Having had the thought, I can't help wondering whether this actually is an extant joke. A quick googling reveals that there are several jokes which begin "a rabbi, a priest, and a nun walk into a bar..." No offense intended to our brothers on our various spiritual paths, but we can have a good time on our own, thank you kindly. And we do. We really do.


I've linked to this before, but it bears rereading: Seon Joon's post Bhikkuni Ordination, April 3, 2012.