My Jewish friends have a mezuzah on the right side of the doorframes of their homes. The small container on the doorpost contains passages from the Sh’ma or V’ahavta, the central affirmation of Jewish faith. Mezuzot contain parchment inside the container with the words from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21. On the outside of many mezuzah is the word, Shaddai, a name for G-d. The mezuzah indicates that this is a Jewish home, and that the inhabitants are protected, whether they are inside the home, or outside of it.

While posting a mezuzah is a uniquely Jewish tradition, I think other people can learn from the practice. The mezuzah silently signifies identity to the outside world. It reaffirms the core teachings of faith. It calls us to remember. The first passage of the mezuzah reads in this way:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

While there are many messages contained in this passage, I am attracted most by the edict to remember. The Sh’ma reminds us to approach God with love. The scripture reminds us that our relationship with God is not just words, but something we should keep in our hearts. The verse reminds us to remember our faith. I hear the commandments to teach and talk about and write about and walk about faith as a reminder that our faith should permeate all parts of our lives. Our faith is not something we express only on holy days. Rather our faith should become a part of who we are.

Memory is a central theme in this section of Deuteronomy. For the chapters following this passage, God reminds the ancient Israelites that they must remember their relationship with God. The mezuzah is one of several concrete things that the ancient Israelites (and contemporary Jewish people) are asked to do to remember God. There appears to be a strong connection between rituals and holding God in our hearts.

This speaks strongly to me as someone who lives with a depressive condition. On the one hand, memory is not to be trusted. Depression can bend and twist my mind so that I can only remember what is bad. I remember all the griefs and pains of my life. I remember them with full force. When I am depressed, I cannot remember what it feels like to feel good. My only access to happiness is as dim as watching a slide show of someone else’s childhood activities.

In those moments, I cannot trust my memory. I cannot remember joy. I cannot remember love. I cannot feel the goodness of God. I have to search for something deeper than memory.

And yet it is when my own sense of history is least reliable, that I need to remember who I am. Even when . . . especially when, I can’t feel it.

So I write it down. I write down the things that I can’t remember. For years, I kept a folded note card in my wallet with a couple sentences about who I am. It had things on it like this:

  • I am a teacher.
  • I am a minister.
  • I am a friend.
  • I am loved by many.
  • I am living my grandparents’ dreams.
  • I am called by God.

my doorpost

When I found myself having bouts of anxiety, I’d slip into a restroom or corner, and pull out my card and read it to myself. Some nights, I read it before going to bed, stuffing the card under the pillow as I fell asleep. The card was my personal doorpost. It was the place where I wrote down the things I believed. Until I could hold them in my heart, I read them off this card.

There are many psychological and spiritual traditions that recommend affirmations. Some individuals and communities use affirmations to maintain a positive outlook on self and the world. Others believe that the connection between our beliefs and our experiences is so close, that affirmations can change what occurs in the world around us. At their best, affirmations help us to live into being our highest selves.

Although they sound like affirmations, I’ve rarely thought of the words on my card in that way. These sentences were my lifelines. They were the things I held onto when I couldn’t trust my mind, my heart or my powers of recall. These words helped me connect to my deepest self. They got me to the one thing that was deeper than the power of memory.

Some people call this faith. Other people call it truth. Some people call it ritual.

For me, the note card became the indication of my humanity. It reminded me of my connection to people and beings greater than myself. It kept me on the safe side of a dangerous abyss. It helped me to love myself. These are the things I think God wants me to know. Not just in depressions, but in every part of who I am.

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