If you are a Harry Potter lover who hasn’t been listening to the “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” podcast, just stop reading right now and go listen. I guarantee you will be hooked in the first ten minutes.
This podcast, created by two Harvard Divinity School grads named Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile, reads Harry Potter in much the way you would a traditional sacred text, by taking apart every detail of the story and trying to understand it in new ways. Now, you might not think that podcast about Harry Potter, that often employs Christian spiritual practices, has anything to do with Jewish parenting, but I have found four ways that this podcast speaks to me as a parent, as a Jew and as a Jewish parent.
It reminds us that anything can be sacred.
“Harry Potter” is a series of books that I return to time and time again, always able to notice and learn something new when I read them. But the practices outlined in this podcast remind me that something doesn’t have to be labeled a “sacred text” to be one. I often find myself annoyed at people who tell you to savor every moment while your infant is keeping you up all night or your four-year-old is rejecting everything you offer for dinner, but there is something to the idea that, even in the mundane moments, you can find something sacred if you are willing to look. Listening to this podcast often reminds me to remember the sacredness of parenting, even if every moment doesn’t feel that way.
It helps us to pull values out of seemingly mundane situations
Every week, the podcast reads one chapter of the books through a theme. They explore issues of curiosity and jealously, of love, loyalty and mercy. In one episode, the hosts talked about the fact that they choose the theme before they actually read the chapter and that by focusing on that theme while they prepare, they see new connections and ideas. As parents, we sometimes get stuck in one narrative about a child or a situation. By consciously pulling out a different value, we can see another side to every story, and to every person. By training ourselves in this practice, we might be able to begin to understand the child who constantly asks why, why, why, why, why as curious instead of annoying and where that curiosity can take us.
It provides a new lens for thinking about an old thing
One of the most important things we do as Jews is to approach our ancient text with modern eyes. Throughout all time, Jews have looked at the writings of their predecessors and tried to understand them in light of the world in which they are now living. In this podcast, Casper and Vanessa help each of us use our values to make sense of Harry Potter and the world in which we live, in much the same way that I, as a parent, try to use ancient Jewish values to help my children make sense of their world. Reading “Harry Potter” in this way has provided me with deeper and more interesting insights into the narrative. It reminds us not to get stuck in the way we have always done things.
Everything has moments of blessing inside of it
At the end of the podcast, Casper and Vanessa take turns blessing one of the characters, and it is rarely the person you think they are going to bless. Vanessa has given beautiful blessings to Ginny Wesley for her strength and love for Harry, and Casper has even blessed Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy, in recognition of the fact that no one is totally a villain. They remind us that, even in challenging moments, we can find blessings in those around us. Judaism teaches: Who is wise? One who learns from everyone. Casper and Vanessa’s practice of blessing major and minor characters reminds us of this adage.