Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Love and Loose Threads

This is the second of The Bar Mitzvah Writings-- the poems I wrote to introduce each section of the Shabbat morning service, to honor my son for his Bar Mitzvah.  

For me, this section, the Sh'ma and its blessings, is all about sound, the calling out and the coming together, declaring and rejoicing: a rich jumble of noise that goes up and out, higher and sweeter and made more pure with every voice that is added.  I heard someone ask once, during Torah study, why do we come together as a community to pray? Is there a difference in that than in praying on one's own.  The only answer that made sense to me was all about sound and harmony: when I sing with others, there is a richness and a depth that is impossible when I sing by myself.  There can be beauty, but there is no harmony.  I sing-- I pray-- with others, to hear all the notes that can make a joyous noise.

This is the song I hear, all the notes rising and falling, a transcendent arc bordered by love and loose threads...

We call to one another
Into the quiet
Into the burgeoning clamor of the day
We call
To one another
To come together

We listen
     We hear
          We declare

That there is Oneness in God
And majesty
And glory
When we call
When we hear

When we love.
And love we must 

Because we are bound--
To God
To one another
By loose threads and ancient words
By truth
And faith
And freedom

By love.
Bound by love for
Beloved of
In an endless spiral,
A double helix
That ends (begins) on the shores of a distant Sea

Thursday, June 21, 2012

the Light of It

Roots so deep

Grasping and gripping
Drinking deeply
Spreading widely
Down and down
Back farther than imagination
Deeper and Deeper
Into the heart of it
The soul of it
And farther still
Across oceans
And deserts
And mountains
A mountain
Yes: that mountain
That trembled and quaked
And stood over us
Through thunder and darkness
Wind-whipped darkness
Through parched and sere darkness
Under that mountain
Yes: that mountain
That holy, lonely mountain
With the multitudes under it
And the one upon it
And the gift
The obligation
and commandment
And in that darkness
A gift
(An obligation)
(A commandment)
Our light
Our lives
From one to another
To another and
Another still
Deeper than mountains
Stronger than trees
Farther than imagination
To the heart of it
The soul of it
The light of it

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


“You have my permission,” he said, “to write about the thing that scares you most. Seven hundred fifty words.  Go.”

Yeah, right.  As if I need permission.  Ha.  I can write about anything.  Don’t need anyone to tell me what or when to write.  Anything I want.  Yup.  Even scary stuff.  Even the stuff that knots my stomach and makes my fingertips tingle.  The stuff that I would prefer to avoid— or at least lock up tight in a tiny box buried waaaay deep back in some cobwebbed and little used corner of my head.  I could write about that.  If I wanted.
Permission?  Ha!
And please– pay no attention to that whisper you might hear, skittering and wild between my ears, the one asking why I’m not writing about that scary stuff, why I’m wasting precious time and space typing all this introductory nonsense, instead of the important, vulnerable stuff that I am so cleverly avoiding.
And I would continue to avoid it, because, really— who wants to dredge up that mess, who wants to go slogging through that swamp, lifting up all those slimy rocks to find the things that go bump in my personal night?  Well, at least they go bump in my head, and maybe squeeze my heart in a slightly alarming way.  But the cost of avoidance, I’ve learned (the hard way, of course) is a helluva lot more painful, more breathtaking (and I don’t mean that in a good way), more constricting than the fear itself.
Trust me on this one.
I know all this— know it, and yet my first instinct, every time I come face to face with my personal demons, every time that fear begins to slither around my head and my heart — I want to run and hide and ignore it long enough until it just goes away, disappearing into the neverwhen where all my fears have migrated.   Trust me on this; I know the drill.  
Except they don’t.  They don’t migrate.  They do not dissipate or fade or diminish, no matter how much I wish it to be so.  Far from scattering into the mist, my fears morph and shift and grow and grow and grow.  The more I run, the more they drive me.  In whatever boxes I’ve buried them, however deeply I’ve hidden them, they begin to fester and ooze and leak— never forthrightly, but sideways and slanted, and suddenly, my world becomes a funhouse mirror, distorted, disjointed, twisted.
For all that I know that the easier, softer way to exorcize my personal demons is to talk, to write, to claim them as my own, I cannot shake the conviction that were I to name them, were I to bring them into the light of day, far from banishing them to the neverwhen, I would, instead, be giving them power and making them real.  There is always the possibility (slight, I’m sure, but more than real nonetheless) that they are not, that the scary stuff is just a figment of my imagination.  Why give those fears form and substance?  Because if they’re real, if that scary stuff is as powerful as I imagine it, it will devour me, swallow me whole, and I will disappear forever into that black hole of neverwhen.
So sometimes, I need permission.   I need to be reminded that I am tilting at windmills, solitary and resolute and fighting the good fight (even if I have imagined my foe so much more powerful than it really is) (even if my foe is me).  I need to know that I am not lying, broken and bested, at the feet of the Knight of Mirrors, that the scary stuff is just that: scary stuff that only has the power over me that I give it.
And so, remembering, I will write the scary stuff.  I will delve into those hidden places.  And my fears, once magnified and threatening and insatiably hungry, will shrink and shrivel and be powerless before me.  For today, I have been given permission, have given myself permission, to brave the scary stuff and come out the other side, unscathed (mostly) and free.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shabbat, song and prayer and light

This has been a long week. Lately, they all seem long.

The days push and pull at me, demanding my attention, my devotion, my energy.  At the end of the day, when darkness gathers in small corners and the noise of the day skitters at the edge of consciousness, I lay, exhausted but wired, willing my mind to calm, to rest, to slow down (please God! let it slow down) so I can sleep. But I don't.  I court sleep like a coy lover.  It is elusive, teasing me with a promise of rest, only to flee at the last possible second, leaving me tangled in sweat-dampened sheets.

Again and again, I repeat this dance, and eventually I sleep. For a couple of hours, I am at rest.  But the alarm rings too early, its shrill buzz shattering the morning quiet. I am awake, even as my cramped fingers scritch across my nightstand in search of the snooze button on my alarm, which screeches, incessant and raucous and deafening.  I am awake, mostly.  I drift on a sea of not-quite: not morning quite yet, but no longer night; neither asleep nor awake, but aware.  I just need a few more minutes, hours, days.  Please.

And just as suddenly as the days tumble and race through the week, barreling (seemingly) into one another, it is Shabbat: timeless and in-between, outside and separate.  Suddenly, I can breathe. I am at rest.

I love this time of year. I sit in the sanctuary on Friday night, my skin still buzzing with the noise of the week, my head in a million different places everywhere at once, and I watch the light outside the window as it ushers in Shabbat.  I cannot see the sun, only the light as it changes, mellows and deepens. The wild grasses are tipped in gold and a single tree, dusty green and brown, gathers shadows under a darkening sky, a slow study in purple and grey and black.  The sky goes from the pale blue of a summer day to a luminous cerulean blue.

Shabbat is here at last, the beautiful bride, dancing in from the fields just as surely as the Kabbalists rejoiced a few hundred years ago.  It is a celebration, a promise in song and prayer and light.  Is it the light of creation?  Some have argued it is, that the light of Shabbat is so pure, so perfect, it is the remembrance of creation that shines on us for a brief and timeless time.  I don't know; I would like to believe it, and so I do.  

My heart is not as calcified, as protected as it once was, when I was angry with God and my only prayer was a quick "forget you." I declared my disbelief in God to any who would listen, and to many who wouldn't.  What I didn't share was my secret belief that it was God who didn't believe in me.  It has softened, my heart; it is not quite so protected these days.  God and I are pretty tight, I think.  And so, with all my weary heart, I take comfort that Shabbat is a gift, a promise from God: we can rest, we can breathe.  We step outside of time, to celebrate, to study, to renew, to listen, to love, to find the sacred, remember the holy.

And for this brief and timeless time, I find rest, I find God, I find peace.

Shabbat Shalom.