Monday, December 30, 2013

The Music of God (Part One)

When I was born -- or something near enough to that so that it doesn't matter-- I sang. I can't remember a time I didn't sing. Spiders. Buses. Bonnie on the ocean harmonized with Christmas carols and Hinei Mah Tov. I drank it in and sang it out-- every note, every key, every word.

Even then, I knew that when I sang, I was free. Or freed. Something. I felt light and joy, and I loved how people would stop when I sang, and watch me, in wonder or something close to happiness. And when I was finished, when the song was done, invariably, they would coo and smile and tell me how beautifully I sang.

And in that exact moment, I knew that I was beautiful. I knew that I was loved. Just for that instant, even as my face grew pink and warm, and my toes curled with their compliments, and I felt like squirming under their attention, in that instant I knew that I could sing and it was good.

I don't remember a time I didn't sing. From first grade junior choir at synagogue to the middle school chorus and my high school stage (with summer theater camp weaving all in and through those years), name a musical and I was probably in it. Name a song arranged in four part choral harmony, and I sang it: first soprano, reaching flawlessly all the way up to F above high C. And oh-- it was all amazingly good! For the space of that performance, and the handful or two of minutes while the applause lasted and the congratulations echoed off the auditorium walls, it was good and I was loved and God was near.

And when I was 18 or 20 or some other difficult and existentially angsty age, I decided I would never sing again. There were a thousand reasons for my declaration, every one of them reasonable,  well thought out. 

They were all lies, of course.

I didn't sing-- refused to sing-- because I was angry--with the world, my life, my family. And God. Oh, I was especially angry with God! And what I wasn't angry with, I was afraid of-- everybody, everything. Singing was the one thing-- the only thing-- that allowed me to step outside my own head and breathe, really breathe, and feel the presence and comfort and absoluteness of God. In a world where the ground was constantly shifting, where people loved you and told you lies, where less-than and lost were my constant companions, there was God. And one day, at aome impossibly vulnerable, hormonal age, I crawled outside the confines of my head, and was met with emptiness.

Where once there was God, now was a howling, empty loneliness, coupled with the absolute conviction that I was alone and God had gone. Somewhere. Anywhere. Certainly gone from me. I thrummed like a taut wire: abandoned by God and fairly buzzing with tension in the face of my inability to fit inside my own skin or into the steady cadence of life the rest of the world seemed to find so easily.

I tried. I tried to find God, to fill that gaping open space. For a bunch of years, I searched, but eventually, I couldn't bear the thought of my abandonment. A few years into that howling emptiness, so vulnerable and so desperately raw, my twisted logic led me to the only possible conclusion that made sense: having been rejected by God, I therefore rejected the one thing that felt like holiness, the one thing that lifted me to sacred. I'll show You, I declared into the silence that suddenly filled me: I will not sing. Instead, it was so much easier, so much more right, to crawl inside a bottle and hide there for a small space of eternity and my own personalized tour of hell. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

So, for the next couple of decades, I didn't. and I did.

For the next couple of decades, I did not sing. For the next couple of decades, I hid inside a bottle of whatever was handy, as long as it burned like liquid oblivion going down, and made me believe, if even for 37 seconds, that I was not alone in the universe, and the voices in my head stopped whispering their siren song of self-destruction.

For the next couple of decades, I yearned for the connection I had once found in singing. And for the next couple of decades, I denied myself the grace of it, with ever sip, every glass, every hangover. There was a lot of denial.

For more than twenty years, I did not sing. And then I got sober.

I got sober, and they told me, all those happy, shiny people who filled the smoky rooms and the cracked leather couches and the gunmetal folding chairs that had seen better decades, let alone better days-- they told me to find God.

I didn't need to find God. Hell, I knew exactly where I'd left Him. Her. The Deity. I hate the grammar of the Divine. God was locked away in a private little room, watching. Watching everything through a window that looked out onto the world far, infinitesimally far away. God's face was the face of Compassion itself-- filled with kindness and light and love. And God wept, as He watched, at the evil and cruelty and waste and sadness that filled the earth, day in and day out, world without end, amen.

God wept, and I saw that Her hands were bound with barbed wire, powerless to act, impotent in the face of a desperately broken world aand desperately broken people. What good was God, if God could only watch, and weep?

I may have known (unequivocally) exactly where God was hiding, but I searched anyway. They told me to, those happy, shiny, sober people. And they had something I didn't have, something I desperately wanted: they had joy. They had happy. They sat comfortably in their own skins, didn't seem to want to crawl out of it all the time, into a hole or the dark or... away. And I wanted that. all of it. I wanted to be made whole, to fit, to be forgiven. So if the price of all that was to seek God-- seek God I would, in twelve step meetings and self help books, spiritual guides and therapy. I would practice willingness,  because they said it was the next right thing to do.

I managed to make a friend at a meeting; turns out we had more than trying to stay sober a day at a time in common. He was edgy, sarcastic, broken, looking for redemption and God, and he was Jewish. My lucky day.  He tended to go temple-hopping on Saturday mornings and invited me to hop along. Not every Saturday, but every so often, I'd hop along with him, and look for God in God's own house.

I stumbled through the prayers. I didn't remember the choreography or the Hebrew. I was convinced that I didn't fit, didn't belong. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and felt gauche and ungainly. I had that odd and unsettling, questioning, searching, just-at-the-tip-of-my-out-of-reach-almost-discovery-of-I-wish-I-knew-or-maybe-I-hope-I-don't-discover sensation of being closerthanthis to an answer kind of thing. But it was elusive and missing, an almost-whisper of grace.

And then one Saturday morning, the choir sang.

From above me and behind me, a host (I swear it was a host, not just a handful or two of earnest choristers) a host of heavenly voices filled the sanctuary with this glorious, transcendent sound, a rising arc of prayer and joy. It was rich and full and resonant. I could hear in it, in every note, every chord that stretched from one note into a thousand (I swear it was a thousand) before tumbling back-- like water, or laughter-- into a single note again, and there was God: unshackled, unbound, present in a way that took my breath away.

And I knew -- knew-- that everyone around me felt it. They got it-- they were in it and of it and surrounded by it. They were whole and filled and it was all meant for them. This was the day that God had made, and they were welcomed into the miracle of that moment. I could feel their faith, their acceptance-- of God, of themselves, of the world around them -- radiating outwards, a parallel arc to this music of God.

I stood transfixed. I felt the power of that faith, the grace and majesty of it. I wanted it, every drop, every heartbeat, every breath. I could feel the hunger in me build, a surge of want and need. I stood at the jumping off place, poised and motionless at the gate. A step. All I needed was a single step through, and I would find it, all of it, all my yearning answered-- faith, redemption, forgiveness. God. 

And I couldn't.  I couldn't step or leap or even move. I could only stand, rooted, outside of that glorious, joyous song, knowing that there was faith and forgiveness and God. For them-- all of them, the world entire. But not for me.

I stood, and I wept, and I did not sing, knowing that my fear was stronger than any faith, louder than any music, vaster and more complete than God.

I was silent, and I knew that my silence would last forever.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Holy Thing

What a fearful
What a holy
What an achingly beautiful thing--
To love.

There is no falling in.
It is an uprising,
A rebellion of breathtaking

We are lifted
And yet we
And yet again,
In a giddy
And heart-starting

We love,
even as we fall,
and are pulled upwards
Outwards beyond the edges of

And we love.

God, we love!
In fearful--
We love.

And then, let go.

and sere,
we love
and let go,
Tumbling inwards,
Suddenly weighted
with tattered edges.

What was love
and aching beauty
and holy holy holy--

What was love
We let it

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Please God. Just...

I am not through,
or even close to being finished.

There are still stories to be told,
and paths to wander,
and fights yet to have,
loud and angry
and barely, almost lucid
for the passion of it all--
not the cold and quiet kind.

There's enough time--
more than enough time--
For cold and quiet.

For now,
I want to shout in the heat of the day,
under the light of the sun
or the soft silver shimmer of moon,
And laugh,
And croon
And whisper too loudly.

I need more,
Don't you see?
A year--
A day--
A minute--
Just wait
For one more second.
I have not quite finished
saying I love you.
I am not quite done
saying good bye.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Unbroken enough

My refrigerator is broken. A year ago, I reported on its state of disrepair. And now, well, it's still kinda broken. I called the repair guy way back when, who came out, fiddled around for a minute or ten, turned the temperature dial inside a notch or two and charged me a bazillion dollars.

I swear I had fiddled with that dial all on my own. Apparently, I have no patience and the refrigerator does not respond instantaneously. And now, it's (apparently) still not entirely repaired. These days, it's runnning a little too cold. Sometimes, the spinach devolops a few ice crystals and the strawberries are a tiny bit frozen. I will say, everything keeps a little lomger, which is good.

All that said, I am afraid to fiddle with the stupid (read: malevolent and capricious) dial again. I am not quite sure that my refrigerator will not stick out its metaphorical tongue at me and give up the ghost. So, I put up with a mostly unbroken refrigerator and let the vinaigrette breathe a bit before dressing my salad.

Mostly unbroken, just like, well-- me.

Of good God. Did I just write that?  Oh lord; I do believe I did.

*waits a minute, one eye shut, the other squinting upward, ready for the bolt of lightening from above*

*waits another minute, ready for the earth to open up and swallow me whole*

*breathes again*
*stands up straight*

Yup. Me. Mostly unbroken.

Who'd'a thunk it?

It feels as if I have spent most of  life feeling broken. Mostly broken. Shattered at times. Damaged and disconnected and less than. I have been haunted by demons and the ghosts in my head, their voices whispering lies and howling contempt.

I have believed every single one of them.

I spent a fair amount of time trying to drown them out. I hid inside a bottle for a couple of decades, and, even in the midst of my drinking, when that didn't work (because it never worked, not once) I grasped other straws of self destriction. Pick one. Any one. It didn't matter. I'd use anything I could find, any easy, path-of-least resistance way that would shut those voices up, lock them away. Fix me. Make me whole.

It never worked. Ever.  All it did was feed those demons, who tore at me ceaselessly, who broke me and battered me and roared in their triumph.

I am grateful beyond belief for my sobriety.

I spent way too much time listening for those seductive whispers, straining to hear the pale voices of brokenness and damage. Even sober. Even sober, I was so used to being broken, had learned the lesson of their lies all too well.  It was so much easier to believe in my brokenness.

But I was released! I was freed from that tiny universe of one, a locked box prison that kept out light and hope. Suddenly, I could move-- leap and twirl and dance. And there was you, every single one of you, who taught me how to live a day at a time (an hour, a breath, a heartbeat at a time).

There was life, full and vibrant and messy and painful, joyous and boring and profound. And love; God, there was love! And hope. After a lifetime of numbness, there was hope at last.

Still, even then, sober and learning and feeling after an eternity of numbness and ice, still I carried my brokenness with me, and I listened for the voices only I could hear. It was getting harder to do, though. The strain was getting wearisome; the shattered and broken bits of me that I clung to were becoming unbearably heavy. I longed to put them all down. Mostly. In theory. I am stubborn and crave the comfort I find in the familiar. But I could try, maybe. I could trust-- that I could be made whole, even a little bit at a time. A day, an hour, a breath, a heartbeat. I could believe, maybe just enough, that there was hope and grace, even for me.

Life is messy beyond belief, and full. It holds everything-- absolutely everything. I am humbled by its bounties, graced by its blessings. It is not all good, mind you, not all sunshine and roses. There is death and sadness, loss, disappointment. It is, after all, life.

And maybe, just maybe, not all at once, but little by little, I will lay my brokenness down. I will let those pieces fall by the wayside, slipping through my fingers and I will not feel their loss like a sharp absence. Perhaps I will let them lay where they fall, and I will walk on, lighter. Less broken by one (and then another and another), so that one day, one glorious day, filled to overflowing with gratitude and blessings, on that unimaginable day, I would realize, in the fullness of life--

I am, mostly, unbroken. I am forever, grateful.

Merry Thanksgiving to all. May we all find healing and grace to lay down our own bits of brokeness. Blessings of light and love, enough to fill the world. Thank you, God, for the gift of wonder and joy, and the miracle of hope.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Unseen Edges

I do not feel
My body.
That is--
The outlines of it,
or the inroads
That thread through me
From somewhere unseen
To the edges that end
Beyond some internal event horizon.

There is wind, though,
That dances along my skin.

I do not feel
My body.
I do not feel
The suddenness of ice
That slips upwards,
Pools inwards,
In an absolute zero of fear.
I do not feel
The scattered grit of despair
and grief,
The corrosive grinding against
My heart
that leaches away light
And hope.
I do not feel.

I will not.

There is wind, though,
That dances along my skin.

I do not feel
I will not feel
my body.
There is no contraction,
No breathlessness,
No searing absence
Nor pulsing,
tidal loss.

There is wind,though,
That dances along my skin,
Still carrying the scent
Of you.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I am terrified of ladders.
It is not the going up--
the ascent,
the rickety step up
on tiny see-through slats,
slats you can see through from here
to next Tuesday,
to Heaven and back.
I am not interested in
the view from Heaven.

I am not interested in the view from Tuesday.
Today is struggle enough.

It is not the up-ended feeling
of ungainly-
uncertain ascent,
nor the straight-edged precision
of the death-gripped
tentative step
with its trickster promise of
and solid ground to come.

Down is done backwards
(done sometimes in heels),
and that last step is more question than answer.

I am terrified of ladders
and their rickety
traveling Up,
with no rest before
A constant struggle
to balance
against the ceaseless flow
of feathers and

infinitely easier--
to wrestle with the ground
and Myself.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Night of Fire and Glass - for Kristalnacht

Eighty years ago, the Nazis marched through the streets of Germany and Austria, attacking Jews, smashing windows of Jewish-owned stores, destroying synagogues, ransacking homes and hospitals, burning books and Torahs.  For two days, Jews were terrorized, beaten and arrested and sent to concentration camps while the government looked on.  When it was over, 91 people had been murdered, 30,000 had been arrested and sent to camps, more than 1000 synagogues had been burned and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses had been destroyed.  After two days of rioting, the Jewish community was fined $1 billion reichsmarks.

How can we possibly speak of such unspeakable horrors, of such hatred and violence and inhumanity, that happened so long ago?  How can we possibly find the words?

How can we not?

Two weeks ago, on Saturday morning near the end of October, 11 Jews went to synagogue to pray, to come together as a community, to celebrate Shabbat. They were murdered, gunned down by a man who would have been very much at home during the horrors of Kristalnacht.

We find the words because we must., Because even eighty years later - eighty - the rage and hatred rise up and burn down everything in it's path. We find the words, we tell the story, and we remember.

We do, because this must never happen again, to anyone, to any people, in any land.  We find the words, and so we say: amen

Words for Kristalnacht
09-10 November 1938

Stars littered the ground
Crystal fire
Shards of ice

The smoke of a thousand thousand years
Coiling upwards, twisted
With the memory of a People
Chosen once in light
Chosen again
In darkness
In ashes and in blood

Pounding rhythms shout out
Felt through their soles 
Driving forward, driving onward
Faster and faster and faster, and pulled forward
Pulled ever onward
In a rush, at a run, rippling in shadow
It invades your blood,
That rhythm,
That pulse,
That pull and push
That wraps ‘round your heart
In pounding and pulsing rhythms
That cradle your source
Your soul

The darkness swallows the cries
Of a thousand thousand lights
A thousand thousand years
A thousand thousand sighs
Of love
Of hope
Of God

Leaving only broken glass
And crystal fire
And glistening stars to lead us

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Afternoon Call to Prayer

There is a blurred and dotted line
That separates the world
And time,
And me from
I stand on one side
not knowing
that I wait to cross,
that I yearn to hear,
that I long to be called.
But the light changes,
And the world slows,
And sun and moon and stars
Dance together,
And I cross--
We cross
that dotted line together.
We are called--
One and one and all of us together,
In the changing of the light,
And together we pray.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Morning Call to Prayer

I carry my dreams with me
Into the pale and quiet of morning
I carry the sound of coffee
And the smell of sleep-warmed sheets,
Tumbled, then
I carry
Birdsong and traffic noise
And distraction
Into the pale and clamoring morning.
I carry bright dreams and sharp-edged rush,
And I lay them down-
All down-
In that breath,
That narrow space
That separates me from
That holds the voice of holiness
And calls me to prayer.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Evening Call to Prayer

What does it sound like when we are called to pray? What does it feel like, taste like, look like? Does it change , that call, over the arc of th day?

A dear friend asked that I write something -- three somethings, actually -- about what it's like, being called to prayer. Here's the call I hear in the evening, slow and sonorous and deep blue shading to black.

I heard the thunder,
Smelled the gathering ozone
And wind.
And I heard the crackle of fire
That danced,
A flickerflame of heat
And light.
And I heard the trembling earth
That rolled,
Before it settled again,
Into its infinite rhythms
Of slow and time.
I heard a psalm --
A hymn to God
In the thunder,
In the fire
In the pitch of the earth.
And into the quiet that bordered
the very edges of that psalm,
I heard stillness,
A voice that whispered to me,
that sang a benediction to me,
that called me to pray.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Filled enough, with a life of breathtaking everything


Excuse me, but, uh, this is not the life I ordered.

Not even close. Not by a long shot.

As a kid, there was the vision of the Astronaut Life. The Broadway Mega-Star Life (with a side order of Rock Star, although I'm not sure which was the real expectation and which the fall back). There was a brief (though infinitely more serious) flirtation with Rabbi, Writer, World-Shaper and Doctor (of philosophy, not of medicine). Teacher was up there, too.

And those were just the professions. There was also the Wife-and-Mommy Life (in that order; I'm kinda old school that way). That one wove its way in and under and through all the rest-- International Jet Setter; Nobel Peace Prize winner; Solver-of-All-Problems-and-Healer-of-All-Hurts.

And through it all, in every dream and desire and expectation-- Happy. Loved and loving. Sitting comfortably in my own skin, sure and confident.

Somewhere along the way, my life took a left turn. And then a right. And then a few squiggly hairpin turns that curved in on themselves until they teetered on the edge of the scary mountain pass that had no guardrails or pavement. And then the road disappeared altogether, into the swampy underbrush (and yes, I do realize I'm mixing metaphors here, or at least describing a n impossible geography that can exist only in my head; I'm okay with that).

My life is infinitely messier than my expectations.

I find that the disconnect between my expectations and the reality that is my life feels somewhat akin to that steady, thrumming drone that gets just under your skin, that makes me buzz and my thoughts crackle. It is the dissonance that I feel, that I almost hear. It makes me crazy,  this peripheral insistence of disquiet.

For decades, I would view my life out of the corner of my eye, willing it to fit the mold of my expectation. Willing, scheming, manipulating-- some weird and twisted Machiavellian plot, I was determined to make the square peg of my reality fit into the round hole of my expectation. Or something like that: some distorted and disproportionate plan to smooth over the cracks that spider-webbed across my universe of one.

Have I mentioned my flair for the dramatic?

God, but I'm exhausted.

I am tired to the bone, and I have missed so much of my life! I have been focused on some Siren call, urging me ever onward to fix and manage the life I have-- the one I wake up with every morning, that is lumpy and tangled and dull and lonely and fine, really fine, and every once in a while, filled with aching beauty and breathtaking wonder. And yet, I will pass that one over in a heartbeat, and trample it in my eagerness to make it happen: the right life, the chosen life, the better life.

You know, the life that would make me happy.

If only you would --

If only I could --

If only everything would just --. 

I'd be happy then. Wouldn't I?

And the lesson learned, again and again (or, not learned exactly, so that I could move on to different things, but at least a lesson experienced, again, and yet again): it never works, this attempt to turn fantasy into reality. All effort to the contrary (and oh! I expend a monstrous amount of effort in this impotent pursuit!), I just get more empty, starving on a heaping serving of subtraction stew. The more I take, the more I pound, the more I want, the greater the disconnect grows.

Here's the strangest thing of all, though: there is grace, even for me, even in this. There is hope. I have felt it, sipped at its intoxicating sweetness and relished its exquisite simplicity. Acceptance. That's the answer. Really: just show up and let it be. Life will happen, in all its glory. And I will be there, not out of the corner of my eye, not as some third rate puppet master , but as me, present and alive. 

What an awesome and simple and excruciatingly difficult thing that is!

The cynic in me wants to sneer-- that's not simple, that's naive and dangerous. Why, anything might happen!

Well, yes, anything might happen, and often does. 

And so I come full circle, and am reminded, as I so often am: this is the lesson. Let go. Let be. Let life happen, be filled with wonder and boredom and sadness and laughter and disappointment and hope. There are a thousand things and ten thousand more that can happen, that can fill you -- but you will be filled. Filled and full, and your life, at last, will be enough.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


No-- really:
Can you hear it?
That thrum,
That vibration--
Up from your feet,
Through your leather-soled feet,
It moves,
Filling you
And buzzing up
And building
Till you want to burst
With breath
And life.
It moves in the drone of traffic noise
And birdsong,
And wind that scrapes against
Leaves the color of heartbreak gold.
And the air smells of cold
And wood smoke.
Can you hear it?
All of it?
It's fast and slow together--
And tender as love,
And driving
A moving, pounding
Syncopated fifth
That gathers you in
And you're part of it--
All of it--
A single note
A holy, sacred note
that rises,
Like breath
That is the voice of God,
That starts like a thrum,
Like a drone,
And a buzz,
And so filled with glory
And joy
And bursts,
Uncontained and fierce--
A single note
Of gathered sound
And God.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Like Dust and Heat

Walk with me, he said.
Walk with me in the quiet of the mountain
and we will find God.

How will we know when we find God?

God smells like rope and iron --
Sharp --
Like blood,
said my father.
And God sounds like
the absence of rain,
Like dust and heat
that ripples across
this narrow road.
God tastes like thunder,
and the bleating of a brass horn
Tangled in a thicket.

That's how we'll know God,
he said.

And so we walked,
my father and I,
on a path bordered by sunlit green
flecked with gold.
The dust rose to bathe our feet
in the dry air
that shimmered and rippled
Without a sound.

I miss the rains,
And the taste of thunder.

Walk with me,
my father said,
and we will find God
And perhaps, each other.
And he took my hand
As we walked up the mountain.

His hand felt like home to me,
Like heat
and light.
Like love.

And he laid me on the altar
We found there,
a holy sanctuary
that lay in cool shadow.
His rope belt cut into my skin,
And he anointed me with dust,
And I tasted fear like thunder.

And there was God,
Who looked at me with my father's eyes
And an angel's tears,
who smelled like iron and
sounded like absence and
felt like love.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Lesson in Leaping

Author's note: In October 2010, a handful of teachers and students and musicians and seekers and faithful and doubters got together for a long weekend of -- I don't know that any one of us would describe the weekend in exactly the same way. I am convinced we were each changed by this weekend. I cannot begin to express my profound gratitude for what was given to me. This was the first Shabbat Shira. I have been so very fortunate that I have been able to attend every year since, and am eagerly looking forward to this year's retreat, which will begin next week.

In honor of the upcoming weekend, I am re-posting this (in somewhat truncated form) (and feel free to take a look, here, if you want to see the whole thing). This is the essay I wrote after that first weekend, and is dedicated to all of my teachers, but in particular, to Debbie Friedman (z"l), Craig Taubman and Josh Nelson, who reminded me, again, what faith and love and prayer can do: everything. 

Thank you all, who continue to teach me, and show me, ever day, how to leap. 

This past weekend, I got to learn something about faith.  Again.  I get to learn this particular lesson again and again.  God laughs and waits and applauds for me.  Every so often, God dances and catches me, pillowing my fall with grace.

I was at a retreat.  It was possibly all about music.  Or maybe about prayer.  Or God.  Or community.  Faith, perhaps.  All of the above.  Certainly, music was the base, a foundation of sorts.  Shabbat Shira--- Sabbath of Song.  A few dozen people came together to learn and stretch and grow and teach.  Silly me; I thought I was there to learn more about Songleading-- using music and song to lead congregants in prayer.  Simple stuff.


What I learned was all about love, and community and faith.  Yes, faith.  That damned elusive thing, that spark of God and hope that I chase with all the singularity that a drowning woman chases a life preserver floating just out of reach on a dark and wave-wracked sea.  Throw in a bit about vulnerability and truth and honesty and you have the weekend.  Our teachers stood before us, offering themselves, whole and pure and unafraid, without pretense, and made a glorious noise as they lit a path to God.  I followed.  We all did, joyously, surrounded by love and faith and hope.

How?  I asked.  I demanded.  I pleaded.  How do you do it?  How do you show up, vulnerable and raw?  How do you give?  How can I?

And really, that was my prayer.  My quest had gotten me this far: from "Fuck you" to "How can I?"  I want to serve.  I want to give.  I want to be an unsheathed flame, dancing along a path to God, letting others in to find their own paths, their own joy, their own prayer.  I want to leap.  Please God, let me leap.  One more time, let me learn the lesson of soaring.  Let me believe that I will be caught.

And my teachers, every one of them, whether they stood in front of us in service or beside me in prayer (because everyone at Shabbat Shira was my teacher), they all answered so simply, so stripped of artifice: you just do.

It is not what you pray; it is that you pray.
It is not what you do, it is that you do.
It is not what you sing; it is that you sing.

Do.  Act.  Pray. Sing.  Serve.  The grace (and gracefulness) will follow.  God will catch me, soaring or stumbling in the dark., God waits to catch me  And, after I have rested a bit, caught my breath a bit, then God and I, we'll dance.

Dedicated to my friends and teachers of Shabbat Shira 2010.
Thank you  <3

Friday, September 27, 2013

Chasing fireflies

I have been accused, you may be surprised to hear,  of being (shall we say) intense. When the observer is being kind. When said observer is being less kind, intensity turns to scary Too focused, too needy, too there. As a dear friend (one of the kind ones) once said, "Stacey, you never even give people a chance to miss you."

So, I had a revelation the other day. No; angels did not dance on the head of a pin, and the earth did not move, but I think I figured something out. It has to do with that intensity thing (I was going to say character defect, but I have decided to be a bit kinder to myself) (while I've been typing, because I'm nothing if not compulsive and easily distracted by bright shiny objects)(my thoughts being mostly shiny today and always bright) (and speaking parenthetically is a great illustration of my distraction). As I was about to say, before I was distracted: on to my rambling revelation - on to INTENSITY.

Here's the deal. For what felt like a thousand years, but turns out to be merely a couple of decades, I lived in a very tiny tiny universe of one. Nothing got in. Nothing got out. I had decided, somewhere around the time I started drinking, that I could not afford to be hurt again. Life was way too painful. My heart was already quite fragile, and so I wrapped my fear and my anger and my hurt around me like a shield. And I lived that way (ok, "lived" is only an approximation; I was much more like Gollum eventually became--- stretched) for a long time. It was… safe.

At least, that's what I told myself. I ignored the leaks, of course. I ignored the seepage of hurt, the numbness of anger, the whispers of pain that managed to find every chink and crack in my carefully crafted armor. They were all brief, flashes of something felt more in retrospect, when I was tired or hungry. It was a lonely and stretched thinner-than-air existence, Of course, the more I drank, the more I took refuge in alcohol asShield, the lonelier and more tired I would get.

And then, miracle of miracles--- I got sober! And after a little bit of time (Days? Weeks? A year or two? Who the hell knew? Who the hell cared?!)--- after a while, I noticed the walls of my tiny little universe of one had crumbled. The trumpet had blared under the light of a new sun, and I stood before God and everyone else, defenseless and open.

And it was good.

Ok, mostly it was good. I still have my moments, even twenty years and more later, still want to cling to the dark and comforting fog of that particular prison. But God, I was out! I was free. And I could run, and you know what? It feels like I am twirling in a starlit field, twirling and dizzy - not drunk, but alive and dizzy - and chasing fireflies. And I think, really and truly, when I stop to think at all, that this is the feeling that everyone has, all the time. This is the thing I missed for so long! This abandon and exuberance and energy. This is my shout: Hineini! Here I am, free at last, in the light of a new day. Let's play! And I really believe that everyone wants to play, to feel that dizzy, twirly, joyous thing.

Nothing is filtered anymore. All I ever did in my old half life, was filter: edit, erase, delete, change, hide, scorn, disdain. Take your pick. Everything went through layer after layer of subterfuge until it (whatever "it" was) lay dead at the feet of my metaphor. But not anymore. There are no filters. And that is the source of this intensity. I just want to play. I don't ever want to lose sight of that joy, that connection, that sense that once I was alone and now I am not. I was so alone, for so very long. I have no real frames of reference on how to be not alone. What I get is connection, this electric feeling of not alone.

I know, I know: I have to learn how to put the filters back on. Not in the way they were. Never that. But in a new way, a way that let's the light in still, but that doesn't frighten anyone either. Not an easy task. Certainly not for me, because I like the dizzy, twisty, firefly-catching dance. But I have to learn to temper it. I have to grow up a bit and learn to walk a bit and I can't keep dancing. Can I?

And so there's my revelation. It may seem trite or naive, so forgive me. It's just that there are so many fireflies to catch, and I don't want to miss a one. I want to play in that light, the dizzying, twirly light and feel connected. In the end, I am convinced it is the connections that matter--- deep and rich and life-affirming. Forgive me as I stumble through my intensity, looking for the filters that mute the intensity to bearable levels.

 In the meantime, thanks for letting me dance.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Carrying kindness until it is enough

I have learned, over the last decade or three, when I am offered a compliment, to nod and smile and say "Thank you." That's out loud. Internally, there's a whole dialogue of negation that eventually devolves into a spirited and oh-so-mature rendition of "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" If you have the mental image of a small girl-child in pig tails and black patent leather Mary Janes, fingers firmly placed in her ears and eyes squeezed shut, we're on the same page.

I am old plus two, dammit. I gave up pig tales and Mary Janes a long time ago.

I am a successful businessperson. I love telling anyone who asks what I do for a living (and a handful or two of people who don't) that I am a professional Jewish mother who reads spreadsheets. Really. I actually get paid to tell people what to do. I am a trusted advisor, for God's sake, a consultant on some pretty complex stuff that, while it may not have the impact level of, say, stomping out world hunger or curing the common cold, still helps keep the world moving and my clients on track.

I have a son whom I have managed to not break , not even once, since the day he was born, fourteen-and-a-half years ago. While there are times I fear he has been secretly raised in a barn by wolves, while I must, at times, keep myself from lapsing into a rousing chorus of "One boy! Boy for sale! He's going cheap..." from Oliver!, while there are days when I bemoan the fact that there is not enough duct tape in all the world to contain him, I am willing to concede he's a pretty awesome kid who may actually have a few saving graces.

I can raise a child, consult with the C Suite, sing and write and teach and make am amazing pot of homemade vegetable beef soup that would bring tears to gourmand and peasant both. I can carry on lengthy conversations with madmen and God (and do so, regularly), and dance in the palm of God's hand (not quite so regularly, but that's another story for a completely different day). I bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, too, but I hate the thought pf cleaning up all that spatter and grease, so a microwave will have to do. I am, in short, an accomplished, functioning, savvy, multi-tasking, multi-faceted adult woman of the 21st century who can do more things by Tuesday than most people get done by late Wednesday afternoons (I'm just not that energetic in the morning).

What I cannot do, at all, is take a compliment.

Dammit. What the hell is wrong with me? I squirm- literally, my face goes pink and hot and my skin kind of crawls for a second or two. I, the lover of words, the woman whose motto is "Why use ten words when a hundred will do?" and who can't manage to say hello in less than 500 at best- I lose them all: I am speechless and get tongue-tied, both at the same time.  I am a dear in the headlights and a butterfly pinned to black velvet. Pick your own metaphor for that vaguely prickly, mounting feeling of trapped stuckedness. Go ahead; I'll wait. I'm sure I've not yet plumbed the depths of that particular literary device. There are bound to be a few I've yet to overuse. Let me know when you're ready and we'll move on.

Denial. Deflection. Dismissal: I am stopped cold by kindness. Every time.


I learned it from my mother. We would have some huge, extended family dinner for some holiday celebration. As she was carrying in platters overflowing with bountiful goodness, she would begin apologizing: "The seasoning isn't quite right. I'm sorry. The soup is a little salty. I'm sorry. The potatoes aren't really very good. I'm sorry" This, before anyone had lifted a fork to their mouths. When the compliments came - and she's an excellent cook, so there was an excellent chance they would come (and besides, we live in a polite society; complimenting one's hostess is part and parcel of the gathering) - when they came, my mother would slough them off, becoming more and more uncomfortable with every word, until eventually, she walked back into the kitchen to perform some critical task of culinary magic. Basically, she went to hide, until she was sure the uproar of those horrible compliments had died down.

Every holiday. Every dinner. Every time.

There's a part of me, some tiny, daring and dangerous voice, that would really like to accept a compliment or two. Every now and then. I mean, a couple would be okay, right? I can be humble, even if I accepted someone's compliment graciously, maybe even gracefully, couldn't I? And that notion of tempting fate, or the evil eye, or the gods - that's pure nonsense, isn't it? 

There is some part of me, some dangerous voice, that is not daring. Not at all. It is sibilant and officious, and keeps up a steady, whispery conversation (a conversation hat feels exactly like walking through an unseen spider web feels in the dark and dank and narrow passageway, that makes you jump and sputter and feel like bolting), this voice tells me, again and again, ever and always, that I am unworthy of compliments and undeserving of kindness. I don't know that it's the same voice that my mother heard, or her mother before her, a long mine of mothers who learned to deflect and dismiss and deny, and who taught that lesson in every generation. My guess is yes: this is our ancestral voice, the one my family has carried from stetl to stetl and across oceans and time.

I am tired of that voice.

Now, lest you think  this is some cheesy little ploy designed to garner complimentary posts and comments (deflect, dismiss, deny) - it is not. I can think of nothing that would make me feel more uncomfortable than to find myself faced with a barrage (if by "barrage" I mean more than none) of laudatory comments. I know, I know: I post my writing, I announce some cool things that have happened of late. 

Here;s the thing: I don't know what to do with your compliments or kindness. I don't know how to carry that. Lies and shame seem so much easier. But they're not. They are familiar companions, and so feel safe. I cling to them, but what they are, are chains: rusted and biting, they cut into my skin and leave marks. They draw blood. They keep me small and weak and less-than.

Weird, to post and then shrug it off, an odd push-me-pull-you tug of war, a disconnect of small and dangerous;y whispered proportions. But there's that voice, the other one, the slightly daring and kind of dangerous (in a thrilling and adventurous kind of way) that just won't shut up. It just keeps up this excited, manicky  stream of consciousness: a "what if" conversation carried to a staggering limit. 

What if -
What if I just said "thank you" and then smiled? What if I believed it? What if I believed you? What if I took some joy in doing something well? What if I took pride in accomplishing something grand? What if pride were not a dirty word? What if I really were deserving of praise and kindness? What if I treated myself the exact same way I demand people treat one another? What if I defended myself (from myself) the way I defend those who are being treated with cruelty and met with shame?

What if I told that soft and whispery other voice to just shut the fuck up for a while? 

What if, indeed?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Who Opens the Eyes of the Blind...

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha'olam, pokei'ach ivri'im
Blessed are you, Adonai, Sovereign of the universe, who opens the eyes of the blind.

From Nisim b'chol yom, for daily miracles 
The morning liturgy

I chant this prayer every time I say the morning blessings.  It is not as often as I'd like, but at least every Saturday morning, for Shabbat, I chant it. It's a sacred moment.

At least, it would be if I thought about it. I think moments are not inherently sacred or holy. They become so, with our thought, our mindfulness and intentionality.

Today, as I stood under the rickety, shivering roof of the Sukkah, where  pale morning sky peeked through a roof of haphazardly-laid dried corn stalks, and the light wind presaged the certainty of autumn-to-come (though the valiant sun, not-quite blazing, but shining brightly nonetheless, did a tango with the still-chill air before it started to warm) -- today, wrapped in my tallit and a soft sweater and the holiness of that moment, my voice rose with those other voices of this lovely community, praising God for the miracles of the day.

Praising God for opening the eyes of the blind.

That's when it hit me. Again, after all those other agains, when I've struggled to see my computer screen, and the road just beyond the hood of my car, and the last bit of dried-up milk at the bottom of the glass that my son has left on the counter again (for a whole different tirade of "agains"). More, for the struggle to see the breathtaking beauty of the words of Torah as I lean down to chant their ancient melody. They've worsened, those struggles, steadily, now somewhat exponentially, until today, this moment as I sing out my praise of God for the miracle of sight -- and my vision is a cubist nightmare, a blurred and darkened view of the world around me. Tough to see a miracle right about now.

So this morning, I chanted those words, where I so often sing them rather than pray them, and today they became holy and that moment shifted into rare and exquisite sacredness. And I wept.

I'm terrified that I am going blind.

Before I continue, let me say: my condition is, so my doctors assure me, treatable. Not cureable, but treatable. They may be able to arrest its progression. Or at least slow the pace of it. I may not, in fact, be going blind. Tell that to my fear.

I know, I know-- fear is a liar, and this is Sukkot, the season of joy. So I stood under the shelter of this very tenuous, very temporary shelter that was draped in God's bounty, that was filled to its very edges with prayer and hope and gratitude, and I sang and prayed and tried so desperately to lose myself in my prayer-- or maybe to find myself there, and God and benediction and something holy and pure, something transcendent and free of the fear that lay coiled around me, that bound me and tethered me to its dank lies and dirty promises. I tried so hard to rise with my prayers. 

And when I came to chant from Torah-- and really, not an incredibly inspiring passage, from a particularly troubling parasha, but it is Torah, and the blessing of it is that we are given the whole of the Torah, not just the pretty passages and happy stories, because it is ours to struggle with and dance with and learn from, to teach and carry and study and live-- so I stood at the makeshift bima and I bent to read those silly words, about bullocks and rams and offerings for drink and meals and sin-- and I stumbled and faltered, because although my eyes were open, I could not see.

The service leader was kind-- chanting Torah is difficult under the best of circumstances (considering there are no vowels or punctuation), he explained, but I was laboring under some heavy duty eye problems for which I would be operated on later this week. I walked back to my seat where I proceeded to break down. 

A woman, a friend, came to sit next to me. She put her arm around me, to offer strength and comfort. "What do you need?" she said, and would not accept stiffening shoulders or my mumbled answer of "Nothing. I'm fine." She was merely the first in a parade of others. Some I had known for years, those casual, intimate acquaintances who fill our lives with pleasantries and conversation and shared experience. There were a few I'd never seen before, though their concern was no less sincere. Included in that jumbled mix were a few real friends, people who were part of the regular ebb and flow of my life, whose presence was a steady and shimmering light.

What do you need? What can we do? And then: Never mind; I'll come over. I'll drive you. We'll bring you...

My skin fairly crawled. I am the Fixer of Broken things, I wanted to cry out. I do not get Fixed. I do not get taken care of. I am not fixable, I wanted to whisper. I cannot afford to need.

And in the midst of my fear and pain, draped in my pride-- a miracle. 

My prayer, my blindness: it had nothing to do with sight. It had nothing to do with vision, with rods and cones and color and light. There is holiness in giving, in caring for, in being present for another. There is also a sacredness in accepting that care. Community is about connection, a give and take of love and experience, a binding of joy and sorrow. 

I have no idea what will happen with my eyes. I am still terrified that I will go blind, that something will go wrong with this (fairly routine) operation. That I will not be able to drive, or read or stare in wonder at the color of the sky just as the sun kisses the horizon. Soon, and forever. I am an awfulizer of the first order. My fear is a liar that tells me I will no longer see.

But I will not be blind. How could I be, when I stand with my community, that holy and sacred bunch, under the shelter of heaven, to find strength and compassion and love. 

Blessed are you, God, who opens the eyes of the blind...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Soft Landing

Somewhere in my first year of sobriety, I went through a rough patch. It may be more accurate to say that "somewhere in my first year of sobriety, I found a few seconds of joy and breathless freedom." Those seconds were very few and very far between. The rough and stumbly, broken and prickly moments stretched into days, into weeks, into months. I (still) feel so much more at home in those spaces. I understand the rules there. There may be more pain in that place, but I get its ebb and flow, understand its motion and oddly circuitous paths. 

This time, of all those myriad times, was really pretty rough. Trust me: I know rough.

Now, what they don't tell you, those omnipotent and aloof They who haunt the smoky rooms and dingy halls of recovery, what They don't tell you is just how raw, just how naked, just how vulnerable you can feel when you finally start feeling, and there's nothing standing between you and the rest of the world except you. 

It's just you. And the pain. And the fear.  And the fire that burns inside your head because you just can't stop thinking and you can't stop feeling and the world keeps spinning and you just want to yell "Stop!" or maybe "Wait!" or maybe just hide. Just crawl under the covers and lie in the cool and shadowy dark for a few thousand years, until It's all gone, until you can't even remember what It was to begin with.

I was consumed by that fire. Those flames licked up one side and down the other, dancing along every inch of my skin without cease. Scorched earth policy (or whatever equivalent fits). I held my breath, held it all in, waiting for it to end, for the burning to stop, for the manicky, panicky beating of my heart to quiet. I held myself breathlessly still, hopelessly folded in on myself. 

It was right about then that a friend gave me a card. It was not your typical Hallmark card, replete with hearts and flowers and ooey-gooey sentiment. Nor did it highlight wise, sarcastic characters who made pithy little  remarks that you thought were amusing and yet couldn't recall thirty-seven seconds later. In fact, this card had a cartoon-like (think Keith Harrington-esque rather than Boynton-y) picture of a big city skyline, a suspension bridge in the foreground, and a sunshine yellow taxi clearly falling (at breakneck speed, I imagine) off the edge of the bridge to the depths of whatever it was below, flames shooting out the taxi's windows, and some person, some stick-figure of a person, waited inside, clearly obeying the laws of gravity and motion, clearly at a loss.

The future did not look bright for the taxi or its rider.

On the inside, to the left, were words. Many, many words. Great gobs of words that told the story of how the taxi, and the person inside of it came to be flying off that particular bridge at that particular time. Or maybe, the words told the story of the thoughts and feelings pf that lone and lonely inhabitant as he (or she) plummeted to some cataclysmic crash. Might have been some spiritual allegory. I don't remember. Frankly, I don't really care.

What I remember was the echo I felt of  that figure's resignation and absolute acceptance of the act of free falling in an endless and elegant arc that could only end in-- not death; that would be too clean, too neat-- but more pain. That certainty that this would not end in a bottom but with a trap door.

That was the left-hand side. The right side held a wish. Bold black letters on a blanket of bright white:

I wish for you a soft landing

And at that exact moment, everything started up again. Until that very instant, everything about me had been held in suspended animation, frozen in some weird danse macabre, or a game of statues-- nothing moved, nothing changed, except the fire in my head and the freely-falling bottoming out that I could only watch from 30,000 feet and feel with intimate agony.

A wish. A hope. A prayer that buckled my knees and filled me with breathless wonder. A desperately needed lesson in compassion and love from a friend who knew my heart and cherished my soul (even when I could only find tattered bits (when I bothered to look at all)). She understood that compassion has nothing to do with healing me or changing me. It was not advice or wisdom. Comfort didn't really fit either. I was falling, and nothing she could do would stop the descent.

She didn't watch from a great and safe distance, shielding herself from the the certain wreckage I was about to cause. She didn't demand that I stop and pull myself together, nor did she coddle me and feed me the casual niceties so easily said (and so blithely become merely pleasant noise). 

All she could do was love me and wish for me a soft landing.

These days, my rough patches are not so rough. What seemed so bleak and attenuated now has softly blurred edges and rounded corners. I don't seem to cut myself on my life too often anymore. My head catches fire with stories and words rather than panic and paralysis. Still, I have my moments, and get caught off guard, not by the rawness and the nakedness, but more by despair or grief. Life changes. God, does life change! Thank God that it does, and me along with it.

But for all that it changes, for all that I have been changed, still, one of the dearest prayers I know remains: I wish for you-- for me-- for us all-- a soft landing. No matter our strength or faith or goodness or grace; for all our mended brokenness and razor-edged faults, we all fall sometimes. We all sit in the back of a taxi, hurtling off the bridge at a million miles an hour, falling into forever. 

And as we fall, as we plummet to the surety of a trap door bottom, we can still wish for a soft place to land. And in that landing, that soft and gentle landing, may we find a place to breathe, a spot of rest in the palm of God's hand.

To my dearest Kaelyn-- wishing for you the softest of places to land. xoxo

Sunday, September 15, 2013

10 Tishrei 5774: Awe

I am late with this, the last of my #blog #DaysofAwe essays. Not that I think anyone is keeping score, or pining for lack of my dubious words of philosophical pondering. But I had made a commitment, if only to myself, and so feel the need to finish (there is also a small amount of free-floating,  slight squishiness that I am late with the final installment; this close to the whole redemption/repentance thing, I am loath to let this linger too long).

And, while I know that I am the one who assigned myself this task and these topics, I question what in hell I was thinking. I mean, really-- justice? Mercy? Awe, for God's sake? And all those other topics that smarter, deeper, more spiritual minds than I have spent several lifetimes learning and discussing and studying and figuring, and a few other -ings that I'm sure would daunt anyone. And then there's me, tripping lightly over everything to bring you (and me) a few paragraphs of on topics weighty and profound.

I am-- you should excuse the cheap literary device here-- awed at my incredible presumption.

This realization, perhaps, goes some small way in explaining why I am late with this last essay, and why I continue to drag my feet. But in this extra time I have gifted to myself, I have had a small epiphany, a new understanding, or at least a new understanding of awe in action.

My last essay, on Justice, brought e to this amazing place-- the recognition that, while God may be responsible for changing my, I am responsible for changing the world. This is a sacred and holy action. Now for the epiphany, the last leap-- of faith, of wonder, of awe-- a God-moment reminder of a beloved principle, because I love this idea, and have been surprised by it's truth time and again.

When the student is ready, the teacher will come.

I have been blessed with some amazing teachers, who have taught me everything important, everything that is meaningful or profound or real or has transformed me and changed me. Certainly, my son has taught me everything I know about love and God and patience (and he continues to teach them, even as I continue to learn them, sometimes eagerly, sometimes a little (a lot) less so).

That's the easy one. There are so many others, a lifetime of people who have shown me, in words, in actions, in living their lives, how to stand in that holy and sacred spot: how to be changed, and how to change the world. There is my rabbi, who teaches me, not just words of Torah,  but their meaning and intent, their rich and harsh beauty. there are musicians and music-makers, sober folk and drunks, those touched by God (and they know it) and those who forge their own wayward path to redemption and return, who would laugh at the idea that they walk a path with God. There are friends and strangers who hold up mirrors for me until I am ready to see, ready to learn, ready to grow. Together, they teach me, ever and again, that Torah is everywhere, in everything, as is God, and we stand closerthanthis, always, to the gates that lead us back to God, to each other-- as if we ever even left their nearness.

To my teachers, known and unknown, I am humbled by your gifts, the lessons you have given me. I am awed, truly and deeply, by those connections-- like gossamer, like spun webs, delicate and glistening with a tensile strength that is astounding.

God changes me. I change the world. And in between are my teachers, who show me, with grace and love,  how.

Shana tova
Wishing us all a year of blessing and love and readiness for all the teachers who will be sure to come.

Friday, September 13, 2013

09 Tishrei 5774: Justice

Sometimes, Justice is a sword, slicing cleanly through anything that stands before it. I have walked into its cutting blade, and I have not been unscathed.

Sometimes, Justice is a mighty river, rushing through in a grand sweep, cold and pure washing us clean and bringing about change. I have swum in its quickening current, slaked my thirst in its icy depths, been carried and cleansed and renewed.

We pursue it, always: Justice, justice shall you pursue. So central to our beliefs, it was named twice. We are called to it, commanded to practice it. It is the foundation of who we are as a people. A few months ago, during our tikun leyl Shavuot (our study session to usher in Shavuot), I had one of those Aha! moments that change us, even just a little. One of my greatest joys in Judaism is my continued struggle with it. I wrestle with God and Torah and my doubt. I have severe issues with our ancestors (the original Family Dysfunction, writ large). Don't get me started on God, so often (as I see it) capricious and cruel and uncaring.

And yet, I have this thing with God. I have met the God of Infinite Compassion. I have danced in the palm of God's hand, and found shelter there. I have wept and cursed and prayed to God, and have found healing there. 

But this is not the God of the Torah. Sorry. I just don't see it. So what keeps me coming back to this well, this gate, again and again? How do I navigate this disconnect?

On Shavuot, we had a discussion on our relationship with God and Torah. And it came to me, in a rush, and filled me-- the beauty of Torah (and yes, I believe it, we, all of life is Torah) is that we have been given all of it-- all the holes, all the inconsistencies, all the brokenness. But we also get those moments of shining transcendence, those take-your-breath-away pieces that show you not what is, but what could be, what should be. We are commanded to create a world that should be. This is a holy thing. 

This is the God of Justice, and we are b'tzelem elohim-- we are made in the image of God. This is what we could be. This is the God I seek. This is the God to whom I return, again and again. This is the God who redeems and renews. 

God may be the One who changes me. I am the one who is given the holy task of changing the world. My Aha! moment. The reason I have sought to reflect and prepare, make the long and bumpy journey from my narrow places to the center, to this gate, to this day. Why I seek God and forgiveness. To return, to be redeemed, so I can step through the hates of Justice and change the world.

One more story, because I love it. A short midrash for Yom Kippur:

An old man, stooped with age, made his way to his synagogue on erev Yom Jippur. One of his greatest joys was to hear the simple yearning, the exquisite longing in Kol Nidre, the prayer that begins it all. He couldn't remember a time that he did not weep when he heard it, not once, but three times, every year. He walked slowly, enjoying the just-beginning-to-cool, almost-fall air. One hand held his cane that tapped and scraped against the sidewalk. The other hand cradled two heavy notebooks.

He entered the synagogue, that smelled of lemon oil and anticipation. He paused to offer a prayer as he put on his white tallit. He stopped at the memorial wall and remembered friends and family who had died. Each year, there were more, and he let his grief and sorrow flow through him, letting it go with love and sorrow. 

It was early still; he was alone in the sanctuary. There was still time.

He continued his slow and stately walk down the aisle, making his way to the bima, draped in heavy white cloth in honor of the day. He paused in front of the Ark, nodding his respect, and carefully placed his notebooks on the dais side by side. One book was tattered and dog-eared, obviously well-used. It was thick, at least and inch or so of thin paper, no longer blank. The other was also tattered and worn, and perhaps double the size of the first-- two inches at least of thin paper, small, cramped handwriting filling both sides.

The man placed one hand on the first book, lifted his face, and said clearly: "Ok, God. Here are my sins for this year. I confess them, and am sorry for them, and have asked forgiveness for them. I'm here, to make tshuvah, and ask Your forgiveness for the sins I have committed against You." He was silent for a moment, obviously having a private conversation with God.

When he was done, he placed his hand on the second, thicker book. In a clear voice, he spoke again: "And here, God, are your sins. Let's talk..."

Justice, justice shall we all pursue. <3 p="">
Shana tova
Gmar chatima tova. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

08 Tishrei 5774: Mercy

Justice is a sword. I have skated along its razor's edge, graceful pirouettes on bloodied feet. Justice works that way-- delicate, exacting, with no give or sway. Mercy is not its opposite. They are twin sides of the same coin. If Justice is hard and uncompromising, Mercy is grace, unlooked for, a gift.

A story about Mercy.

I visited my cousin Larry (z"l) when he lay in the hospital, recovering from brain surgery. He had a brain tumor. It was slowly killing him. It was as if he was on the losing side of a war of attrition: with lightening strike precision, the tumor took away everything meaningful, all the parts of his life and his soul that made him him. If it was painful for us, the people who loved him, to watch, what must it have been like for him, to see everything slip away and be powerless to save anything?

There were complications with his last surgery. How could there not be? He had been engaged in battle for twenty long and hard years. He was tired. His body was exhausted. His soul was stretched thin. The doctors induced a coma, in hopes this his body would repair itself, that he would find rest and healing. It was a lovely hope.

They forgot to tell his pain their plan.

Even in a coma, pain ravaged his body. I watched the pain spasm throughout his body, making him writhe. When the spasm passed, he still moved restlessly, unable to find a place where the pain didn't live in him.

My uncle, his father, sat beside him, watching. A completely different flavor of powerless, and just as cruel. He watched his son; I watched my uncle. He felt every bit of Larry's pain. I saw it in his face, in the tension of his body that seemed to echo each spasm. I knew he would take Larry's pain away if he could, take it into himself if he could, if it would give Larry any respite.

The machines whirred in steady rhythm, a strange harmony to Larry's fitful moans. My uncle sat, in an unmoving vigil, a witness. Willing. Watching. Perhaps praying, perhaps cursing. Probably a little of both. Time stretched. It slowed; it may have stopped at one point. 

Finally, my uncle shifted. He reached out his hand to touch Larry-- soothe him, comfort him, connect in a very real and visceral way. Helplessly hoping-- no harlequin romance, but his motion-- focused, slow, gentle -- his whole body was a prayer. 

And he couldn't. He couldn't touch his son, stroke his son's fevered skin. He was terrified that he would cause more pain. But his prayer was in motion already. Raw and naked and filled with absolute love, his body was a prayer.

So he lifted his hand and held it, closerthanbreath away from his son, an almost-touch. He held out his hand, afraid, desperate, his sorrow and love so present in that darkened room.

Grace then. A gift. Mercy. 

He held out his hand, an aching, almost touch, caressing the space closerthanthis away from his son's body , and Larry stilled. His restless, pain-wracked body quieted. My uncle held out his hand, a prayer, a benediction, a blessing. Love. it was all he had to offer. It was enough. Mercy could not bring healing, but there was comfort there, there was rest there. There was love and there was God.

And that was enough.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

07 Tishrei 5774: Fear

Fear is a liar.

Fear keeps me rooted in place, unmoving and sheathed in ice. When I listen to its sibilant whispers, I stop. I hide. I avoid. I stay safe.

It is so easy. looking at it from this vantage point-- of a spiritually fit place, where I feel as if I fit comfortably in my own skin and have no need to look over my shoulder to judge the distance between me and the eleventy-seven thousand demons who are hot on my trail and ready to pounce-- it is so easy to say "Fear is a liar. Why should I listen to whispers in the dark?"

Trouble is, I don't always feel comfortable in my own skin. I am not always spiritually fit, confident and breathing easy. Ha! There are times I need to be reminded to breathe at all. And fear-- those lies can be so seductive. When I am feeling prickly and outside and less-than, those lies can flow though me and around me like warm honey. 

Remember Lucy, asking Charlie Brown to kick the football while she holds it steady? Time and again, he winds up flat on his back, caught once again in the web of Lucy's broken promises. My fear is like that. Against my better judgement, regardless of all prior experience, I get sucked in, laid low by my fear.

This is not God-fear. This is not the fear and trembling of standing under Sinai or waiting at the cold and dark waters of an unparted Sea. This is not the fear and awe of standing at the gates, of return and redemption.  This is the fear that robs you of hope, breaks your spirit and keeps you rooted: stuck, unmoving, trapped.

I have heard that fear is the opposite of faith, that is I have faith enough, I will never be afraid. I don't agree. Faith and fear can coexist. Here's the thing of it: my faith will not stop my fears, will not stop the whispered lies-- but enough faith will keep me moving. I don't know that faith can move mountains; I know for a fact that faith can move my feet, allow me to put one foot in front of the other, walk through the fear, so that I can get to the other side, face whatever is in front of me. Every time.

As I prepare to stand before God in a few days (that formal stand-before-God, because I believe, absolutely, that I stand with God, always, just as  God stands with me, always), as I prepare to stand without artifice or design, ready to walk through the gates that are opened for us all, I have to be willing to leave the things that hold me back, hold me in place behind. I have to be willing to leave the fear that feels so safe and comfortable, because it is so familiar, because it is so powerful and all-encompassing, I have to leave the fear behind.

I have to let it go, along with my brokenness, my cynicism, my impatience. I have to be willing to walk away from Lucy and her football and not play the game.

I have to put one foot in front of the other. And later, and again, when fear grips me, when I feel broken and lost and utterly alone, when fear whispers its lies to me in the dark-- I will put my faith in my feet and keep walking.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

06 Tishrei 5774: Ready

There is a rising expectancy
A hold-your-breath
gathering in,
gathering at the edge
that drops away
ten thousand feet
and ten thousand more.

A moment--
just that one,
that separates you from
everything else.
You hold yourself so
so poised.
so expectantly still.

There's a heartbeat's difference
between waiting
and ready,
a heartbeat,
a moment,
the distance between
that narrow space
between God
and everything else.
And you have walked that narrow space,
that dry and dusty narrow space,
cradling the tethers
that bind you
to that rock-strewn road,
that narrow space between breaths,
between God--
between waiting and

You have walked the ten thousand steps,
and ten thousand more,
an eternity of steps
to cross that narrow distance,
to stand in hushed--
in waiting--
in rising

To leap into that moment,
to complete that breath,
to bridge the distance
between waiting
and God.

To stand
in grace,
in quiet stillness,
in breathless wonder,
on the other side of waiting.
And you gather in those tethers
that have shackled you
and bound you
to the narrow places.
You gather them
and let them fall,
let them lie
cracked and dusty and rusted through.

A breath.
A heartbeat.
A moment that stretches into
the rest of forever
(and then some)
And then
you leap.


Monday, September 9, 2013

05 Tishrei 5774: Peace

I found this quote yesterday while wandering online, wondering whatinhell I was going to say about today's prompt.

"Worrying doesn't take away tomorrow's trouble; it takes away today's peace."

Score one for a God moment-- those little bits of happenstance that just seem to fit perfectly when you least expect it. hey are unexplainable, and certainly, more rationale folks would just chalk it up to coincidence-- and in my more guarded, rational and cynical moments, I do just that. every once in a while, the mystic in me peeks out from behind the curtains,  thumb to nose and tongue out, laughing. What's a girl to do?

Oh yeah: not worry about it.

It has taken me decades to be okay with inconsistency. Add not knowing to that short list, along with inexplicable God moments and a Chicagoan's penchant for the Cubs over the White Sox. I may not understand it, but it no longer keeps me up at night, worrying it over like a dog with a bone, chewing and tugging and growling, getting all worked up about nothing. Or everything. Or something-- some vague, guessed at thing that may or may not be relevant, or fixable, or preventable, or important. Or anything.

There was a time I would grab onto any of that-- calamity real or imagined, rumor innuendo-- grab it and worry it and hold on for dear life. I would have entire conversations in my head; hell, I would have multi-user conference calls in there, absolutely independent of any other participants. I knew what you would say to whatever I would say, and the skip six steps ahead, and then six more.

I had all the answers: mine, yours, right, imagined, made up. All of them. What I did not have was any sense of serenity or peace.

I was jumpy and jittery, a bundle of not-so-free floating anxiety. Fix, manage and control-- these were my watchwords. Thing is, I would try to do all of that with ideas and situations and things that couldn't be fixed or managed or controlled. At least, not by me.

I've said it before, and it bears saying again: pray to God but row towards shore. Take action. Plan and prepare and put things in motion. Then get out of the way. Breathe. Pause. Think. Ask. Consider. These are generally the next right things to do.

And when I do this, when I get out of my own way, I  am  blessed with peace. Not that everything works the way I want it to. Not that the results are always happy and good. That's a fairy tale world that I no longer try to live in (mostly).

No, the peace and calm and quiet is what gets me through all the other stuff. I don't need to live from crisis to crisis. I can live passionately, fully, joyously, with peace at my core. I can carry that peace with me as I go out to tackle the real work of creating peace in the world and fixing the broken places.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

04 Tishrei 5774: Wholeness

I am fascinated by the idea of wholeness. I think this is true because I have felt so broken for so long. It is a desire of my heart-- to feel whole. to be complete.

When I dance among the ladders with the angels, it is my brokenness that I carry with me. Like Luria's Light, I was whole once, and then shattered into an infinity of pieces. I couldn't possibly find all of those myriad pieces, let alone bring them back together, to the center (my center). No healing, no wholeness. Just brokenness. Forever.

It is no surprise that I live a very fragmented life. There are an infinity of boxes cluttering my head, gathering dust.  I stuff my shame and my sins in them, my less-than-ness and my fears. I lock them up tight, with rusty chains and bits of string and hide them into little-used and dusty corridors, where they lie in shadow under the flickering lights. All of them are stacked precariously, haphazardly with seemingly little thought to where they sit.

Trouble is, no matter how well I swear that I seal them, they leak. they seep and ooze and get all sticky and messy. Even my brokenness is broken.

So it was with no small amount of surprise, sitting in morning services last Shabbat, that I realizes that I this may no longer be quite so true. My brokenness may not be beyond repair. The dream of wholeness-- of completion and and connection-- they are meant for me. Even for me. I sat in that service, surrounded by friends and strangers, sound and light, prayer and benediction, I stood in this holy and sacred moment-- and I let go. And in that moment, when I gathered all my brokenness-- the moldy boxes and the jagged-edged slivers of glass, and released them all-- I was made whole.

And here's the thing, as I write this essay at 36,000 feet: I am not broken. I am whole. And this, I think, is always true. I think. I want to believe this.Just as we are always at the Gates, we are always redeemed-- we are always whole. It's all the stuff, all the boxes and frayed rope that we stack and store and carry with us that whispers to us (to me) of brokenness. I carry it with me; it is mine to give back.

For today, for this moment, I choose to put my brokenness aside, to breathe in wholeness and feel complete. For this moment, of lightness and freedom, I will dance in joyous wonder, in the palm of God's hand.

I offer this poem, written last February, in honor of the parasha Ki Tisa. While I know that there is holiness in broken things-- there is holiness and joy and freedom in wholeness, and for that I am grateful. 

The Holiness of Broken Things

I carry my brokenness with me
It is holy--
as holy as my breath,
my heart,
my wholeness.

It is a part of me, these
scattered pieces
of shattered longing
and battered dreams.
My sins.
All of them.
I carry them--
all of them;
All these broken things
that bend me and bow me,
together with my wholeness,
these holy things.
Idols to my shame,
wrapped in gold and
adorned in abandon.
I fed the fires of that sacred forge
with fear and guilt,
and the altars ran slick with salted tears.
I offered--
the broken pieces as
my sin offering,
for they are holy,
and I carry them with me,
together with my wholeness.

I carry my brokenness with me--
all my sins
and shame
and salted tears,
and I place them
together with my wholeness
on the sacred altars
holy, holy, holy.
They twine together in red and gold flames,
and Whole
offered together
and returned to me ,
and Broken--
Holy still,
carried together
until I reach the next altar.

There are several other pieces you can find on my blog that explore the topic of Brokenness; you can find them here: What I Brought  and my riff on Luria's midrashAn Early Winter's Tale