Monday, July 29, 2013

Saturday Afternoon Amidah

To realize suddenly
That the soft murmurs
Of intensely--
at the exact same frequency
as the hum of the
espresso machine.
They clearly go together:
A droning
Confluence of
Coffee and conversation.

There is benediction here
And blessing
In publicly private
Circles and squares of
Contiguous community,
Coming together
As many ones:
Fluid, with
Bittersweet offerings
On coffee-stained altars
Of smoothed wood
And hard-backed chairs.

In the bronzed light
of late afternoon
Dust motes, like rain
Amid the hiss and clatter
of steaming milk
to stand;
in the too-chill air
warmed by the opening
and closing
of the door.

Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh!

We move
And stand;
Shifting through--
From here to there,
To different--
To separate--
To pause,
In the in-between
Afternoon light
That lingers and lengthens
Into softening shadow.

We stand--
At our coffee-stained altars,
In between dust motes
And late afternoon.
To the opening 
of closed doors,
To the closing of opened,
And offer a prayer of

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Grace enough

I have a couple issues with God.

Anyone who's known me longer than, say, five minutes, can pretty much figure that out. I once wanted to change my relationship status on Facebook to show that I'm in a relationship with God and "it's complicated." I have run the gamut from at-one-with-the-All, sitting in virtual lotus on top of my virtual mountain, at peace and in love with God and all of God's wondrous works, to being convinced that my Higher Power is God's evil twin brother whose sole Divine Purpose is to mess with me and my life. I struggle with God's blessings as much as with God's capriciousness.

My journey with God has been rocky at best. At thirteen, I announced my intention to become a rabbi. This had less to do with a belief in God and more to do with being a Jew. As I saw it then, if I had to take God along with being a good Jewish rabbi, so be it. As my parents saw it, this was not a good career move for a nice Jewish girl. They were quite sure that I would never make enough money as a rabbi to keep me living in the style to which they would have liked for me to become accustomed. They laughed, I caved, but maintained my love for Judaism (and by extension, God).

By fifteen, I declared my apostasy: God was a lie. Or dead. Or an opiate of the bourgeoisie masses. Take your pick. It was two weeks before confirmation, and I was a teenager, filled with anger and fueled by existential angst. Simmering with contempt, I announced that I no longer believed in God and that to become confirmed would be hypocritical. I refused to participate. That my parents looked a bit pained at my pronouncement was merely icing on that particular cake.

And so, although I did not know it then, began The Great Quest. I had a God-sized hole in the middle of me, and it ached to be filled. I filled it with anything handy. Sarcasm. Contempt. Cynicism. As I got older, sex. Intellectualism. Throw them all in there--- anything that would make me not feel quite so empty, quite so lost. Anger was good. If I stayed angry enough, pointed enough fingers, sneered with just the right curl of the lip, I did not have to feel. Anger was almost enough to fill in the empty spaces, almost enough to wrap around me like a shield, protect me from my fear. After anger came alcohol. Emergency spirituality in liquid form. I loved drinking. I loved feeling that wet fire trail down my throat and nestle in my stomach. I loved the way it made my fingertips buzz, an electric pulse that made me want to dance and move and breathe. The noise in my head got quiet and I could think. I could float, bathed in that clear, clean sharp liquid that made me feel beautiful and connected and almost (but not quite) human.

Anger and alcohol-- my constant companions for years. They kept my demons at bay. They blurred the outlines of that God-sized hole, and if I stayed angry enough, drank enough, I could almost believe that they filled that hole, filled me. I could tell myself that they were enough, and that I was enough. And that tiny little whisper that skittered and skipped in the dark corners of my head? The one that never quite believed those lies that I told myself, those lies I so desperately wanted to believe? Those whispers were all but drowned out by the crushing tide of my drinking.

And then I got sober, for a whole host of reasons, not least of which was the fact that the anger and the alcohol stopped working. I couldn't get to that floaty, breathy place anymore. Couldn't find God, or at least what I thought passed for God. Couldn't find any quiet space. All that was left was this deafening white noise and a brittle coating of despair.

So I got sober, and all those shiny happy people sitting in those shiny happy AA rooms, where the smoke hung in grey-blue wisps and the coffee could peel paint (unless it was more just brownish warmed water with a hint of caffeine) and the smell of ammonia masked the stale sweat and salted tears and the free floating anxiety that bordered on fear of the masses of people who laughed and cried and wondered and wandered and quested and questioned--- all those people insisted that if I find a God.

Great. Give me a task that I have been failing at for decades. I'll get right on that.

And strangely enough, I did get right on that. I started my quest for God in earnest. I had my eyes peeled for The Answer, that sublimely written piece of prose that would explain away all my doubt, all my cynicism, all my uncertainty, leaving me glowing with the light of God and giving me comfort and relief and calm. And I looked, and I read, and I looked some more. I sweated and struggled and stamped my foot. And everything I read confirmed my belief that God was a little hinky. Or maybe the wrong religion. Certainly capricious and inconsistent. God was messy and vindictive and totally missing.

And the more I looked, the more I struggled, the more desperate I became to find that source of solace. I saw my friends get it. I saw them, sitting comfortably in their own skins, whole (for the most part), healing (for the most part). Recovering (for the most part). And I wasn't getting it. I was just as far away from God as when I was fifteen. God may be real for everyone else--- and I was genuinely happy for all those people, really; but God would never be real for me.

I remember one Saturday, going to synagogue with one of my friends. I figured that as long as i was supposed to look for God, i may as well look inside God's house. As I sat in the sanctuary, soothed by the beauty of the stained glass, uplifted by its (you should excuse the expression) cathedral ceilings, comforted by the familiar heft of the prayerbook, I listened to the choir as it sang out some hymn of praise, some psalm offered up to God. And I wept. I was so close! I could hear their joy; I could! I wanted to reach out and grab it, hold onto it, connect with it. They were all so sure. They rested in the palm of God's hands, carried across the chaos of their doubts, the noise and tumult of the universe. They got it, all of it. And as much as I knew that, I knew that I never would get that gift. I knew that I would forever be denied that peace. How could I not weep in the face of that?

I told myself it didn't matter really. Told myself I didn't care, and that God and redemption and grace were fine for other people, but really, I certainly didn't need them. I was doing just fine, thank you. So what if I was a little raw, felt a little exposed? So what if I had created an invisible hard candy coating that kept me safe and separate and disconnected? So what if despair coiled around my ankles and drifted upwards, soft and smooth as lies, threatening to choke me? So what if all I wanted to do was drink?

So I planned it. I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't sleep anymore. Stopped going to meetings, mostly. Couldn't bear to listen to those shiny happy people who had found God--- my God, their God, a God: some Higher Power who carried them and loved them and healed them and redeemed them. I needed to drown out the little voice in my head that insisted, in its silken and seductive and smoky voice, the one that said that I had not rejected God so many years before, but that God had rejected me, and the only thing powerful enough to drown it out, keep God out, was a drink.

There I sat: Queen of the Dramatic Gesture, in my darkened living room, candles flickering and casting macabre shadows on the walls, a cat tangling between my feet, my heart sounding a loud tattoo of determination and fear and wistfulness. I sat in the darkness, planning to drink. I wanted it. Wanted the sweet burn and liquid fire. Wanted the thirty seconds (at best) of absolute release that alcohol gave me. My fingers curled around the neck of that bottle, the glass cool against my palm, calm acceptance settling over me.

And I sank to my knees. I had every intention of drinking. I could taste it, for God's sake! I wanted it, wanted the release and the blankness and the tingle. And yet I sank to my knees. And I cried out from the sere desert of my soul "I give. I can't do this anymore. I can't be so alone. Please help."

That was my prayer. The only prayer I could offer. And I sat on my knees, hands still cradling that damned bottle, and I didn't drink. There were no angels to dance on the head of a pin. There was no clap of thunder or heavenly choir to sing out "Hosanna!" But I did not drink. I did not drink, even though I wanted to, even though every fiber of my being ached to drink. I did not. And I slept-- the whole night through. For the first time in months, I slept, not like a baby (up every two hours, hungering for something, cranky and whiny), but like the dead-- deep and uninterrupted.

Redemption. I have no doubt that I was offered this glorious gift, along with a small touch of grace. And in that instant, with no angels dancing, no thunderous chorus, I lay down my struggle with God, for God, found God. I was redeemed, at last. The miracle was for me, at last. And I slept.

And now, it's almost two decades later. Through the grace of God, I have still not taken that drink. I have found a faith that gives me comfort, that carries me through those long dark nights of the soul.

I still have them. Still tend to box with God and demand that God be accountable for divine (in)action, just as God demands that I am accountable for mine. We are locked in an eternal embrace, God and me--- a lover's embrace, intimate, profoundly connected, bound together as blithely as light, as strong as love. I struggle with the idea of God still. I struggle still with God; after all, I am a true Daughter of Israel. Sometimes it is daily, sometimes not. I rail at God and demand to be comforted, to be carried, to be loved. To be enough (for me, for God). And I am still given grace, because I know that when I ask, I am redeemed. When I love, I am enough. And, wrapped in that blanket of grace, I sleep.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

An Absence of Color and Light

We sat among the willows,
and we wept,
there by the river
that flowed
clear and cold and swift,
--branches dancing,
barely dancing--
as they swayed
and swept the ground.

We stood among the weeping trees,
Prayers mixed with
visions of ash.
and smoke
that rose and billowed,
Black against purple-stained blue
-- the blue of periwinkles
and royalty--
and a sky smudged with soot and
an absence of color
and Light,
and the altars we had left behind.

How can we sing
with no stone walls
adorned with lapis and gold:
-- the blue of royalty
and the blaze of the sun--
before that pillar of fire,
that billowing smoke
that is empty of God
and absent of Light?
That raged in a fiery, metallic storm,
licking at loose rubble,
that once was strong walls,
that once was adorned with
the presence of God?

We wept,
and did not sing,
and found no music
in our unstrung lyres
and broken harps.
We wept,
for how could we sing?

And after the weeping
and the fire
and the absent,
broken altars--
Pale morning.
and skies of purple-stained blue
shot through with scarlet and gold.
Mist tangled in those willows,
their branches dancing--
barely dancing--
barely skimming the swiftly flowing waters.

A moment--
A breathless,
sacred moment.
that was a psalm,
A hymn of color,
and holiness
Made anew.
And there was no absence.
And there was light.

And there,
among the willows
by that swiftly flowing river,
We found a new prayer
And sang.

For Tisha B'Av

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Binding

I was bound.
I took the fringes and wrapped them
around my fingers.

Fingers that had danced across
Your name,
And caressed the delicate curve of
My child's face.
Fingers that had scrubbed and
washed and cooked and
a broken dish--
a broken heart--
a broken world.

I was bound
and freed
by those bonds:
Achingly I chose them,
even as they chose me.

And I lifted my eyes to the mountains.
And I lifted my voice to the heavens.
And I lifted my arms to wrap around Your word.
Arms to comfort,
And hold dear,
And hold safe
All that I hold dear--
All that You have commanded.

I was bound
to the rhythm of the world,
Of suns and seas and moons:
A tidal pull to bind me.
An aching--
A stately--
An eternal dance.
And I was moved
And gloriously bound
To lift my voice
and my eyes
and sing praises to Your name
Under a velvet sky,
in the shadow of a holy Wall.

In the holiness of a moment,
In a sacred and tidal moment,
I wrapped the fringes around my fingers
and I lifted my arms
in the presence of Your light.

And I was bound then.
And I was silenced.
And I was herded
and hated
and hobbled.

And still--
still I gathered those fringes,
frayed now
and tangled,
I gathered those fringes
Bound them to me
from corner to corner to
To the heart of it,
The heart of me,
And I lifted deft fingers
to dance along Your name,
And offered my wearied arms
to my sister
my child
my enemy
my God,
And I bowed
And so was bound.

And in my binding,
In my song,
In my center,
I was free

For all of us, eternally at the Wall
Rosh Chodesh Av

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Boxes enough

It pains me to admit this: I have too much stuff.

There’s a lot of it. I bought most of it over the years—new stuff, antique stuff, little stuff, books (lots of books), kitchen gadgets, furniture, kid stuff, mom stuff, books (there really are a lot of them), clothes, pens (most of them work), shoes, gadgets. That’s the stuff off the top of my head. I haven’t even gotten to the boxes.

Yep. There are boxes, filled with stuff. They are holdovers from my move from the townhouse to the condo (50 miles and a million lifetimes ago). The move came as a result of change. I hate that. This might be the reason for the continued status of the boxes: if I keep the boxes (and their contents) long enough, the change will go away, and my life – and stuff—will revert back to their normal (ie- unchanged) state. I have squirreled so much stuff away: a secret cache that comprises the detritus of my life, odd bits of this and that which seemed important to save and squirrel away at the time.

I’ll be damned if I know what half of the stuff is, let alone why I saved any of it. I feel as if I've stumbled into some weird  and forgotten Dr. Seuss story:
This thing is a little round/ This thing never makes a sound/ This thing used to hold a shape/ This thing used to hang on drapes/ Small things, big things, paper and more/ So many things, all blocking the door...

I ask myself, every so often: What's in all those boxes? Oh yeah: my past. That’s what’s in those damned boxes-- my past.

I say all this by way of getting to the real stuff. I say it to sneak up on the scary stuff, the stuff that keeps me tethered so tightly to my past, the stuff I keep close, that I need so desperately and cling to so tightly, holding on with a death grip made of cardboard and packing tape. 

What's in those boxes? Ha! It's not stuff at all. It’s not paper or old photos or a program from some play I was in back in High School. There are no trophies from half-forgotten competitions. There is nothing dusty or slightly mildewed or faintly discolored shoved into some wrinkled corner. What tangles and overflows and twists inside those boxes is people and fear: all the relationships I have been unwilling – or unable—to let go.

I know, in my head, that it’s time. Life changes. So do needs and expectations. Desires change; as do people and the relationships we forge with them. I get that. I am quite smart, thank you very much. I know so very, very much.

That’s the problem: I know.

 I live in my head with my knowing. I swirl and dance into my knowingness. I skip along the razor-sharp edge of reason and swim in the swift current of fact. And with every dip and dive and pirouette, I continue to hold myself safe. I am separate from my knowing. I can still believe that seductive whisper that tells me that this time it will be different. This time I will have my say. This time I will win your heart. This time—no matter where the relationship wandered or how broken it got, I will not be afraid and you will not leave.

The longest journey I’ve ever made, will ever have to make, is the one from my head to my heart. It is an endless and eternal chasm that separates the two, and the way is dark and lonely. The cold seeps into my bones, freezes my joints. And I know, if I just flit fast enough, dive deeply enough, keep inside my head enough—I will never have to face that desolate road in that trackless desert. And so, for all my knowing, for all my wisdom, I have a boxes of broken relationships and dusty fear tethering me to my past, holding me to you.

And yet…

It is just a box. And maybe, really maybe, this time it will be different-- because I will be different. I will show up differently. Perhaps, this time, I can start unpacking the boxes, and those twisty little tethers, that feel so comfortable, so familiar in my hands—maybe I’m ready, finally, to cut them. Maybe, just maybe, I’m ready to put one foot in front of the other, take that final small step across that endless chasm, and start the journey to my heart.

It is so alluring: to stay, to hope, to believe. To want. Oh God, I want to hang on to the possibilities as I see them. And yes, for me, it is just a matter of time and luck and perfect astral alignment that Everything Goes Back To The Way It Was. My heart is doing little flippy-flops to hold it all together, this little bubble of desire.

But I asked to see what was in the damned box.

And all of my mental gymnastics will not keep those pesky, twisty, lovely, damaged and broklen and wonderful and past relationships, with all that fear and all that doubt in place. That journey, that endless and eternal and lonely journey has begun, whether I am ready for it or not. My feet have found the path, however rocky and dark it may be.

I’m not sure of this path. I hate not being sure. I live for certainty, for deftness and sureness and control. I crave knowing.


But we’re coming to a new year, and I get to start clean and pure. I get to be-- different. I get to unpack the boxes, no matter how slowly or hesitantly. I get to leap, in my faith, and believe that I will be caught, to rest safely in the hand of God. I get to let go, finally, and let be, finally. I get to breathe. Finally, I get to say good bye.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Anticipation of Grief

The anticipation of grief
Lingers and catches
On the softly slurred murmurs
And the mostly-whispered conversations
Of remembrance
and shared sorrow,
Laced together with
Quiet conversations of daily life--
Of forgotten milk and
Late for work
And love.

Or maybe grief
Trickles through them,
A rhythmic--
And messy.
A back and forth circling surge
That licks and tickles and laps
Against your heart
And catches your breath.

We wait.
We linger in doorways and
Along narrow aisles
To remember
To witness, at last,
The last gift
This last gift:
A processional of grief
Of Death
and Life
That stumbles
In remembered rhythms
And flows still
In broadening ripples
Tangled with the frayed edges of
This sorrow.

We wait,
In growing expectancy,
In quiet, murmuring patches of
Soft-voiced sadness,
To begin
This ending.
Until the murmuring,
And shuffling
And settling

A final anticipation
In that first benediction:
Expectant and holy
and filled.
We witness.
We remember.

And together, we grieve.

In honor
In love
In remembrance of my friend, Larry Kaufman (z"l)