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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

03 Tishrei 5774: Yearn

I may have mentioned this before, but there are two things that I do well. I admit to this relatively freely, and have only pressed the delete key into service about seventeen times in an effort to either perfect that statement or to quell the squishy, icky, self-conscious feeling I get when I get all braggy and out there. Thing is, I've had independent confirmation of these two things-- even by people who don't know me. I mean, it's one thing when a friend compliments you on something. They kind of have to do that, in that friendly-I-love-you-and-I-support-you kind of way that friends have. But when you get that same compliment from a stranger, or someone you don't know well at all-- it has a sticking power that moves the validity of the compliment up a notch or three.

So-- two things. First is writing. I love to write. I love to put words to the bright and shiny (or dark and twisted) pictures in my head. I love the words-- all of them, and have been known to worry at a particular word or phrase for what seems like forever, in an effort to find the exactly right and perfect word. I listen for the cadence that wraps around my words, adding a resonance that rings true to my ear. I listen for the music of the words, listen for the clear bell tone, like a resolution to an unfinished chord.

Music. My first love, and it gets woven into so much that I do. Even in my writing-- I hear its music, hear the songs pour forth, their rhythms and measures building and flowing. Music is the other thing I do well. Singing, to be exact. I do it a lot. If writing fills my head with sound and gives life to the words that chatter and sing and play there, their notes rising and falling in a waterfall symphony that teaches me the lessons of my heart and illuminates the dark and twisted passages playing hide and seek there, music has always been the one thing that gets me out of my head. 

When I write, I find me.

When I sing, I find God.

This may be the very reason why, when I was twenty or so, and angry, and lost, and filled with existential angst, and broken beyond repair (as I decided I had to be), that I gave up singing. I remember saying to myself "I will never sing again." And I didn't, for a very long time. I may have sung in the shower, or with the radio in my car. But as for singing, real singing that got me to that place-- that transcendent, holy place where the music flowed in me and through me and went upwards and outwards and carried a note and my soul along with it straight to God-- that didn't happen. I shut that down, locked up tight and silent and walked through my days trapped inside my head.

It was noisy in my head, without the music. Noisy and dissonant and jangly. For two decades, I was trapped in my own silence. even when I got sober, even when I went to look for God, I stayed silent. I was afraid to sing, afraid of my voice, what it would sound like after years and years of disuse (not to mention the years and years of abuse. Afraid that even when I sang again, really sang, I would would no longer be able to find God, and would be trapped in my silence forever.

And then, somewhere in there, somewhere in that silence and that fear, I took my son to Sunday School when he was six. While I was in the synagogue, I heard the sound of an Am being played, and I was freed. Okay, not instantly. But that one chord, that melancholy, joyous, yearning chord, found me, found my silence and unlocked the chains I'd so carefully set in place.

Yearning. It is neither want nor need. There is need and desire in it, but it is more a reaching up, a reaching out, in hope, in joy, in despair and desolation. It is a flame that flickers and moves upward, dancing and guttering, and glowing through it all. It is an Am, sweet and knowing and raw. It is a question, a prayer, a fluid and graceful arc. It is the human heart's cry of "Where are you?" and the breathless hope of God's answer "Hineini-- Here I am."

I found my voice, left the silence behind, when I heard the yearning of that music. It was the voice of my own desire. In it, I found benediction. I found blessing. I found God. And when I opened up again, lifted my voice in song again, I found God again-- and God welcomed me home.

Friday, September 6, 2013

02 Tishrei 5774: Wonder

For the past year, give or take, I have been wishing people a year filled with wonder in my Facebook birthday message. I tend to gloss over the exact meaning of that. It sounds good: deep, kind of profound, definitely spiritual in some way, and certainly with a vague and unspoken reference to God. In actuality, I don't know that I've ever given any real thought to what a year of wonder actually means.

As I was mulling over this topic today, I  tried a couple of meanings on for size. Given that I am convinced I have ADD, my meanderings have been

Oh look! Squirrels! And bright, shiny objects! Detours...

As I started to say, before I interrupted myself back there-- my meanderings have been interesting. That one of them was "I wonder how I have managed to not kill my beloved boy child yet///" will give you an idea of just how far afield (and how much on the edge) I can get. My son, though, gets me closer to an answer, a better understanding of wonder. 

We were sitting in services this morning, me because I wanted to be there, he because I forced him out of bed and insisted, He's a good kid, so my insistence was not too demanding. He sat next to me, playing with the tzitzit of my tallit, listening some, fiddling some, reading some, possibly praying some. Later, after the service, sitting and kibbitzing with friends, my son informed me, again, that he didn't believe in God. And again, I answered him in the only way that makes sense to me> "That's okay; you believe in kindness. I'm okay with that."

This being the time of year that it is, I felt the need to elaborate. "Nate, you look out at the woods there behind the house and see nature in all its glory-- fractals and delicate equations and chemical reactions and set laws that are knowable and predictable. I see all that, my beloved boy, and hovering just above that field, I see God. You say science; I say God. I don't think God cares one way or another what you call him (her)."

What is that leap? How do I get to God-- the God of fractals and predictable science? We both looked at that idyllic scene with a sense of wonder. I think though, the wonder of it all, is the willingness to strip bare-- leave the cynicism and absolute certainty off to the side. There is delight in wonder, and surprise. I There is something breathtaking about it. Perhaps the difference between my son's vision and mine is that I see no disconnect between science and God. 

I want to end here. Mostly. I don't know that I'm quite satisfied with this explanation. There is some otherness that pushes one into wonder. There is a willingness to be vulnerable and naked-- a willingness to disallow preconceived ideas of how things work/ There should be a sense of God, of beyondness. And I know I'm making up words, but I'm trying to pull this together and the words I know aren't getting me far enough.

Wonder is a startlement, a gasp of recognition and beauty. It is God and fractals and a double helix, twined in an intimate dance. It is a leap, from a field of liquid green laced with late summer gold to a glorious hymn to God, made of bright color and soft breezes.

And all of this may be true, but it doesn't even come close to the sense that is wonder. But there's this-- I went to service with my son this morning. I, because I wanted to; he because I insisted. And there was enough love, enough trust, enough a sense of rightness and respect, that we sat, for an hour or two, praying, listening, fiddling, laughing and loving. For all the geometry and beyondness: there is breathtaking wonder in that simple and glorious  moment.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

01 Tishrei 5774: Happy New Year

I got used to writing and posting every day during Elul. I resented it, and felt under the gun and annoyed, in a free-floating annoyance kind of way, since no one was pushing me to do it except for me. I had made the commitment to myself, thinking it would be a gentle walk in the park. I was (honesty being called for, i suppose, especially today) wrong. Frankly, it would have been much more satisfying to take out my annoyance on You. As it was, I grumbled and had many manic thoughts of chucking the project, more than a handful of times, especially near the end.

I finished, despite my resentment. And now, not a day later, I kinda miss it.

"Hey," I feel like saying, "we made it-- it's a new day, a new year. Wow. We are on the other side. Ta da." And then i toss the glitter and confetti high into the air. Ta da indeed.

So I was thinking-- and you don't have to play if you don't feel like it-- I was thinking that Elul was an astounding thing, the act of preparation, with prompts and a guide (thank you to my friend, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer). Why not continue, through the Yamim Nora'im-- the Days of Awe, these ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

What better time than now, to reflect and prepare, than when the Gates are flung wide and the Book of Life and Death is unsealed? I know, I know-- "now" is always the right time, but spiritual f wonkiness aside, this now seems quite apropos.

And forgive me, but I don't have a premade list that someone has so kindly bequeathed me (or the world). So I will have to make it up, right now. I hope you don't mind. I'll try it, see how it goes. Like Scheherazade's King in the Thousand and One Nights, I can always change my mind tomorrow.

Happy new year, my friends, whether you play or not. May the year to come be filled with blessings and light, sweetness, healing and peace. 

Here's my list. Let me know if you like it, and certainly if you think of any other principles that might be good to reflect upon as we gather at the Gates.

01 Tishrei   Celebrate
02 Tishrei   Wonder
03 Tishrei   Yearn
04 Tishrei   Wholeness
05 Tishrei   Peace
06 Tishrei   Ready
07 Tishrei   Fear
08 Tishrei   Mercy
09 Tishrei   Justice
10 Tishrei   Awe

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

29 Elul 5773: Return

So, here's the part where I get a little wonky, a little out there. A little (if I may be so bold) vulnerable. Here's the part where I say: 

We are always at the Gate. 
We are always at Sinai. 
We are always redeemed.

We all-- every one of us-- walk a path with God. We may not recognize it or acknowledge it, but we do. There is beauty and pain and hope and despair in every one of those paths. Percentages may change. How long I choose to walk in despair may change and shift. It is the same for sorrow and wonder and joy. They are all there. It's what we carry and what we take away. It is our breath. Our souls. Our hope and sorrow. It is the Gate. It is Sinai. 

It is, ever and always, our redemption.

The beauty of Elul is the realization that I am there-- right there-- poised at the edge of everything-- always. I have dived and reflected, shined lights and prepared, to stand here-- right here-- with my heart open , eyes wide, filled with blessings and forgiveness, filled with my humanity and acceptance of yours. Ready, so very ready, to step through. To fit, to be, to become. 


And the thing I take away from this holy and sacred undertaking (entered into on a lark, carried out reluctantly, resentful of the discipline and formality, and doing it anyway) (and learning and growing and becoming as a result) -- another of those profound, transformative, life-altering truths that I find unlooked for and in odd places-- what I find is this: either every day is holy or no day is.  Today, I choose to live in a world where every day is holy. The gate is always open. I am always there. God is always there, ready to catch me, grab my hand and dance.

Tonight. Tomorrow. Yom Kippur. A week from next Thursday. Either every day is holy or no day is. The gates of repentance are always open. I am returned. I am redeemed. All I have to do is step through.

Thank you for being a part of my journey. Thank you for shining your lights in my darkness, for celebrating my joy and triumph, for teaching me the glory of silence the holiness of community. You brought your songs, your souls your lives and given me welcome/  I have been blessed beyond imagining. 

Shana tova umetukah-- may you have a sweet year, filled with wonder and joy, light and love, healing and wholeness.

Just in case you didn't see this the first time around-- I wrote this as I entered into Elul. It is no less true having walked through these days.

The Edge of Everything

We gathered,
all of us,
having walked this long road

There is so much I don't
remember of it:
and dust
and heat-cracked pavement.

And noise!
God, the noise--
It could tear you apart
and get inside your head
and all you want
is just a little piece of
A chance to
without feeling like
your hope
your fear
your love
All of it,
All of you
was caught
somewhere in your chest,
or maybe your throat,
And all you want is just one small
to be easy
and quiet.

So we gathered
at the edge,
the very edge of
Stopped in our noise
and our doubt
and fear.
at the edge
of love
and hunger:
At the edge of want,
to catch the light
of a thousand suns
and ten thousand moons
and absolute


Glinting of silver
and an infinity of
Subtle variations
of color
and depth,
in the  reflection of
all along the edges,
with light.

We gathered here,
at the edge,
bathed in
and bending light,
weary and
to leap. 
To dive into that pool
filled to overflowing
with love
and doubt
and hunger 
and hope,
that waiting pool of 

And filled now with sudden, shivery
and stars that reel
in mirrored waters.

And so I leap
With the light of
Of earth and sky,
all my doubt
my love
and longing.

And I remember
A road of dust and
Heat-cracked pavement
And I gather in the noise
And light
And breath-stopping fear,
Gather them in, to
Release them
In a single
Graceful sweep:
There is beauty in my pain.
There is more in
Letting go.

And so I breathe:
I am returned
To the edge of my


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

28 Elul 5773: Give

"You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give." Winston Churchill

That's what it's about really: not the hokey pokey, but making a life-- one that matters. Why else bother with this exercise in forgiveness and redemption? Why else make this breathtaking journey of diving deeper and bending the light a little differently? Why else gather together at the gates, waiting and expectant, to ask that we be let through, to ask that we find joy and sweetness and life? Why else walk with God, listening for that still, small voice that rises up so gently, to shelter us and give us comfort as we go forward, one breath, one heartbeat, on step at a time?

Why else indeed?

We give of our time. We give of our talents. We give of our treasures. Head, Hands. Heart. We give, and slowly, we build something beautiful-- a kehillah kedosha, a holy community. A life that matters.

There is so much need in this world. One could drown in it. The need is everywhere-- halfway around the world, on the other side of the country next door. It is not bounded by color, or sex, nationality or religion. And the need grows, daily== Hunger. War. Unclean water. Disease. Poverty. Ignorance. Fear. Want. devastation. You know the list as well as I. There are (sadly) no surprises to it. It is a symphony of dissonance and discord, harsh and hurting, played on a very delicate and very human stage. It saps our resources and drains our spirits. 

Lo Alecha ham'lachah ligmor, velo atah ben chorin l'hibatel mimena: we are not required to finish the work; neither are we free to desist from it. (Pirke Avot 2:16). The work is vast. The need an endless chasm. But we give. We build a holy community, we build a life that matters. 

We stand at the gates and we open our hearts. We give, and so we change the world, and so we ourselves are changed. Head. Hands. Heart. B'tzelem elohim, we give, we change, we are redeemed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

27 Elul 5773: Intend

I had intended...

Wait. Let me start again, this time in the present. I intend...

Ugh. I have no idea what I intend, what I had intended, what I will have intended.

What I know is that I love the English pluperfect-- past, present and future, all rolled into one. Even more than the pluperfect tense,  I love that in Hebrew, we consider not necessarily past, present or future, but completed versus not completed. Action over time, complete versus intended.

The holiness of completion and the grammar of intention.

They are intricately-- intimately-- connected, by time, by action, by desire. It is not enough to want. It is not enough, even, to do. The rabbis tell us that in order to satisfy the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, I must have intended to do so. I must consciously be in a place where I will hear it. If I merely happen to walk by a synagogue and hear the sharp burst of tekiyah, I will not have satisfied this commandment.

I strive for completion, for the mindfulness of my intention. I intend to fully engage, in my Judaism, in my continued and continuing conversation with God, in finding a path to wholeness that shelters me and the world entire.

My actions mostly support this. Sigh. My intention, though, can be-- incomplete. I am subject to the laws of unintended consequences. My grammar can be faulty in this. I am less than holy, though I am human; no more, no less. I have hurt others, through my thoughtlessness. I have been unkind in my haste. I am unforgiving in my passion and self-righteousness. I am cruel in my fear. I am cynical in my doubt. I do not intend to be these things. My intentions are (mostly) good. Please God, don't let me be misunderstood-- least of all, by me.

One of my favorite of the midrash is one of creation. There are ten things, the rabbis tell us (except when there are seven) (because the rabbis can spin many plates at the same time)-- there are ten things that were created before God ever created the world. Depending upon the rabbi and the midrash, these included the rainbow, and the burning bush and the ram's horn. There were others, like manna and Miriam's well that sustained in the desert. The greatest of these, though, to my mind, is t'shuvah.

How awesome is God! How great is the Creator of All, to know that there would be a disconnect between intent and result? How breathtakingly, achingly divine, to understand that before creating the heavens and earth, we needed to have a path back, a way to return? We will sin, but we will not be abandoned. The gates of t'shuvah will always be open for us, whenever we approach them, whenever we walk through. 

Be holy, we are told, because God is holy, and we are b'tzelem elohim: in the image of God. But we are human, and so, for all our mindfulness, for all our drive towards completion and wholeness, we will fall short. We will hurt the people we love, we will be indifferent to the needs of others, we will turn away the stranger in our midst. even when we intend otherwise. 

Just as God intends for us to find the way back, to return, to stand, once again at the Gates that are thrown wide (or openned only a small crack)-- we will find forgiveness, we will find God, we will find each other, ever and always, there at the Gates. And in the very instant that we step through, in that breath, that heartbeat, that intention-- there is neither past, nor present nor future. There is only wholeness.

The holiness of completion, the grammar of intention.