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