Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Neverwhen falling into place

There is something
and hesitant
and slightly
in the act of saying:

I know you;
at least, I think I do.

I think my heart has met yours before,
on some excursion
into the neverwhen
and everwhere.

There is some sign,
some sudden
a falling into

And time
cannot deny
or conceal
the stutterstep
and stammer
of our knowingness.

We have collided
and burst into
ribbons of delight
and danced.

And it has just been
until now,
this very moment,
that we have caught
each other's eye
enough to remember
I know you,
and have met your heart

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
30 April 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014


I will walk the requisite path--
The one that begins here,
Right here, in front of me.
I have stared at its armored edge
for a small taste of Forever.
Really -
It looks no different From any other spot;
There is no demarcation,
no arrows or exes
to shout its beginning.

It is not a parade ground,
That bared-earth spot,
So there is no confetti.
It's just ground,
(as if ground were not wondrous enough:
a place to stand and catch your breath,
which is the holy name of God)
But it is merely ground -
Holy ground,
hard and empty.

I would prefer confetti.

I will walk the requisite path
On hard, bare ground,
Starting here, right here.
There is no there,
or I might take that one.
There always seems so much more than,
and I feel its tug so much more

But there is no confetti, and no

So here is a good place to start.
And here I stand, and wait to begin,
Wait to step into the Infinite,
Because the infinite
Lies on hard, bare ground
Unfurled at my feet.


Not there, without fanfare.
It waits, patient and ready
for my step, my beginning.
Bending inwards,
curving, twisting
a double helix of Infinite discovery
That begins - and ends
with a single step,
A single breath
That is the name of God


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fear, Faith and a Really Big Sea: Freefall Redux

I have been here before.

I have been on this edge, this razor-sharp edge that offers no protection at all. It is merely a separation, a narrow space between one wilderness and the next. My feet are rooted, tangled in my fears, and my fingers turn white with strain, holding so tightly to this tether that keeps me bound to this place.

I have been here before, at this exact spot. Every time, I have stood, bent by the weight of my solitude and fear. Every time, I have listened to the howl of that mindless wind, felt the ache of static endlessness. Every time, I have stared, sightless-- or sight turned inward, searching for a path too dark and overgrown to be of use. Every time, I have stood immobile, and yet I spin madly, careening down a Mobius path to nowhere. Or, perhaps, everywhere.

I am exhausted. And I can't seem to let go.

Letting go feels so much like defeat, and I can't take one more defeat, one more loss, one more failure. I can't, I can't, I just fucking can't. I have been here. Exactly here. It is different every time, except for the howling of the wind and the ache of endlessness.

And yet. Goddamn it, and yet. Every time, every single time that I have been exactly here, clinging to wind and sound until I am broken and bloodied-- every time, I have let go.


And I have been caught, in the palm of God's hand. And I have seen God, in the kindness of strangers and the compassion of friends. And I have heard God there, and felt lifted and caught and freed. Such a simple thing, to let go. Such an monumentally difficult and tortuous thing. But there is grace in it, and redemption, and wonder and hope, when I find the faith, finally, to let go.

This year, I am again stuck. And afraid and not breathing well at all. This year, I am holding on for dear life and I am more exhausted and defeated in my efforts. This year, I stand at the edge of that endless Sea and I pray to have the faith, again, to let go, to enter the freefall that leads me to somewhere else, that is not that edge of howling madness. 

This year, once again, I reflect, as I have for the past few, on Fear, and Faith, and that really big Sea:

(Originally posted for Passover, 2010/5770)
I'm in one of those places: stuck, prickly, at the very edge of letting go, trembling with the effort to not tip over the edge into the abyss of the unknown, desperate to take that final leap of faith and soar towards light and wholeness. I am astounded, as always, when I think how inextricably intertwined my fear and my faith have become. I have heard (more times than I care to remember) that Fear (always pronounced with a capital F) is an absence of Faith. No. I think not. I demand Not. I am too intelligent--- God is too intelligent-- to demand unthinking blind faith like that, to insist that faith is a guard against fear.

Fear keeps the lights on at night and smells of sweat and tension and anxiety-- sharp and unpleasant. If the fear is great enough, it can keep me rooted and curled in on myself, covers pulled tightly over my head, unmoving. Paralyzed. Stuck. Tentative. Invisible.

But my faith: sweet and sure and graceful. It wraps around me like light, like breath, like life. It sometimes moves mountains. More often than not, it is just enough. Enough, not to beat back the darkness or vanquish my demons, but enough to put one foot in front of the other, to walk, however falteringly, forward. To know that, no matter what, I am enough, I will be ok.

And so, faith and grace being what they are, I think of my fear, and my stuckness, and I am reminded that it is Pesach (Passover). And in the midst of all of this darkness, there is also redemption, and release.

I got to tell the story of Nachshon at assembly a while back during Sunday school. It is my favorite midrash, I think. (For those of you reading this who are now totally lost in the tangle of my narrative, a midrash is a rabbinic story, a device used to fill in some of the blanks and the holes in the Torah. Kinda folkloric, they are the stories behind the stories.) So, Nachshon-- he was a slave with all the other Israelites who found redemption at the hand of God. He was Let Go, with a capital L and a capital G, brought out with a Mighty Hand. He packed and didn't let the dough rise and ran, breathless and scared and grateful, away from the land of Pharaohs and pyramids and crocodiles and slavery--- ran into freedom.

And then he got to the sea. He and 600,000 other un-slaved people. Stopped cold by the Red Sea. It was huge, and liquid and deep. You couldn't see the other side. It was so big you couldn't see any sides. Just wet from here to... forever.

And behind him, when he (and 600,000 others) dared to peek: Pharaoh and his army of men and horses and chariots. And spears and swords and assorted sharp pointy things. We really can't forget the sharp pointy things. Even at a distance, the sharp pointy things loomed quite large in the eyes of Nachshon and his recently-freed landsmen. Caught between the original rock and a hard place. Well, ok: between water and pointy metal stuff. At this point, I don't think anyone involved cared much about getting the metaphor exactly right. What they cared about was getting out from that perilous middle. Fast.

So Moses, because it was his job, went to have a chat with God. And just like that, Moses got an answer--- a Divine Instant Message. All that the Children of Israel needed to do: walk forward, into the Sea, that big, wet, deep forever sea. God would provide a way. "Trust Me," God seemed to say. "I got you this far, didn't I? I wouldn't let you fall now!"

And Nachshon and the 600,000 stood at the shivery edge of that Sea, staring at that infinite horizon in front and the pointy, roiling chaos of death and slavery behind them. And they stood. Planted. And let's face it: not just planted, but rooted in their fear and mistrust and doubt. They may have felt reassured by the image of God as a pillar of smoke or fire--- impressive pyrotechnics to be sure--- but the soldiers and the Sea were so there, so present, so much more real.

And then, in the midst of that fear and doubt, something changed. Nachshon, lately freed, trapped between death by water and death by bleeding, Nachshon did the miraculous-- he put one foot in front of the other and walked into the sea.  And the 600,000 held their collective breath, watching the scene unfold before them. Nachshon did what 600,000 could not: he decided to believe, to have faith. To leap. And tho the water covered first his ankles, then knees, then chest, then kept rising, until he was almost swallowed whole, he kept walking, kept believing. And just when it seemed that Nachshon was a fool for his faith, would surely drown in that infinite forever sea, another miracle:

The waters parted.

The Sea split and Nachshon, so recently in over his head, he walked on dry land. And the 600,000 breathed again, in one relieved whoosh of air, and they found their own faith and followed Nachshon into and across the dry Sea to the other side.  And then the journey truly began...

I pray to have faith enough to walk into my own Sea--- of doubt and fear and darkness. I want to walk and feel the waters part, to be released from the tangled web of thought that holds me immobile and disconnected. I have learned, again and again, without fail: when I take that step, when I find the grace and the faith to put one foot in front of the other, to trust, as Nachshon did, I am carried forward, I am freed from my self-imposed bondage. I am enough, and I can walk again on dry land to freedom.

I think I am finally ready to let go, to leave the desert, to stumble at last along a narrow bridge to light and hope. There is fear; yes. But there is also faith and grace and redemption.  Even for me, there is redemption. 

Once we were slaves, now we are free.

Chag Pesach Sameach. 
Happy Passover

Thursday, April 10, 2014

10 Nisan - Leave

"Get out. Leave. Walk away, and don't stop until I tell you to stop." This is how I imagine God's speech to Abraham. back when Abraham was still working in his father's idol shop in the land of Ur. Regardless of the actual Hebrew - or Aramaic - or whatever Urish language they spoke when Ur was the Hot Address of the Fertile Crescent.

Get out, says God, and miracle of miracles-- Abraham does. He packs up lock, stock and ass, and heads west, never looking back. Apparently, he got the dangers of looking back that some of his in laws never did. 

I cannot imagine the sheer amount of faith that act took. Talk about praying with your feet! On the strength of a voice alone, not even a vision (nor hallucination), Abe believed that he would be carried through, be made great. He was picked, chosen, The Man. He never doubted. He argued. He bargained. He obeyed (but please, don't get me started on that! [and feel free to read my poem, Like Dust and Heat, for my cut on that little escapade]). But he didn't doubt. And he left.

Flash forward a millennium or two, to the Children of Israel. Refugees turned invited guest turned slave over the course of four hundred years. And now, after having their cries of anguish ignored by their God for the whole time, some felon-on-the-run, some Jew-turned Egyptian prince-turned-Jew, who had hidden out with the Midianites, marrying a local girl and spening his days herding flocks and talking to bushes-- this guy came and started stirring things up and making impossible demands. "Let my people go!" he said to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh seemed to listen-- but Pharaoh had his doubts. Pharaoh needed a little proof, a small demonstration of might and power. Pharaoh needed to be shown this might and power again and again times ten.

And finally, after all the blood and frogs and vermin and bad stuff, miracle of miracles-- Pharaoh said yes. And Moshe said "Get out. Leave. Walk away. Follow me, God'll keep you safe." Their faith was a little more tenuous than Abe's had been, a little more wishy-washy. It was all well and good when they could see the pillar of fire and the cloud of smoke. Absent that, there were a few (how to put this delicately?) blindspots. None of them escaped unscathed, not even Moshe. They were a fiery, tempestuous, argumentative and whiny bunch of people. Once they were slaves, now they were.. hungry and tired and scared. Freed was low on the list of adjectives that they cared about.

But for all of that, they did it: they went. They left the only place they knew as home, the only life they knew how to live, and they did it on the strength of a voice, a vision and a promise. Perhaps not as purposefully as Abraham and his entourage, perhaps a little more frantic than Abe's earlier departure, perhaps they looked back a time or two-- but the left.

I think about these scenes-- of wonder and chaos and reverence. I think about the faith it took to move. To do the unimaginable: leave. Wow (I know-- I'm a writer, I should have more words, better words than this, but, I mean-- really: wow!). 

I talk about having faith. I live on my faith. I get a spiritual high from my faith. Blah blah blah. It's all well and good, until I have to depend on my faith, and do the unimaginable-- leave. Or, more precisely, leave things behind. I carry everything with me as I traverse my own wilderness-- my fear, my doubt, my brokenness. I mean to leave it behind. I really, really do. I think I leave behind me, at whatever stopping off place, whatever oasis I find refuge. Imagine my surprise to find that it's all still there, tucked away in some corner of my basket, with all my other stuff. No matter how many times I am shown that I will be carried through, that I will be okay (not that bad things won't ever happen, but that my faith will be strong enough to allow me to put one foot in front of the other, so that I can face whatever is in front of me). No matter, like Pharaoh, I have my doubts. I need to be shown. Again.

I like to think that, even if I haven't quite managed to leave my broken stuff behind, to let it go for good, then at least it's not as big, not as monumentally huge and all-consuming as when I first picked whatever-it-is up, drew it to me and made it grow and blossom (like deadly nightshade). I think, sometimes, that is true. All of those bits of brokenness are smaller, less powerful. They no longer paralyze me, they merely make me stumble.

And this year, as I stand once again at the border of the desert, suddenly freed and commanded to leave-- perhaps I will finally have the faith of Abraham and Moshe and the whiny, courageous and human folk of the Exodus. Perhaps I will finally have the faith to leave.


c Stacey Zisook Robinson
10 April 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

09 Nisan - Ask

Passover is all about asking. Why this? What happened next? Who know what? When can we eat?

They are nice, contained, well-scripted questions. They all have answers. Well-scripted answers. Well, okay, maybe the not "When do we eat?" question, but the rest-- they are scripted and written and sung. They are safe.

Don't get me wrong-- they're not necessarily easy. I say they're safe because they're familiar. I don't have to think too much about them, don't have to focus on them, really. The words fall into a well-traveled pathways, smoothed after years - decades - centuries of use. They connect me across miles and generations, these questions and answers. 

I remember how excited and nervous I was, when I knew it would finally be my turn to chant the Four Questions for the first time. The honor fell to the youngest girl who was able. When we finally all became of age, so to speak, everyone would have a chance to read or chant. Oh, the chaos and the tears! "It's my turn!" "Why does she always get to go first?" "When do we eat??" I don't know that the adults paid much attention. This was the section of the seder that was all ours - the kids - and they turned their attention to sopping up the last bits of charoset or chopped liver was on their plate, impatient to get through to the real part of the service - dinner.

But when the last child was through, there was applause and praise. There was an answer, sung in Hebrew by both my zaydes. While we always had Passover at my dad's folks, my mother's mom and stepfather were always there. They would stand, my grandfathers, at opposite ends of the long table (made longer by the addition of leaves and a folding or two) , and (I swear) commence dueling. It was a contest of will and speed-- which of them could chant the entire Haggadah fastest, their thick Ashkenazi accents softening the final tof into a sibilant ess, and rounding long ohs into aws. At some point, their words became indistinguishable; neither Hebrew nor English, but perhaps what was heard at Babel. I would watch, transfixed, paging through the Haggadah to figure out how much of the seder was left to do. Occasionally, the zaydes would turn, as if in concert, and ask another participant to speak. We, at the kid's table (for all those who had not yet become a bar or bat mitzvah-- or my family, who always seemed to be relegated there in deference to my Aunt and her kids, whom we knew were out-and-out favorites), would loosely pay attention, preferring to throw food at one another (if it was just us kids) or whisper loudly to our mother "How come we never get to sit at the big table?"

Through it all-- questions. Asked and answered.

It wasn't until later - much, much later - that I learned to ask more difficult, less expected questions. Or perhaps, it wasn't that the questions were unexpected, but that I demanded different, less pat answers. Why do we open the door? Why do we wait for those in need to find us? Shouldn't we be out there (wherever there was), to help those in need before they even ask for it? Shouldn't we be working to create a world where there are no hungry? What enslaves us now? What is our wilderness? Who should lead us out now? What does our freedom mean? To what are we in bondage? How can we become free? How can I make a difference? How can I change the world? How do we best serve God?

Amazing questions. They filled me and fueled me. Made me angry, Made me think. Demanded an answer. Begged for action. They took me out of the familiar and smack dab in the middle of some uncharted frontier. And then last year, as if by chance, someone asked me, as we discussed the Exodus and the journey to Sinai and beyond-- "What do you take with you? What do you leave behind?" 

I have spent the last year trying to answer these. I have written about them, thought about them, wrestled with them. Every answer I've managed to find has been right, even as its been wrong. They've been almost, potential. great starts. Or maybe I'm just trying to hard. Or maybe, what I take and leave behind are the same things, again and again-- i take my pain and my fear and my grief with me, and then somehow, find that I've take it all right back. Whatever lessons, whatever redemption or forgiveness I am supposed to realize is played in an endless loop-- and will ever be thus, as long as I continue to play this out.

Perhaps this year, I can ask a bit differently-- What do I take with me? How can I leave it behind and so find healing and grace?


c Stacey Zisook Robinson
09 April 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

08 Nisan - Learn

I would be a professional student for the rest of my life, given endless wealth and endless time. I have neither, so I have to get my learning in below the radar, as it were. Not that it's a secret or anything. If you've known me longer than say, five minutes, you know I'm a wonk, through and through. I'm a geek, a nerd, a brainiac. When I was growing up, in fourth or fifth grade, they called me Bomar Brain (Google it; it was part compliment, part condemnation). I was one smart little cookie. And while wildly unpopular during most of the school year, I would suddenly have eleventy-seven people all clamoring to be my friend whenever there was a group project to do or a test to study for. 

(And yes-- I recognize that I just ended that sentence with a preposition. I did it quite mindfully and purposefully. So there.)

It always surprises me - being almost as naive as I am cynical - that not everyone is as fascinated with learning, that not everyone feels like a kid in a candy store at the prospect of diving into a new subject (or an old subject, for that matter). Discussion, argument (in the best, most awesome philosophical sense of the word), exhortation or lecture-- it never mattered. Never matters. It's all good, and energizing and amazing. It's all learning.

I'm awesome at the book stuff. It's the people stuff that still throws me for a loop.

Although I've gotten better over the decades (if by "better" you mean "took a very tiny step in a million mile journey") (metaphorically speaking), I clearly have so much more to learn. 

You want to have an intellectual discussion on matters deep and profound? Perfect. Small talk? Chit chat? My skin still crawls every time I am faced with the prospect. Remember that scene from "All That Jazz," when Roy Scheider stands in front of his mirror every morning, downs a handful of pills, covers his face with his hands and then lowers them, saying "It's showtime!" to his own reflection? That's me, in spades-- I learned to play at human, not how to, you know, actually be one.

My son, my glorious, amazing and loving son-- he stood in front of me a month or three ago, tears streaming down his face, asking me why I sent him back to a place (the place being his high school) where he just feels like an outside All. The. Time. My heart shattered into an infinity of pieces. I asked the same thing, over and over again, at his age. Here it is, almost 40 years later, and I still don't have an answer, still don't get the whole people thing-- how do you fit in, how do you connect? 

Please God, let me figure that out. let me learn that lesson. Please.

I don't know if I'm asking for myself or my son. I know I have no frame of reference for him, no handy lessons that will help ease the way. I am as lost in this as he is. 

What I do know-- what' I've learned, is that now, right now, we stand at the edge of a vast and empty desert. It's the beginning, this place, the jumping off place. The start of a journey that will lead to some distant promised land-- whatever the hell that is. Journeys always seem so huge, so impossibly long. So impossibly solitary. And yet, they are all just made up of steps. One step, then another and another, in a long and (sometimes) circuitous path, until they move us (me) to some unimagined end, or some resting place along the way, marked with signs and wonders. And the counting of each step doesn't really matter until the end; up until then, they're just-- steps.

I've not reached the end, so it doesn't matter how many it's taken me to get here.

I have learned this much, though: as long as it doesn't matter-- why go it alone? Why not find some fellow travelers to walk with me along the way. We can talk, or be silent, sing some, learn some, pray some, think some. Share some. Share the joy. And the pain. The grief, the wonder, the boredom, the reverence and grace. 

And maybe, what has been important for me is not finding the definitive answer, but learning how to seek it.


c Stacey Zisook Robinson
08 April 2014 

Monday, April 7, 2014

07 Nisan - Bless

I do not feel very blessed these days.

I do not feel...

And there I stop. I do not feel. All that numbness, all that ice and gray. I am locked up tight in my private tower, invisible to the eye, but with walls so thick, with neither windows nor doors, it's tough-- it's impossible-- for light to get in, or air or blessings. I tell myself that it keeps the panic at bay. But the ghostly tendrils of panic pool at my feet and coil up my legs, clinging to me like those no-seeum spiderwebs that stretch across a garden path.

It's a spiderweb kind of day.

These are the times when wiser heads than I say "Look for the blessings..." Personally, I would like to spit at those people, those know-it-all, smug and spiritually fit people. I do not like those trite little exercises, these Kumbaya moments. Not now. Now I prefer the safety of my tower, with its hollow silence and stillness.

Thoughts, though-- they have a life of their own. They skitter and slip sideways. They aren't particulate, like light, so they need no cracks, no hidden pathways to circle and whistle and draw attention to themselves. They sing, unbidden, and flit in manic disarray. 

I have been at this too long. I have listened once to often. There are blessings.

Even rooted in my tower, in the middle of whatever pain or brokenness that has tethered me to this spot (this one spot, moving neither left nor right, forward or back)-- there are blessings. Dammit. Like a soothing balm, they tumble forth, catching some inner light so that I see them all, just out of the corner of my eye, like bright feathers the color of jewels.

What are my blessings? Dammit-- what are they? I have to name them, acknowledge them, and so make them real-- for me. This is a reminder, no matter how much I whine about it. I need reminders.

  • I didn't take a drink today. Life abounds with miracles.
  • I have a roof over my head, food on the table.
  • I have heat in the winter, clean running water, cooling when it's hot.
  • I have access to medical care and medicines.
  • I have skills. No job right now, but skills that I can market. Eventually. When I remember all the blessings that surround me, and leave the tower behind.
  • I have friends. Real ones, the kind that stick around and care and are kind and funny and smart and they call me when I least expect it (like today), and they love me enough to call my on my BS. They're my chosen family, the ones I've found along the way who help to raise me (and each other) up.
  • I have family, blood family, who bicker and squabble and sometimes play mean, but they come together, in love, when it's needed most. They let me come home again, let me rant a while, tell me stupid jokes-- and then let me go when it's time. Until the next time (and they don't seem to care that there's always a next time).
  • I have a son-- a brilliant and glorious son who is growing into a human being. Proud doesn't even come close to what I feel for him. Awed is much closer, tangled with annoyed (he is, after all, fifteen). Loved beyond belief. Staggered by the responsibility and the joy of walking with him for this short time, before he soars on his own.

I have been given grace and light and hope. I have been blessed beyond imagining. The tower? It's my illusion. All I need to do is take one step, one single step and I am free. 

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
07 April 2014

#blogElul  #Exodusgram

Sunday, April 6, 2014

06 Nisan - Clean

Growing up, my mother and I would reenact the same ritual every Tuesday and Thursday morning:

         Mom:  Stacey. Go clean your room. Ann [our housekeeper] is coming.
         Me:     Silence. Incomprehension. Clean my room before the housekeeper could do it for                           me? What? You cannot be serious! (All this totally inside my own head. I never                             bothered to respond out loud, as the suggestion was so ludicrous.

And every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I would look around the mess of my room, go to school, and come back to a room that was clean-- bed made, clothes hung or folded, depending, things dusted. It would smell of Pine Sol and bleach. I thin k. At least, those are the smells I associated with Ann's days at our house.

This went on for years and years. It never changed: I'd make a mess; Ann would clean it up.

When I moved into my first apartment, I called my mother: "Ok, mom," I said, "I have a toilet bowl brush and it didn't come with instructions. How does it work." She must have laughed a good five minutes. Sadly, she was with a group of her friends, playing bridge when I called. They laughed as long and as loud as mom.

"But you never taught me! When did I ever have to clean a toilet?" I didn't come close to understanding her amusement. I just thought my embarrassment was all her fault. Of course, at eighteen, what wouldn't have been my mother's fault?

I am no longer eighteen. Thank God. I can't imagine ever being that young, that innocent and naive and world-weary, all at the same time. I have since learned a lot about cleaning: I make my own bed most mornings. Do the dishes. Dust occasionally. Pick up after my son (and tell "Clean your room; Mariola is coming today."). While cleaning the house is not on my top 1,000 things I'd like to do, I do it anyway, because it needs to be done.

My house: mostly clean. If not scrubbed and shiny, then not embarrassing. If company dropped by unexpectedly, I would be able to invite them in. This was not always the case. There have been days (weeks) (I'm pretty sure not months, but who's counting?) where the mess was barely contained within the confines of my home. Sometimes, not contained at all. Was I the only one with a "magic closet," that could just as easily turn into a "magic bedroom?" While the "public rooms" of the house were neat(ish), the closet/bedroom was more of a war-ravaged mess or a pillager's treasure trove, depending upon your perspective.

And I knew, without a doubt, that my life and my mess were connected. The more chaotic my life, the more it went spinning out of control, the more chaos at home. I prided myself, at times, that at least I could find a place to sit for me and a friend or two. That I couldn't open certain doors was a secret I thought I'd carry to the grave. (So much for secrets.)

The prompt for today is "Clean." I love that there is no further direction or instruction. I started this essay thinking I would write about the cleaning necessary for Passover-- the cabinets and dishes and pantries-- transformed, shifted, cleaned. But I cannot write about what I don't do. And I do not clean for Pesach. I think about it. I flirt with the idea of keeping kosher l'pesach-- as much as I flirt with the idea of keeping kosher. Period.

They are interesting. lovely thoughts. They are rife with spiritual nuance. I don't do 'em. As for why-- that is fodder for another essay altogether. Maybe. Maybe I'll even do it this year-- the kosher for Pesach thing, the cleaning and scrubbing and transforming thing, and I will (I'm sure) (and I say that with no cynicism or sarcasm whatsoever; I really am sure) find something rich and meaningful and holy in those actions.

But remember-- no direction, other than that the prompt is "Clean." So I go where I always go, in these cases, which is where I want to go: cleaning my mental and spiritual house. Cleaning my insides, scrubbing and polishing and transforming and renewing, all the inside stuff. That is part of this journey, just as much as switching dishes and removing chametz from my house. 

There is something incredibly powerful in diving a little deeper, shining the light a little brighter, coming clean-- really clean. Know thyself-- but not just know. Know yourself so well that you can forgive yourself your humanity, unlock the chains that keep you tethered and enslaved-- the pain and the grief and the shame, ask forgiveness of those you've harmed, and strive to do it differently, do it better, do it right as you put one foot in front of the other.

And when I can do this-- clean the house of my spirit-- there is such light, such joy! Once we were slaves; now we are free.

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
06 April 2014

#blogExodus  #Exodusgram

Monkey Bars and Faith

I am stuck. Really, really, really stuck. The cemented-in-place kind of stuck. You know – the kind of motionlessness that you used to get when you were a kid, sinking low in your seat when your teacher asked a question, laser eyes searching through the sea of desks, looking past all the waving arms, all the eager faces demanding attention, demanding they be given their chance to show off and shine. And of course, the teacher looked past them, through them, looking for You, the one kid who so did not know the answer, flop sweat soaking through your shirt and making your skin clammy, where you begged silently, “don’t see me, don’t notice me, pass me by, pleasepleaseplease,” knowing that if you even thought about motion, you would be caught, noticed, called on to answer that unanswerable question. So you made yourself small and held yourself still. Unmoving. Willfully stuck.
And you got called on anyway.
I don’t like being in this place, this needy and scary place. I want to be in control, captain of my life, captain of happy. I was talking a friend, who told me that the only thing left for me to do was to ask for help. Not from a person, but from the Universe. God. Whatever I might choose to call that thing that is bigger than me, outside of me. She said it was now a matter of faith.
Too many people are talking about faith to me these days. And it’s not as if these folks are regular faith talkers. In fact, they’re not. I can mostly depend on them to not talk about faith. More, I can mostly depend on them to not remind me to act on my faith. So what gives? Is this God’s little joke on me? Am I getting what I need, even when I want anything but? And where is my faith? I had it just a while ago. I was floating on it, sustained and strengthened by it. It is so much easier to depend on faith when life is good, isn’t it? It is the question I have been asking my Sunday school kids for years – how do you approach God in the face of joy? In the face of despair? And everything in between? I thought I had answered this question, dammit. I thought I had learned this lesson. I could have sworn I had had my long dark night of the soul, years ago.
So my friend said that this was about faith. And asking for help – but asking differently. And she said that it was okay to not know the lesson I could be learning.
But it’s still scary. It still seems so large and consuming.
I hate that she may be right.
I am so used to being alone. I am the strong one, dammit. You learn, cynically, that help doesn’t come, that there is no knight in shining armor and you’re no damsel in distress, but mostly that you are alone in your need and hurt. And then you get stuck, trapped in this endless loop. So you just stop asking, because the pain of being alone is always greater than whatever need you have that’s driving you to ask for help.
I am the Fixer of Broken Things. I do not get healed. I slay the dragons and exorcise the demons and forge paths and light torches. For others. Because I don’t know how to ask for myself. I don’t know how to say I am in need.  I get wrapped up in the story of stuck, of the big and scary stuff. I don’t always leave room for the other stuff – the small stuff, the happy and good stuff. I need to be reminded to talk about the things that are surprising and filled with grace. The things that have made me smile, that took my breath away because of their beauty or their simplicity.
So what is my good stuff? Because I need the reminder that life is not quite as heavy as I make it, I must remember the stuff that awed me or made me laugh. The stuff that got me out of my head, because I can set up camp there, live in a burnt out slum there, where I regularly mug myself. It’s about faith, right? And this is part of that expression: there is good stuff in the universe – there is light and hope.
There is faith, faith enough to carry me, comfort me. Faith greater than my fear. Maybe. Perhaps. I am willing to believe that possibly, my faith is enough. That if I reach out my hand, leap into the chasm, I will be caught and held. Cherished and loved. That this dark and cold place, silent and singular and solitary, this is illusion, smoke and mirrors that are shattered with a single laugh, a kind word. I am reminded, in my faith, that it is enough to go to God and ask for help. My prayer does not change God; rather, it changes me, and my heart.
So tonight, I will act as if. Some people, some cynical people who like to dress all in black and smoke cigarettes off in the corner looking disdainful (not that I know any of those cynical people, at all), they would call it pretending, not acting as if. But they would be wrong, damn them. They would be bitter and unhappy people. They would not wear their hair in pig tails and swing from the monkey bars. They would not know how to laugh; they would merely snicker.
So tonight, I will act as if and laugh and swing from the monkey bars. I will act as if I live in that bright and centered spiritual place. I will act as if I am happy and unafraid. And in my darkness, I am shown, in surety and faith, that my fears, real and scary and looming large and all-consuming, that they are made of cobwebs and dust motes. And I breathe; I move, with infinite slowness and subtle grace. I move, and it’s okay to not know, to ask for help. I am not alone. There is God. There is a light. There is hope.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

05 Nisan -- Prepare

I am not ready. I'm not close to being prepared. Life. Work. This day. This week nor next. Not ready for parenting (don't even get me started on parenting (let alone single parenting). I would need to climb a very tall ladder to get to the ground floor of unprepared in parenting). I'm so unprepared that this essay was due yesterday. It is now 9:13pm on the sixth of Nisan (though given the Hebrew division of days, it's probably the seventh of Nisan. Oy.).

I have good intentions. I have plans. I make lists. I talk it-- out loud, in my head, alone or in groups-- I understand the concept. Really and truly, I get how much easier, how much smoother life flows when I am prepared. I may even have experienced the whole prepared thing once or twice, somewhere along the line. It felt-- good. Right. It all just fits.

Mostly though, I'm the one who hasn't read the instructions; the one who's forgotten to print the presentation on the day of the big meeting; the one still cleaning the living room even as the doorbell rings. I am grateful for convenience stores in airports, so that I can buy the eleventy sevev items I managed to forget. I would continue in this tirade, but I was running late and left all my notes sitting on the kitchen counter. Or in my car. I think.

Mostly I spend my life winging it. I have become the Master of the ad lib, tge Queen of last minute projects and cramming. I can hit the target 98% of the time when shooting from the hip.

I am NOT ready. Ever. I am not prepared.

So what?

What difference does it make if I'm prepared or not? I'm not hurting anyone. Well-- not really. I'm the one who is frazzled. It is my life that's in (total) disarray. I am not a Boy Scout (for several obvious reasons), although I was a Girl Scout, but I was a horrible and unprepared Girl Scout, if preparedness is even a thing for them.

So what?

It's Passover. Or close to it. It's the season, the celebration of our redemption. And there is something important, something sacred and holy about preparing for these days.

As I begin with the physical tasks of preparation-- cleaning out the cabinets, polishing the silver, figuring out the menu (because all of that is part of the holiness of preparation) all of that creates a shift-- from the physical to the spiritual. I am changed. I move into a slightly different rhythms. There is a purpose, a minfulness, a thoughtfulness that washes over me, so that I become ready for Passover-- not just my house, but my heart.

I don't always finish the physical stuff, the cleaning and polishing, the cooking. I'm still, you know, me. Chances are I will have started late, with no real plan in mind, other than some vague, inchoate and amorphous idea that I should host a seder and invite a bunch of people.

But my heart-- my heart changes, quiets, is so much more present. And it changes enough, exactly enough, for me to enter into that holy andsacred place joyously, mindfully grateful that once we were slaves now we are free.

#blogExodus #Exodusgram

c stacey zisook robinson
05 April 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014

04 Nisan - Free

Today is the fourth of Nisan. I am convinced that days can tell us stories, although I don't know the story of this particular day. I don't know what plague was raining down on the Egyptians. I don't know if, on this day, Pharaoh's heart was open or had been hardened yet again, presaging even more hardship and heartache for the Children of Israel. I don't know how Moshe felt on this day-- was he weary beyond belief at having to defy a king and be a prophet of God? Was he frightened of the task that lay before him, bowed with the burden of all those lives? Was he grateful that his brother shared his work? And the people-- Egyptians and their slaves both-- was it just an ordinary day, with plagues? Or could they feel it too-- the gathering momentum that would lead to... change? To endings and beginnings?

And God. I won't be so bold or so presumptuous to speak for God, and His/Her relationship to the fourth of Nisan. I have learned to live with mystery, and even prefer it at times.

Calendars are funny things. They are not singular. Just ask yourself if Chanukah will be early or late this year. I smile a crooked and condescending smile at this-- Chanukah always falls on the twenty-fifth of Kislev. Always. It is neither early nor late. I am smug and obnoxious. I'm sure that whomever asked the question of me would banish me to the nether hells (at the very least) if it were possible. It's an annoying habit, I know, but it's mostly harmless, so I persist. 

Calendars are funny-- and sometimes quite ironic. It is, in fact, 04 Nisan. The prompt we've been so lovingly given is "Free." It is also, under different skies than either modern Israel or ancient Egypt, the fourth of April.

I think it would be fitting if this were a national day of mourning.

He had this dream, you see, this amazing and wondrous dream, where we all of us lived our lives free from hatred, free from ignorance. Free from violence and need and despair. He believed it was in our grasp, that we could fulfill this vision, and just learn to love one another, create a world of peace, a world of freedom.

He was killed, because though he knew this may all have been within our grasp, we are not all of us free from hatred and ignorance and fear. Fear is a liar, and fear can kill.

So what are we to do? We are required, so the rabbis tell us, to celebrate Passover-- the holiday of redemption and freedom and renewal-- as if we ourselves have been brought out of the narrow spaces. Now. Then. Some admixture of all times, but totally present as it (when it) happened nevertheless. Calendars are funny things. They can bridge the chasm of millennia, so that we stand, shaken and rushed and fearful and joyous and free at last, ready to cross the wilderness on a promise, find a place and live a dream-- in the beat of our hearts, the breath of our bodies: we have been redeemed at last.

For I have taken you out of the land of Egypt, the House of Bondage... Laced throughout our liturgy, we chant these words every time we pray. Once we were slaves, now we are free. But the story doesn't end there. Sure-- we were freed, but with a purpose. Our covenant with God isn't just about what we get out of the deal. It's also about what we give, and the obligations we accept.

We are reminded,throughout our liturgy, that we are God's people. We are also reminded, again and again, of just what that means and how to live that, how to be b'tzelem Elohim (in the image of God): do what's right, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Care for people, especially those who may be struggling. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Be kind, don't turn a blind eye or walk idly by. Accept the stranger, those who are different from you, just as you would your neighbors, because we were strangers once; we know the shackles of otherness.

As we celebrate this glorious season, as we give thanks, once more, for the freedom we have been given, it is my hope and my prayer that we understand that our freedom is just the beginning. It is the jumping off place, so that we can continue the work and demand a world - create a world-- where we are all free. 

Dr King, who died on this day in 1968, had a dream-- "And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Kein y'hi ratzon. 

#blogExodus #Exodusgram

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
04 April 2014

Thursday, April 3, 2014

03 Nisan - Enslave

This is the story of the last time I drank.

Now, this isn't a dramatic blowout of a drinking story. I don''t even know that I got drunk. Maybe I was drunk-ish; you know, that kind of blurry feeling of lightness, as if you're on the Tilt-o-Whirl on a hot summer day, and you can't keep from spinning (and you don't want to), and you can't keep from smiling that big fun-house grin, and you're almost but not quite coordinated, and oh! You feel grand. Dizzy but grand.

It was that kind of a drunk.

It was my favorite kind of drunk. It was the drunk to which I aspired every time I got drunk. I had a lot of practice flirting with that razor-thin line. I failed in this particular endeavor. Often.

Those days, it seemed as if I failed at this a lot.

It hadn't always been an exercise in failure. It hadn't always been a constant internal battle for white-knuckled control. I had an elaborate set of rules and dicta regardiing my driniking, to ensure victory over my drunks. That the first dictum was "I don't drink" will give you an idea of just how successful I was.

I used that particular argument all too often-- I don't drink... so therefore, this particular drunk is an anomoly, an exception. It doesn't count in the long line of drunks that stretched back way too long away and far ago for me to count. I would remind myself that logical proof didn't depend on truth, but on soundness. The argument was bent, perhaps, but it was sound.

Life started to become unmanageable. Untenable. I started searching for a way out. I started pointing fingers, looking to lay blame on anyone or anything that wasn't me. It was my parents. My family. My past. My pain. Everything would be ok if everyone would just do what I wanted them to. Needed them to.

I flirted with several Twelve Step programs-- none of them AA. I flirted with all their subtly different versions of the Steps. Well, I flirted with the first two of the twelve. I got the powerlessness of the first, mostly understood the God vs. Craziness of the second. And was stopped short by the third: Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. And so I commenced the Twelve Step two step, bouncing between one and two again and again, flailing and failing at three.

And drinking. And more and more unable to not drink, even when I swore I didn't and swore I wouldn't.

So. The last time. It was August in Chicago, a dark  and humid and breezy night. And humid. Did I say humid already? I'll say it again, times six. Remember-- Chicago in August. The night was dense and the air almost liquid. I was helping a friend move into a third floor walk-up apartment. It was a great place-- old world, with lots of wood and built-ins and molding. And no air conditioning. Not even a window unit. We ended around 10:00, sweaty and sore.

"Want a beer?" He called out from the kitchen. I was in the living room, all the windows open, the curtains billowing madly. I could barely move. A beer. I don't drink.

"Sure." I don't drink.

He handed me a bottle, slick with condensation. I took the offered beer (and I remember the weight of it in my hand, the cold of it still), sitting back on the broken-springed couch, and I thought to myself "If I take this, if I drink it, I will be turning my will and my life over to the care of alcohol."

And all the struggle, all the doubt, all the fight left me in a whoosh, and I drank, deep and long. Not only was I ok with that pronouncement, I was sure that I was finally in the place I was always meant to be.

Enslaved, bound to my demons with liquid fire.

And the next day, bleary and hung over and done, another friend, a different friend, loved me enough to tell me "Drink, don't drink, that's up to you-- but you're an alcoholic!" And with those words, I was suddenly freed. I stood on the borders of my own desert, at the edge of a distant and implacable sea, and found, much to my surprise, some internal sense of permission to get help, and so find forgiveness and grace.

I know, one of those immutable truths that I hold in my very center, that miracles abound, that there is redemption, that once we were slaves and now we are free.

#blogExodus #Exodusgram

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
03 April 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

01 Nisan - Believe - #blogExodus

I got let go from my job yesterday.

I imagine this disconnected, drifty, free floating anxiety that I am feeling was exactly what the Children of Israel felt when they were Let Go. Even across this gulf of 3,500 years (give our take a decade or three) I can believe they got the news, and then just... continued on with their lives, perhaps waiting for feeling to catch up with action.

I mean, really-- one minute you're in the middle of your regular life, in the middle of some motion, maybe putting the casserole into the oven, or making a left-hand turn, or just putting a brick on top of all the other bricks of the pyramid you're building, moving from one place to the next, just like you've done, time and again and again and again.

And you may not even be thinking about it, that motion, that action. Certainly not thinking that this is the last time you're going to do this thing, this whatever- it-is thing, this common, ordinary, every day thing that you have done, that maybe was once done with joy or reverence or anticipation or dread or something, some noticing thing that separated it from every other everyday thing, but now is merely a background noise kind-of-thing, an unquestioned thing altogether, a means of getting from here to there, even when you have no idea that here is Here (and God only know where There might begin or end). You're just in motion.

And then word comes down from on high: you are Let Go. So what do you do, mid-motion, except exactly what you were doing, because while change may be lightening-fast, it has its own path to follow before it catches up to Now.

Or Then. We were talking about Then, weren't we? The slaves, the Children of Israel, living out their lives in the narrow spaces. Putting one foot in front of the other, day by day by day, ad infinitum, in joy or reverence or anticipation or dread-- in something that may have been fullness, or maybe somewhat hollowed out-ish, all reedy and breathy and unsettled (but not empty; never that-- that would be too clean, too sterile for day-to-day living, and day-to-day living is way too messy for that). But probably, when it omes down to it, it was all of this, all full and hollow and messy, all together, all at once.

What I wonder, from my vantage point of 3,500 years and all of those nearly-invisible will-o-the-wisp filaments that connect me to Them (and Then), what did they think, when  word finally reached them, mid-motion? Were they happy to have been released? Afraid of what would come next? Terrified at the thought of change? Or maybe it was all good-- joy at the thought of liberation and their sudden freedom?

Did they believe their lives would be immeasurably better, to be freed from their taskmasters' chains-- or even better at all? Did they cower just a bit, bowed by the sudden uncertainty of their lives, believing that all was lost, or did they believe that everything would be ok, that miracles happen, that the seas would part and they would be shown the way? Did they believe in a land of promise and blessing? Did they believe it was opportunity that waited just around the corner, over the next sand dune, and past the oasis-- or was it chaos, lying in wait?

Once we are Let Go, once we are freed from our bondage, once we finish the turn, close the oven door, take that step--  do we (do I?) let belief, and faith and hope guide me through the desert that lies between me and the Promised Land?

As I prepare for my own astounding journey from the narrow places towards redemption and freedom, what do I believe?

#blogExodus #Exodusgram

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
02 April 2014