Sunday, November 20, 2016

Grace, revisited

There was a day, long enough ago that I can look at it with the comfort of time, near enough that the colors are still sharp and unblurred. On that day, I sat in my living room in the late afternoon, so that there were more shadows than light. My cat threaded between my legs and I stared at the bottle of vodka I had bought earlier that day. I wanted it so badly, the sweet burn and liquid fire of the alcohol, the thirty seconds of absolute release that it always gave. I stared at that bottle, and I sank to my knees. I had every intention of drinking. I wanted it, wanted the release and the blankness. I could taste it, for God's sake! And yet I sank to my knees. And I cried out in utter despair: "I give. I can't do this anymore. I can't be so alone. Please help."

That was a shocker, that prayer. Here’s the thing: I have a couple issues with God.

Of course, anyone who's known me longer than, say, five minutes, can pretty much figure that out. I have run the gamut from at-one-with-the-All, to being convinced that my Higher Power is God's evil twin brother whose sole Divine Purpose is to mess with me and my life. I struggle with God's blessings as much as with God's capriciousness.

My journey with God has been rocky at best. At thirteen, I announced my intention to become a rabbi. By fifteen, I declared my apostasy –god was dead, orat best, immaterial. I had a God-sized hole in the middle of me, and it ached to be filled. I filled it with anything handy: sarcasm, contempt, cynicism. Throw them all in there--- anything that would make me not feel quite so empty, quite so lost.

Anger was good. If I stayed angry enough, sneered with just the right curl of the lip, I did not have to feel. After anger came alcohol: emergency spirituality in liquid form. I loved drinking. I loved the way it made my fingertips buzz, an electric pulse that made me want to dance and move and breathe. The noise in my head got quiet and I could think. I could float, and feel beautiful and connected and almost human.

Once I found them, anger and alcohol were my boon companions. They kept my demons at bay. If I stayed angry enough, drank enough, I could almost believe that they filled that hole, filled me. I could tell myself that they were enough, and that I was enough.

And then they stopped working. I couldn't get to that floaty, breathy place anymore. I couldn't find any quiet space. All that was left was this deafening white noise and a brittle coating of despair. In the end, there was a night in August, filled with heat and humidity and the smell of tar and sweat. I crawled into a bottle and some man’s bed, fully intending to pull the cork in after me. Instead, I woke up just as empty, just as alone.

So I got sober. I stumbled into the rooms and meeting places of Alcoholics Anonymous, totally spent. All those shiny happy people sitting in those shiny happy AA rooms told me: “Don’t drink, go to meetings and find a God of your understanding.”

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

Strangely enough, I did. Twenty plus years later, I still don’t know why – perhaps even the smallest kernel of hope can trump despair. And thus began the great God quest. I had my eyes peeled for The Answer that would explain away all my doubt and uncertainty. I looked, and I read, and I looked some more. The more I looked, the more I struggled, the more desperate I became to find solace.

I saw my friends get it. I was happy they all learned to sit comfortably in their own skins. I just wasn't getting it. After 2 years, I was sober, technically - I wasn’t drinking, but I was miserable. God may be real for everyone else, but I was pretty sure that God would never be real for me.

I told myself it didn't matter really. So what if I was a little raw? So what if all I wanted to do was drink? I couldn't sleep anymore. I stopped going to meetings - couldn't bear to listen to those shiny happy people who had found God - some Higher Power who carried them and loved them and healed them and redeemed them.

I just wanted a drink. I sat in my darkened apartment, staring at a bottle of vodka. I could taste it, I braced myself for the burn of it, and the tingle and the blankness that I knew would come.

"I give. I can't do this anymore. I can't be so alone. Please help."

That was my prayer. The only prayer I could offer. It spilled out of me, and I sat on my knees, and I didn't drink. There were no angels to dance on the head of a pin. There was no clap of thunder or heavenly choir. But I didn’t drink, even though I wanted to, even though I ached to. I didn’t. And I slept-- the whole night through. For the first time in months, I slept, deep and uninterrupted.

Redemption. I have no doubt that this moment was nothing less than the gift of redemption with a touch of grace: with no angels dancing, no thunderous choir, I finally lay down my struggle with God. I was redeemed, at last. The miracle was for me, at last. And I slept.

Twenty plus years later, trough the grace of God, I’ve still not taken that drink. I’ve found a faith that carries me through those long dark nights of the soul. I still have them. I still tend to box with God. I struggle with the idea of God still. I struggle with God still. We are locked in an eternal embrace, God and me - intimate, connected, bound together as blithely as light, as strong as love. I rail at God and demand to be carried, to be loved.

To be enough.

And I am still given grace, because I know that when I ask, I am redeemed. When I love, I am enough. And, wrapped in that blanket of grace, I sleep.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Uriel's Sword

Uriel handed me his sword,
all blazing light
and fiery glory.

"Well, I'm off,"
said he.
His wings,
dusty with disuse,
fluttered, three times in all,
leaving behind a shimmer
of old feathers
and the smell of

God! but that sword
was heavy, laden
with a dangerous beauty.
I had to shield
my eyes from its refracted radiance.
It set off sparks, there at the
suddenly unguarded Gate.
Its hinges sang  a dissonant and rusty hymn,
a sound like a gathering host of angels
readying themselves for battle
or morning prayer.

I stepped into the Garden,
where nothing had died
for ten thousand years,
and then ten thousand more,
and then more,
and then more.
Nothing could die, leaving
the Garden choked with weeds
and the glorious Presence of God.

What a waste.

I let the sword lay
where it lied,
a plaything of angels
and Gods.
in an overgrown, empty garden
and closed the Gate
behind me.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Morning Song

What holds me here,
tethered, bound,
tangled in Your breath
and pools of scarlet gold?

The morning fog rests on
the ten thousand notes that rise;
they lift me,
and ten thousand grace notes
fall into the quiet,
the not-silence
of the early morning.

And I am held. Still.
I am bound
into the not-quiet.

I lift my eyes to the heavens
and I am blinded by the sun.

I lift my arms, and gravity
catches them; they fall without grace.

I lift my voice
into the vast not-quiet,
the almost-stillness.
into birdsong
into leaf-fall
and heartbeat.

And I bind myself anew,
I tether myself
to tattered corners
and lose fringes

And I am robed in a cloak of light.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Avot in Two Tenses

(past tense)

It's shaky up here.
Not quite rickety-tumble scary
Like ladders, or those iron
stair monstrosities that
lead up into forever, yet still
show you the depths of
Down and Below
and all that open-air
of Before.
through narrow slats
and backless risers.
Here it is shaky.
Here, on the shoulders
of these giants,
I merely sway, and
listen to the ancient
songs as they

 (future tense)

If I don't know your name,
if I don't know your joy,
your fear,
your desire
or want,
if I don't know you -
Still I would hold
God's name
on my lips
like light
or breath,
and whisper it to you,
a song of rising,
a song of grace.