Monday, March 26, 2018

Fear, Faith, and a Really Big Sea... plus a Miracle or Two

I'm at that damned Sea again. Just when I think I've done it, finally managed to cross the Sea and leave it behind, I find myself staring at its implacable immensity, with the light of heaven mirrored in its unsplit surface. My feet are scarred and just a bit bloody. These reeds can cut like knives, apparently.

I expect to see a throng, or at least a large crowd of people, milling aimlessly about, stymied by the Sea. There is always some crowd, some random group of people waiting to cross, waiting for the Sea to spilt, the Miracle to happen. Waiting to be freed, at last. At the very least, I hope for Nachshon, the first one to get it - the first brave soul who decided that his faith was stronger than his fear, the very first to step into the wind-whipped water even before it split, who walked while the waters almost swallowed him whole, who walked because God had to be with him, because Moshe had to be telling the truth, because what else could he do? And just like that, between one breath and the next - between one hurried gulp of air before the waters covered him completely - the Sea split.

The waters parted, just in the nick of time. Nachshon and all those milling about people and the disordered chaos of all their things, the kids and the goats and the bubbies and zaydes, the aunts and annoying sisters and neighbors, all the knowns and the unknowns and the carts and donkeys and mothers and fathers and bread-that-didn't-have-time-to-rise - all the stuff that they carried, all the crush of people, our distant ancestors who were once slaves were now suddenly, blessedly free - all because of Nachshon's simple walk of faith, allowing that impossible Forever Sea to open enough for them all to cross.

Nes gadol hayah sham. I know, I know - wrong holiday, but the sentiment is the same: a great miracle happened there! Yay God! Yay us! Yay all of us - all the myriad generations that followed, from there to here, and then some. From the Forever Sea of reeds and water to my own Forever Sea. of mirrored surfaces and razor-sharp weeds. 

We are commanded to act as if we. too, had been redeemed from the narrow places, had seen the wonders of Fire and Smoke with our own eyes, had stood at the Sea with fear and doubt, and had found a faith that could carry us across.

I always assume - hope? pray? - that the finding is a one-and-done kinda move. I am naive that way.

Every year, it seems, I find the Sea again, I stand again at its ragged shore, and I wait for the faith to come. Where the hell is Nachshon when I need him? Where the hell is the miracle? Every year, I splash around the edges, getting wet and muddied and loud in my complaints fervent prayer; I feel alone. I feel connected. I need help. I am loved. I am broken. My body is breaking. I am lost. Where are you, God? Why am I here? 

I'm exhausted.

So with all this muddy mess swirling around in my head, i am reminded of a midrash. Not one of my regulars, that feel all warm and comfy and filled with answers that square the circle. This one is different for me. It begins two men; let's call them Shlomo and Ben. They were milling about with all the other lansmen, afraid and unsure. Who is this God we're supposed follow? Where's He been for all these years? (thought Shlomo) What's taken Her so long, if She's so powerful? (thought Ben) And just who is this Moshe guy, claiming to be one of us? This they declared together 

We're supposed to trust them, they thought, shaking their heads as they stared at the water that stretched to the horizon and back. The ground began to shake a little, and in the very far distance, they could just make out the call of a horn. Ben and Shlomo looked around a little, and saw the first line of chariots moving quickly towards them.

Perfect. Rock, meet hard place. 

Ok God - if You're ever gonna save us, now's a good time.

And that's when Nachshon made his move. All those bubbies and zaydes and family and the candle-makers and the brick-layers, all those recently-freed slaves held their collective breath – and the Sea split, and there was dry land. A miracle. Maybe this "God" God is the real deal. And so  all the people ran and celebrated, and sang and danced and were finally free to find the rest of their story.

Shlomo and Ben watched from the sidelines and shallows. They wanted to take their time, to make sure, just in case. They were smart like that. Just as the last family trundled past, donkeys braying and kids laughing and this or that threatening to fall from the over-stuffed, over-loaded wagon, Ben and Shlomo shrugged and followed.

It was a difficult and perilous journey for the two friends. The mud sucked at their feet, trying to claim their sandals. More than once, Ben had to help Shlomo up from the gooey mess. More than once, Shlomo had to do the same in return for Ben. They kept their eyes glued to their muddy, treacherous path, too afraid to do anything else, willing themselves not to fall. Their iron wills failed them, again and again.

We had plenty of mud in Egypt, grumbled Ben. And we used all that mud to make bricks, replied Shlomo. What is this place, they said together. The ground is illusion, seemingly solid until it sucks at our feet, drinking us down. The water seeps into every crack and hollow, and the damp gets into our lungs. What is this if not Egypt?

The day grew darker, the air more damp, and it wasn’t long until they were alone. Still they walked, grumbling and frightened, so sure of the mess they were in. The mess, they knew, was as forever as the Sea that may or may not have been their current escape route. Their wretched journey from one narrow place to another - so they were positive - only proved them right. This was no deliverance. 

When they finally reached that distant shore – they never quite noticed. Sure, the ground wad more solid, and there was certainly green grass mixed in with all that muddy brown, and the air dried out and even smelled sweetly sometimes, and they could hear a little music mixed in with the drone of bees and the soft roar of water. But Shlomo and Ben could only look down, could only see their own feet, their own fear.

They missed the miracle. They missed the play of light against the straining walls of water, and all the fish and sea creatures who swam up to watch them, flaunting their scales and fins and their bright colors before the delighted eyes of the people who walked between the watery walls. They never saw the sun kiss the very top of those walls, looking as if the water were liquid fire. They missed the faces of each one of their fellow ex-enslaved people, who would, each of them, in their own time, look about in wonder and awe and joy and absolute delight at the watery world around them as they danced (as best they could) through that muddy, squelching path to the Beyond – beyond the narrows, beyond the captivity, beyond the pain – and they rejoiced.

Shlomo and Ben? All they got was mud.

I have been here before, at this Forever Sea, I have stared out at it, afraid, alone, immobilized, praying for the faith of Nachshon to finally have courage enough to step into it, even just an inch or two. To walk, and know that I will be carried, that the Sea will split, that I will be able to walk through whatever it is that keeps me tethered to this place of doubt or grief or fear. Please God, release me from my self-imposed bondage, so that I can finally walk on dry land, and leave this Forever Sea.

I have  prayed, year after year after year. And every year – ta da! – a miracle of movement, and the world shifts and the light shines and I am through it, whatever that it may be. Or, if not exactly through, then at least making progress towards. 

And it hits me,  not all at once,  but slowly, building as inexorably as the rolling tide: I may be on the shores of this all roo familiar Sea yet again, but I am different. I am not searching out my annual vision of Nachshon, waiting to find my faith, to jump on the bandwagon of leaping and letting go. This year, I'm looking for the lesson of looking up.

I've spent way too much time looking down at the mud at my feet, hearing the desperate squelching of the ooze. I've become so intent on movement, on doing and fixing and working and changing, I seem to have missed the miracle.

I miss the colors and the wonder and the absolute awe of being carried, not from narrow to narrow, but just carried. I miss the grace of kindness and the intimacy of my vulnerability. Just as I need not wait for Nachshon to begin it all, I don’t need to lurk on the fringes in the back with Shlomo and Ben.

So this year, my prayer as we approach the shores of that Sea, as we prepare for redemption and faith and miracles  is a little different – 

Dear God, who is surely in my doubt as much as in my faith, who creates the waters that carry us and the light that shines – let me learn to be. Let me learn to look up, to see the glory that abounds, even in the darkness and the squelching mud. Let me know that even when the ground becomes suddenly unsteady and the silence becomes too loud that there are hands to hold and shoulders upon which I can lean. Teach me, please, that the Fixer of Broken Things can be, herself, fixed. 

Let me know, finally, that my truest prayer, and most honest, no matter what words I may use, is, ever and always: Dear God, I need help – and let me be brave enough to accept the help that surely comes, every time.

And let us say, amen.

Chag pesach sameach.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Where God Lives

God lives inside my walker
That ungraceful, ugly metal stand
whose wheels squeak,
in shrill and whinging complaint,
and the back legs catch
on every bump and crack and
rough-edged corner of carpet
strategically placed, just so.

I stumble every time,
and hold the handles tighter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

7000 Pairs of Shoes

I remember once
standing in a museum
at the edge of pain -
that deep well of dark
that hides so well,
and has tattered edges
that threaten to crumble -
all metaphorically, of course -

a mountain of suitcases,

all that was left of some
ghosts of Auschwitz or Dachau;
Treblinka, perhaps,
or some other abyss
of unallegorical
non-metaphorical pain.

A reminder,
a quiet chant:
Never Again.

So you'll excuse me, I pray,
my reaction today
from all of those shoes
laid out so neatly,
in all those very straight lines:
as lifeless as luggage,
an abyss of pain.

A reminder
silent accusation:
The journey continues.
The march must go on.
Not one more shoe
Not ever again.

Never again is Now.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Like Echoes: a poem for the approach of Nisan

These are the days,
these final ones,
when I can feel the gathering
up of time and pain,
when our crying goes
opaque, flat and

The animals feel it.
They low at odd times,
thrown by the plagues
and the hope dashed by
gathering stones
and obsidian hearts.

Still, I can smell
spring, like an echo.

Perhaps, this is
what God sounds like -
that barely-there
sound that rests
on my skin
like water.

We are running out
of desert and
time, a wilderness of
waiting, which is the
hardest part.
and I wonder
if our voices
are merely echoes
to God,
like spring,
or water,
and rest too lightly,
and fade too quickly,
and disappear,
like echoes do.