Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Blessing of Bounty

The blessing of bounty is a fragile one.

So you reap what was sown,
though the corners are not yours.
Harvest the last of summer's promise,
and live, for a time, only
sheltered by grace.

Look up! Look up!
The lattice-worked heavens
of sun and moon and stars
dapple your harvest
of paper chains and pasta art.

The blessing of bounty is a fragile one.

Harvest the wind, gusty with rain
and the first fruits of cold.
Sit with me for a timeless time,
and feel the earth beneath us.
Let us be sheltered by graceful impermanence.

The blessing of bounty is fragile,
But oh! what a glorious thing!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

At the Gates

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 this the realization is the sure knowledge 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 - 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.

Yom Kippur. Tomorrow. 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 and the holiness of community. You brought your songs, your souls your lives and gave me welcome.  I have been blessed beyond imagining. 

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

G'mar chatima tova - May you be sealed (in the Book of Life) for good.

Monday, September 17, 2018


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.


Friday, September 14, 2018

To God, who divides the waters: a poem in response to hurricanes

Nachshon ran from the narrow places, 
racing to freedom and God. 
He was stopped on the shores 
of the forever sea,
until he walked into the waters,
until they almost swallowed him whole.
Past his chin they came.
He walked; they rose.

And then they parted.

Just like that,
a miracle of divine order,
and the angels flew about,
singing sweet psalms
cheering the all those marchers onward,
until God reined them in,
showering them with shame.

The waters rise once more,
a new forever sea of
chest-high currents
that eddy and ripple and 
drag at the angels' sodden feet
and leaden wings, 
hosannas sung in a minor key.

Dear God, who moves 
upon the water's face;
who divided the waters 
and makes the rain;
Who sends the storms
and attends the tides -
do You wait again for Nachshon,
wrapped in his faith 
and in his folly,
to walk, and show You
once more, where the waters 
need to part?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

To a Year Filled With Wonder - Shana Tovah!

For some time now, I have been wishing people a year filled with wonder as my  Facebook birthday message to them,. 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. 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 one 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 the breath of God hanging in the still most. 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. 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 one 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.

If you're interested, there's a poem I wrote a few years back, about startlement with a bit of wonder and exultation. If you've read this far, and want to read a bit more, here's the link...

Shana tovah. May we all have a year filled with wonder.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Days of Awe, Days of Sadness

As I write, Rosh Hashanah is less than a week away. Full disclosure: mu parents were mostly gastronomical Jews – holidays were more about meals and family gatherings, and less about religious obligation, God or ritual. The High Holy Days were the (mostly) exception to this rule.

Don't get me wrong – we still had the huge meal, inhaled in mere seconds, or so it seemed. Every year we promised that while the  next year may not be in Jerusalem (and we were mostly sure that we were referencing the wrong holiday, but we said it anyway, because it was Jewish and . Me us seem mostly knowledgeable) we would at least create more space between the courses, eat more slowly, and maybe – just maybe – cut a course or two. That never happened, Still, once a year, we all gathered – the immediate family, extended family of grandparents, aunts uncles, cousins from both sides, along with anystray friends with nowhere to go.

More, on these days – two for Rosh Hashanah and one for Yom Kippur, we all went to synagogue. There were no kid services, no family services. There were new dresses and shoes, and mom hauled out the brimmed hats and good jewlery. Dad did the suit and tie and my brothers were forced into their ouw suits, with ties the sixe of Texas and colors that ran the spectrum. Hey, it was the 60s and 70s; what would you expect?

So, you'll understand my love for these days, these Days of Awe – they are about gathering and connecting and loving and jostling about and food and family. And these days, as I have chosen to dive more fully into my own Judaism, they are also about obligation and ritual and God. And, oh! how I love that my Judaism holds sacred space for both expressions!

I accept that, by training, the High Holy Days are reserved for family (whether you like 'em or not, and on these days, whatever the feuds may be, they are set aside for these gatherings as much as possible, even though flare ups were bound to happen, and provided some amount of theater to the long and sometimes boring dinners), just as I accept that I have been commanded by God to be present for ancient prayer, sacred music, the afflcting of my soul. On that first day of Rosh Hashanah, I know that then the shofar sounds, I have both satisfied the commandment that I hear the shofar and that the service is just about over. I am a Jew with feet in both worlds.

Unfortunately, I also know – have known for the past eight years – that my brother literally took his last breath as the shofar sounded on that first day of Rosh Hashanah. We were all gathered, not around my brother's crowded dining room table, but his haspital room. He was not conscious, not on those last handful of days, but we were there, to talk to him, talk to one anohter, let kim know (please God, let him know!) that he was, ever and always, surrounded by love.

We played his sacred music on that last day, the first day of the new year – music from the Broadway stage. He, my other brother and I had grown up on this music, had spent our summers on the stage, performing our hearts out to the music of Gershwin and Berlin, Rogers and Hammerstein and Hart. The last show we played for him was Once Upon a Mattress, the first show he was eer in. It was during “Yesterday I Loved You” that he suddenly opened his eyes for just a flash, took a shallow breath and died. The shofar sounded at that exact moment in a room down the hallway.

Rosh Hashanah: what a busy and joyous jumble of a day! The Book of Life and Death is opened and the Gates of Justice swing wide. 1It's the birthday of the world. We stand with awe and trepidation as we undertake the breathtaking majesty of diving inwards, a deep and long and solitary dive, into murky waters that make us gasp and shiver with cold. But eventually, the water warms and the silt and grit settle and we learn to see, to shine a light on the inside, all the beauty, all the pain, all the hope and need.

It is all about redemption.

This day is redemption and majesty and reflection and God.  It is joy and celebration and hope and...

Whatever this day is, whatever the ritual and tradition that surrounds this day may be, what it is, what Rosh Hashanah and all the Days of Awe will ever and always be, is my brother's yahrzeit. And year after year, for all the pomp and circumstance of Rosh Hashanah, for all my yearning for redemption and God, drowning out the music and prayer and the triumphant sounding of the shofar that opened the Book and flung wide the Gate - all I could hear was the steady cadence of "This is the anniversary of my brother's death."

So yo'll understand, I hope, this is one of those days that I am less forgiving of God.

I know - absolutely know - that God is not at fault in this. God didn't set the butterfly's wings to flapping that ended in the hurricane of my brother's death. There was no Divine Plan here. Randy smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, existing on equal parts caffeine and nicotine. He was diagnosed with Stage Four metastatic, inoperable and incurable lung cancer when he was 45, and died when he was 47. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him, though I don't think of him every day as I once did. Stretches of time go by-- a handful of days, a week maybe, and I will suddenly stop, feeling the ache of his loss like a stitch in my side, sharp and hot, receding into a dull throb until it is more memory than real. My breath doesn't quite catch in my throat when I think of him. Mostly.

He died because he smoked. He died because he got cancer. But he died on that day, eight years ago. On Rosh Hashanah, the day of pomp and circumstance and joy and celebration. On that day, there in the hospital, the Book was laid open and the Gates swung wide and my brother died, all in the space of tekiyah.  And so these Days have suddenly become hard. And I am suddenly less forgiving of God.

And for all of that, when I stood in prayer and my knees began to buckle from the weight of my sorrow, when I was filled with an ocean of pain and loss, when I wanted to curse God-- when I did curse God - there were hands that reached out to hold me steady, and strong arms to carry me through to firm ground. When I demanded of God, to God-- where the hell are You? I was answered: here. No farther than the nearest heartbeat, in the still small voices of all those around me, who showed me, again and again, that I was not alone. Even in my pain, even in my doubt and despair, I was not alone.
In my faith, in my prayer, what I find, again and again - what I am given, again and again, is grace. What I get is strength and courage to face what life has placed in front of me in that moment... even if that thing is the death of my beloved brother. My faith is not a guarantee that I will never know fear, or that only good and happy things will happen. My faith, my prayer allows me to put one foot in front of the other and know that I will be carried through. And in that exact moment, the moment I take that step, I am enough and I am redeemed.

And in that moment, I dance in the palm of God's hand.

For my brother, Randy (z'l)
May we all dance in the palm of God's hand

L'shana tova u'metukah
May you have a good and sweet year

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Return: a poem for the ending of Elul

I have returned again
to this place of fullness,
this place of everythingness;
and I feel empty.

I fling my sins,
all bright copper
and colored feathers,
out into the heavens -
Which is separate from the earth,
Which is separate from the waters,
and they fly like birds,
and dance and dazzle.

They are beautiful,
these sins of mine,
as they catch the light.
I am caught in their beauty,
racing after them.
They drift and fall
like so many crooked arrows,
and I collect them,
to turn them back to me
before moving on
to the next gate.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Call and Response: a poem for the shofar high Holy days,

Do not text me;
I will not notice,
And may ignore it anyway.
How can one hundred and forty of
compel me to answer,
unless I merely seek distraction
and not return?

Do not leave a message
that I will not listen to.
I will let the sounds wash over
me in my inattentive attention,
while I wait for the next thing
to move me to the next thing,
so that I can wait for something
to move me again.

Do not call or cry out,
or speak the words to me
that You spoke to them--
to Abraham who held a knife,
Or his son who let him.
I will not answer.
I will not hear
from the depths of this wiilderness
that is choked with the bits and bytes
and slings and arrows
of my days.

I will answer
the sound of the shofar
that stayed the hand
that meant to slaughter;
That rang out
and tumbled the walls
that surrounded my heart;
That sang in aching
and awesome mystery
to announce the presence of God.
I will hear in this wilderness,
I will hear in my longing,
and I will turn and turn again
and listen.

I will hear the shofar's call
and I will answer.

Monday, September 3, 2018

I am meant to follow: an approach to the Days of Awe

The road is mystery still,
yet David's harp urges me
and the horns of Abraham's
dilemma push me,
and Jacob's ladder is crowded
with angels. They move aside,
not without some attitude,
so I may stumble up those
narrow rungs; still -
elevated though I am,
there is only dust
and a blaze of Glory
in the far distance.

I am meant to follow,
with open hands
and open heart,
to feel the quickening
of my blood
that moves in equal time
with my shame
and my joy, my fear and
love, my grief and my ecstasy,
So that I may claim them
all, as they have
claimed me;
so that I may dance
at the gates
and be whole.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Imeinu Malkateinu hear our prayer

I knew my mother was a queen.
She wore the night sky like a crown,
and she blessed us with her endless bounty. 
We feasted on cherries in the warm summer air
until our fingers were stained red
and sticky.

She held court at the kitchen table,
ruling us all with equal parts 
mercy and justice. 
Be kind, she commanded,
and oh! how we tried to please her,
live up to that mark!
But we were children,
and so were sometimes cruel,
and she would call us to account,
because she was Queen,
and she always knew.

We would tremble some,
standing before her,
waiting for her measured justice,
fear and shame twisting in our bellies
because we knew, always,
that we had failed her,
and so had failed ourselves.

Sorry, we would cry, every time -
time after time after time again -
Forgive us, we would plead.
We will do better,
we would promise.
Next time, 
we would say. 

My mother would gather us close,
Be kind, she would say again,
gentle, and merciful as a kiss,
and she wiped our red stained fingers 
with a soft cloth
until they were clean.