Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Waiting (Portion Ki Tisa)

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
            -Tom Petty

For the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the waiting really is the hardest part.  Forty days after Moses ascended into a dense cloud atop the mountain, he has yet to return.  Tired of waiting and fearing the worst, they panic.  In the mounting fear, terrified of being abandoned by both God and God’s chosen leader, they turn to Aaron and plead with him to build them a golden calf to stand in Moses’ place.  Aaron, deep in the throes of his own anxiety, obliges.  The rest is history.

But we should not be overly critical of the Israelites.  It is, indeed, extraordinarily difficult to wait out our seasons of suffering and discontent.  When we descend into our own dark nights of the soul, we, too, are tempted to push away the pain with forms of instant gratification.  We anaesthetize ourselves with all sorts of numbing agents, or settle for other easy but ultimately inadequate forms of short term relief.  We forget—or cannot bear— the truth of Talmud’s wisdom: “According to the labor, so is the reward.”  As writer Sue Monk Kidd notes in her beautiful book, When the Heart Waits, real spiritual growth demands patience.  If we wish to emerge like butterflies, we must learn to successfully endure the long, uncertain darkness of the cocoon.

This week, consider: where do you find the kind of courage that might sustain you in life’s seasons of darkness and doubt?  How can community help you to grow through such times?

Meanwhile, here’s a relevant section of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem, “I am Waiting”:

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again   
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn   
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting   
perpetually and forever

a renaissance of wonder

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Letting God In (Portion Tetzaveh)

The Kotzker Rebbe asked his students: “Where does God live?”
Immediately, they all responded: “Everywhere!”
“No,” said the Kotzker, “God only lives wherever we let God in.”

In this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, God tells Moses:  I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I the Lord am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt to dwell in their midst, I the Lord their God" (Exodus 29: 45-46). As Rabbi Shai Held notes, this is a startling revelation; these verses, at least, suggest that God's goal in liberating the slaves was not to bring them to the land so much as to dwell in their midst along the way. On this account, intimacy with God, not inheritance of the land, is the goal of Exodus.

This is both helpful and hopeful, especially for those of us who do not live in the land of Israel.  Our challenge is to open ourselves to the possibility of intimacy with the Divine, wherever and whenever we are—to let God dwell among us by letting God in. 

How do we do this?  We might start with mindfulness and gratitude.  When we live consciously, with our eyes and our hearts open, we begin to notice things—sacred things—all around us.  We experience daily kindnesses as little miracles and, in giving thanks for them, create an opening for joy.  This is especially important this month of Adar, when we are commanded to rejoice.

In that spirit, here is a poem by Baron Wormser, “A Quiet Life”:

What a person desires in life
            is a properly boiled egg.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.
There must be gas and a stove,
            the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills,
            banks that dispense the lozenge of capital.
There must be a pot, the product of mines
            and furnaces and factories,
            of dim early mornings and night-owl shifts,
            of women in kerchiefs and men with
            sweat-soaked hair.
Then water, the stuff of clouds and skies
            and God knows what causes it to happen.
There seems always too much or too little
            of it and more pipelines, meters, pumping
            stations, towers, tanks.
And salt—a miracle of the first order,
the ace in any argument for God.
Only God could have imagined from
            nothingness the pang of salt.

Political peace too.  It should be quiet
            when one eats an egg.  No political hoodlums
            knocking down doors, no lieutenants who are
            ticked off at their scheming girlfriends and
            take it out on you, no dictators
            posing as tribunes.
It should be quiet, so quiet  you can hear
            the chicken, a creature usually mocked as a type
            of fool, a cluck chained to the chore of her body.
Listen, she is there, pecking at a bit of grain

            that came from nowhere.