My Monday morning at the OHALAH conference began with the most glorious and extraordinary service led by my dear friend Rabbi Chava Bahle. Her service interwove poetry, mikvah meditation, water, song and prayer in a way which created (for me) a deep sense of joy.
We sat in a downstairs room with the curtains pulled wide open. The overhead fluorescent lights weren't on, so as the sun rose, shafts of golden light iluminated the room.
Each us of received a bowl of water, a washcloth, a handout of prayers and poems, and a penny to place in the pushke on our way out so that we might end the service with tzedakah.
We began with a song and with a breathing meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh. The first breath: remembering that I am mortal. The second breath: remembering that those around me are mortal. The third breath: recognizing that our mortality makes this moment incomparably precious.
We learned some Torah together. We engaged in a priestly handwashing meditation. We breathed together, sat in silence together, listened together to Reb Chava reading poems. (Some of the poems came from a book called Go In and In, which I have now ordered for myself, because I want to use some of those poems in my services too!)
Sometimes she asked for volunteers in the room to read quotes from the handout -- quotes from Pirkei Avot, Sfat Emet, various kabbalistic sources. When more than one person spoke up at once, she asked them to read together, in harmony, as one voice.
For me the highlight was the meditative mikveh practice in which Reb Chava led us through dipping our cloths into the water and gently washing different parts of our face and head, in silence, as she offered intentions such as:
I am cleansing my forehead, and all that it represents, so that I may be free from critical and judgemental thoughts, whether they are thoughts about myself or about others, and so that I can direct my thoughts to holiness on this day.
I am cleansing my ears so that I will be able to hear the deeper truths of all that I encounter.
I am cleansing my eyes so that I will be able to see things as they are, to develop deep compassion for life...
(That meditation is adapted from David A. Cooper's The Handbook of Jewish Meditation Practices: A Guide for Entering the Sabbath and Other Days of Your Life and from Rabbi Joseph Gelberman.)
When we reached the donning-tallit stage of the service, we read aloud a beautiful tallit meditation adapted from Yitzchak Buxbaum, which I loved and want to try to integrate into what I teach b'nei mitzvah kids. It begins:
A tallit represents the world.
Its four corners are the outer reaches of the known,
its fringes an invitation to the unknown.
Continue to tie me to the generations before me who wore tzitzit...
When we sang the shema, after a sweet timeless time of meditation and prayer, our voices rose together in multipart harmony and I felt as though we were all droplets in the same flowing stream of water, unified.
I told Reb Chava at the end of the service that if this were the only thing I experienced that day, dayyenu, it would be enough. And I meant it.
It's a sweet thing to remember today, as I lead my own (much less elaborate) meditation minyan at my small shul, grateful to be home but also looking forward to the next time I get to see my beloved Renewal community again.