Previous month:
December 2006
Next month:
February 2007

A Life Apart

Svend White, of Akram's Razor, recently  posted about the documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America.The film is a collaboration between Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum. (I reviewed Daum's second movie, Hiding and Seeking, here.) Here's how A Life Apart is described on PBS:

A 90-minute film, A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, is the first in-depth documentary about a distinctive, traditional Eastern European religious community. In an historic migration after World War II, Hasidism found its most vital center in America. Both challenging and embracing American values, Hasidim seek those things which many Americans find most precious: family, community, and a close relationship to God. Integrating critical and analytical scholarship with a portrait of the daily life, beliefs, and history of contemporary Hasidic Jews in New York City, the film focuses on the conflicts, burdens, and rewards of the Hasidic way of life.

In his blog post, Svend writes:

There's so much to comment on in the movie and so much that resonates very deeply with me as an American Muslim....

In addition to providing a truly engrossing window into this poorly understood community, the documentary raises a number of stimulating questions about modern American life, especially from the point of view of a religious person.

Reading Svend's post made me want to see the film, and I happen to have a copy on-hand, so I watched it tonight.

Continue reading "A Life Apart" »

Zen psalms


Because I call
You answer
For you are fitting
Because I am small
You enlarge me
For you are gracious
You hear my song

( -- from psalm 4, as rendered by Norman Fischer)

In one of my last posts of 2006, I noted that I'd been meaning to pick up a copy of Opening to You, abbot Norman Fischer's Zen-inspired translations of the psalms. A copy arrived for me in the mail recently, and after reading it and letting his versions soak in for a while, I can affirm that this is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of work.

Fischer's renditions aren't strict translations. He's not a Hebraist, so while he referred to the original Hebrew in creating these, he primarily worked with a variety of English translations. "[I]t may be that all translations, especially the best, are versions," he writes in the introduction. "It may even be that all poems are only tentative versions of something so intimate it can never be written down." That quote gets at something else I really like about this book: these are recognizably the psalms as they have been handed down to us, but they are also contemporary poems.

Specifically, they're contemporary poems that arise out of a Zen understanding of things. Fischer gives a lot of thought to how his Zen training and sensibility permeate these poems -- and how his Western upbringing, grounded in Biblical text, shapes both his Zen and his poetry:

[A]lthough my way of life and understanding have been thoroughly saturated by Zen, I am still a Westerner, so I have found in the Psalms a very familiar music that seems to express my own approach to enlightenment: the passionate, prickly, and lively noise that naturally seems to rise from the silent depths of my own heart.

Continue reading "Zen psalms" »

Interviews with God

Natalie D'Arbeloff is the blogger behind Blaugustine, a delightful blog filled with wit and insight. (If you are new to her blog, she suggests beginning with this introduction, which offers a trip through the archives.) Since 2004, she has been writing, illustrating, and serially blogging a work called The God Interviews, in which her alter ego, Augustine, interviews -- you guessed it -- God.

As this page explains, the early strips (episodes 1-14) are now no longer archived at Blaugustine -- because they're in print! I just picked up a copy of The God Interviews, volume one. (If you'd like a preview, Natalie has published the book's brief foreword, and a preview of chapter six, here.) Here's a little taste -- one of the early pages, in which Blaugustine and God discuss the interview's implications for Blaugustine's blogging career:

I suspect the name of Natalie's alter ego isn't coincidental, though this Augustine could hardly be less like the famous church father. (They both have pivotal relationships with God, I guess, but there the similarities end.) This Augustine is by turns funny, poignant, petulant, and inquisitive -- and the God to whom she speaks is delightfully personal, personable, and wise.

Continue reading "Interviews with God" »

A year of divrei Torah

This week, parashat Bo, marks a kind of anniversary for me: a full year of weekly divrei Torah posted at Radical Torah.

When I first received the invitation to contribute to RT, I demurred, afraid I was too over-committed to take on another writing commitment. But shortly thereafter, my rabbi went on sabbatical and I took the reins at my synagogue -- and found that writing a weekly d'var Torah for RT dovetailed nicely with preparing to read and teach the parashat hashavua at my shul.

Since then, I've written a d'var pretty much every week. Once or twice I've posted late, and when the rhythm of Torah readings has paused for a holiday I have also paused. But in the end, I wrote something about every portion in the cycle of the last year. Bo was an odd place to begin; Bereshit would have made much more sense! But I've come to find satisfaction in how organic this process has been, and in the fact that I've been able to keep it up despite starting in media res.

Writing a weekly d'var for RT obligated me to take the whole cycle of Torah readings seriously, to look even into parshiot I had previously found opaque (or painful) in search of meaning. The real value for me lies in the practice -- though some of the divrei Torah also please me as independent pieces of work, and in honor of that, I've chosen my five favorites to highlight here:

  • Walking the Walk -- parashat Haazinu. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing, which means the only way to make Torah our lives is to dance with it, sometimes wildly and sometimes gently, sometimes furiously and sometimes tenderly, sometimes cradling it in our arms like a lover and sometimes passing it around the room like a bottle of wine."

Continue reading "A year of divrei Torah" »

Images, meet poetry

Ekphrasis: "a rhetorical device in which one art tries to relate to another art by defining and describing the essence and form of that original art, and in doing so, 'speak to you' through its illuminative liveliness." (So says Wikipedia.)

For instance, poetry which arises in conversation with the visual arts. Think Robert Hayden's "Monet's Waterlilies," Cynthia MacDonalds' "Mary Cassatt's Twelve Hours in the Pleasure Quarter" (download that poem here), Wallace Stevens' "The Man With the Blue Guitar," R.M. Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo." (All but the last of those can be found in Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, a book edited by Edward Hirsch which pairs artworks with the poems written about them -- highly recommended.)

Ekphrastic poetry has been an interest of mine since Bennington, when Thomas Sayers Ellis turned me on to it. In 2001, my colleague Emily and I co-taught a daylong workshop on ekphrastic poetry, a collaboration between Inkberry and a local artists' center.

This winter I've been immersed again in ekphrastic poetry -- again thanks to Emily and Inkberry. Emily orchestrated a partnership between Inkberry and the Williams College Museum of Art on an exhibit called The Moon is Broken. Ten regional poets are involved; each was invited to curate an "image-poem" out of WCMA's collection of black-and-white photographs, and to create a written poem in response to, or arising out of, those images. The poets involved are Trudy Ames, April Bernard, Cassandra Cleghorn, D. L. Crockett-Smith, Peter Filkins, Larry Raab, Mary Ruefle, Barbara Tran, John Yau -- and me.

Continue reading "Images, meet poetry" »

ProgFaithBlogCon 2?

One of the highlights of my 2006 was the Progressive Faith Blog Con, a gathering of about 35 bloggers of progressive faith in Montclair, NJ last summer. It was an amazing experience -- not only the chance to put faces with names in my blogroll, but also the chance to learn, talk, and pray with a group of really remarkable people from across the religious spectrum. (Here's my roundup post, which links to each of the posts I made while liveblogging the con.)

At this time last year, we had just decided on a space, and were beginning to brainstorm about panels and plans. This year, there's a real open question: was the Prog Faith Blog Con a one-shot thing, or is there enough interest to make it happen again? That's the question Thurman asks in this post over at Street Prophets, and he's asking readers to weigh in.

I would love to see the blog con happen again -- this time in a different part of the country, to make it easier for a different subset of the progressive religious blogosphere to attend. Trouble is, neither Thurman nor I is in a position to make that happen; he's got twin baby boys (how awesome is that?), and between my rabbinic studies and my health issues my plate is pretty full. So for me, a related question is: if we want to see the blog con continue, who out there wants to join the planning committee to make it happen?

Anyway, we welcome input. Please pop over to Thurman's post and let your thoughts be known. (Or feel free to comment here, if you want -- either way is fine.)

Technorati tags: , , .

So many thanks.

Since my brief hospitalization last month, cards, e-mails, and good wishes have poured in. I've tried to thank everyone individually, but want also to say a generalized thank you here to everyone who has put me in their prayers, sent a message, lent me books or dvds, cooked a meal (the rebbetzin's matzah ball soup was awesome), and simply spared a thought my way.

But one person I'd like to thank is unknown to me. If you are the kind person who arranged for a copy of Norman Fischer's Opening to You: Zen-inspired translations of the psalms to be sent to me and are comfortable identifying yourself, please let me know who you are so that I can thank you! (And if you're not comfortable identifying yourself...well, I hope that whoever you are, you read this blog at least occasionally, and may see this post of gratitude.)

We're going to Boston later this week to meet with a stroke specialist and his team, and have high hopes that there will be a diagnosis sometime soon. Meanwhile, I continue to be buoyed by your good wishes; thank you all for walking this strange road beside me.

Technorati tags: , .

This week's portion: Ready or not

This week, in parashat Bo, we read about the tenth plague brought upon the Egyptians, and about the beginning of the Israelites' journey.

There's a fascinating pause in the narrative, during which the text exhorts us to eat the paschal lamb in remembrance with our hips girded, our sandals on our feet, and our walking-sticks in our hands. That verse sparked this week's d'var at Radical Torah.

Here's a taste:

As I contemplate the silverware, the shopping (and chopping,) the endless piles of eggs to be boiled and peeled, it strikes me that this feels in some ways like the very opposite of what the Torah describes. Making seder is one of the most rooted activities I can think of! On the eve of an actual journey, I wouldn't dream of throwing a ritual event-cum-dinner-party. If I were actually going somewhere tomorrow -- especially on a one-way quest for a place I can only trust God to lead me to -- you can bet I'd be eating takeout.

Of course, I have thoughts about how one can be perfectly still in the physical world, and yet be taking a pivotal journey in other ways and on other levels. Read more here: Ready or not.

Technorati tags: , , .

5 things about me

I've been tagged for the "five things no one knows about me" meme. Thanks, Michael!

I can't promise that these are five things no one knows about me; such things may exist, but I'd be disinclined to post them for all to see. Instead, this is more like a list of five things regular readers may not know about me, since they don't fall into the purview of what I usually post about here.

Five things you may not know about me

  • Once upon a time I was a temporary New Yorker. Although I was born and reared in San Antonio, Texas, the year that I was ten we lived in New York city, in an apartment on the upper east side. I knew that after a year we would return to our familiar stone house with the red clay shingles, to the banana trees and bougainvillea, so I felt no distress at being uprooted to live in an apartment building and attend a girls' school that had 15 floors. It was an amazing adventure. I spent much of the year making maps of Manhattan, trying to wrap my mind around even that one piece of the City, and for some years thereafter I assumed I would live in New York at some point as an adult.

  • In fourth grade I was given the assignment of writing a one-page essay about my hero or heroine. I wrote about my sister, because she had introduced me to Bob Marley, grapenuts, and frozen yogurt. (Seriously, those are the things I cited in the essay as proof of her coolness.) Although our three brothers still live in San Antonio, my sister moved to Boston about 20 years ago; I chose a New England college in part because she was already in this neck of the woods. I'm not much of a Marley fan these days, but I still really like both grapenuts and fro-yo.

Continue reading "5 things about me" »

This week's portion: plagued

In parashat Vaera, this week, we read about God empowering Moses to inflict plagues on the Egyptians, and about Pharaoh's heart being hardened so that he was unable to respond compassionately to the disasters unfolding around him.

I found my own way in to the portion by reflecting on the plague of caterpillars we experienced here last May and June:

I found the caterpillars strangely unsettling, as if the earth had tilted on its axis and the benevolent universe weren't quite trustworthy anymore. For a few weeks, I was miserable. The loss of spring's precious green affected me emotionally, and I was unaccountably sad every time I looked out the window or left the safe harbor of our house. I still worry in my dreams that our house is seeded with their cocoons. That was a single plague, and it only affected me in visual and emotional ways, but it struck deep.

So this year, as we read about the infliction of the ten plagues upon the Egyptians, I shudder in ways I hadn't, before. Knowing how distressing I found a single infestation, I can begin to imagine the impact of the ten plagues on the Egyptian people.

From there, I moved into a short exploration of what natural disasters might mean, in our texts and in our lives.

Read the whole thing here: Plagued.

Technorati tags: , , .

A shawl of a different color

The wool is dazzlingly soft, like a caress to the fingers. The color is a kind of mellowed rose, like soft raspberry sorbet. The card which accompanied it reads:

May God's grace be on this shawl,
warming, comforting, and embracing.
May it be a safe haven...
a sacred place of security
and well being...
Sustaining you in good times
and difficult ones.
May this shawl cradle you in hope;
keep you in joy;
graced with peace and wrapped in love.

In my lexicon, the term "prayer shawl" is usually an Anglicized term for tallit, the prayer shawl in which I enfold myself for morning prayer. (The one I most often wear was given to me by my parents when I became bat mitzvah; woven by Phyllis Kantor, it's the leftmost one depicted in this photo.)

But this is something different: a shawl made by the Prayer Shawl Ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Topsfield, Mass. It's not an item of ritual garb per se, but rather a handcrafted shawl intended to be worn at any time, and to enfold its wearer in a sense of love and care.

Continue reading "A shawl of a different color" »

Ram Dass, still here

Last week no fewer than three people recommended that I read a book by Ram Dass, called Still Here. I found it for sale at a used-books store, so I picked it up. It's a quick read, and a fascinating one.

Ram Dass (the name means "servant of God") was born Richard Alpert, a nice Jewish boy from Newton. Educated at Tufts and Wesleyan, he became a professor at Harvard, alongside his buddy Timothy Leary. Both he and Leary were ousted from the university for their experimentation with psilocybin. Eventually Dass spent some time in India, at which point he became a disciple of the guru Maharajji and an ardent practitioner of meditation and yoga. (His Wikipedia entry is pretty comprehensive, especially in conjunction with some of the interviews linked at the bottom of the page.) He's probably best known for Be Here Now, to which Still Here is a kind of sequel. Still Here seeks to transform the process of aging "with the fears, losses, and uncertainties that come with it from a necessary evil into an opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth."

"The images our culture generates are designed to make you feel that aging is a kind of failure; that somehow God made a big mistake," he notes wryly. "In a culture where information is prized over wisdom, old people become obsolete, like yesterday's computers. " Still Here explores questions of physicality, aging, and death. For me, the most relevant and interesting part of the book is section eight, which is titled "Stroke Yoga."

Dass was in the process of writing this book when he had a severe stroke. He had a massive cerebral hemorrhage, with only a ten percent chance of survival. Afterwards, he began his "new post-stroke life" in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed, requiring round-the-clock care.

After any major physical "insult," as they call it, it's all to easy to see yourself as a collection of symptoms rather than as a total human being, including your spirit -- and thus to become your illness. Fear is powerful and contagious, and at first I allowed myself to catch it, worried that if I didn't do what the doctors ordered, I'd be sorry. But now I'm learning to take my healing into my own hands. Healing is not the same as curing, after all; healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather allowing what is now to move us closer to God.

Continue reading "Ram Dass, still here" »

Renewal article at JTA

Sue Fishkoff from JTA was at Ohalah last week, looking on and taking notes. As a result, there's an article up at JTA now about the smicha ceremony, the Aleph ordination programs, and Jewish Renewal in general.

The piece does a nice job of explaining how my program works, and what some of its strengths are. My only quibble is with the assertion that the program can take "from two to ten years." (It's the "two" that seems implausible to me. Perhaps if one entered the Aleph program having already received smicha elsewhere? Otherwise, my understanding is that the program takes at least five years of fulltime study.) Anyway, here's how the piece begins:

Karyn Berger, a slight, dark-haired woman wearing a royal blue prayer shawl, steps up to the microphone to introduce herself and her four colleagues. All are about to be ordained as Jewish Renewal spiritual leaders — two rabbis, two rabbinic pastors and one cantor.

"We were born in Austria, Budapest, the Bronx, Toronto and Oklahoma," she begins. "We grew up atheist, Reform kosher, socialist-Zionist. Two of us went to Orthodox yeshivas. Our average age is 49, and collectively we’ve been married for 75 years."

When the laughter dies down, Berger, a doctoral student of medieval Arabic and Hebrew poetry, continues more seriously.

"All five of us got our call to serve, and here we are," she said. "Our calling is to heal souls — the souls of the Jewish people."

Read the whole thing here: Renewal wants to keep same spirit while standardizing rabbis' training.

Technorati tags: , , .

A new way of relating to the Ashrei

During mincha (afternoon services) last Sunday at Ohalah, we davened the ashrei in a way I'd never done before.

You need to know that the prayer is a kind of abecedarium, an acrostic in which each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alef-bet, though it skips the letter נ, "nun." (Here's a thorough and fascinating exploration of what the absence of the נ might signify, both theologically and poetically.) Anyway, though we all davened the whole prayer, each of us was encouraged to give special focus (and volume!) to the line which began with the same letter as her/his Hebrew name.

In my case, that line is r'tzon y'reav ya'aseh, v'et shavatam yishma v'yoshiem, which can be rendered in a variety of ways. Here are a few I happen to have on-hand:

  • God fulfills the needs of the fearful; God hears their cries and saves them. (-- B'Kol Rinah)

  • He fulfils the desire of those who revere Him; He hears their cry and delivers them. (-- Sim Shalom)

  • The will of whose who fear Him He will do; And their cry He will hear, and save them. (-- Artscroll)

  • God will fulfil the hope of all the reverent; God will hear their cry and help them. (-- Mishkan Tefilah)

  • Answering those whose awe is the Infinite, Hearing their cry, setting them free. ( -- Siddur Kol Koreh)

  • Responding to the yearning of all those who fear, God hears their cry and comes to rescue them. (-- Kol Haneshamah)

If you've ever doubted that translation is interpretation, the range displayed in this half-dozen renderings of a single Hebrew line should set the record straight! What interests me today, though, is not the variation in translation, but the underlying meaning that runs through all of these wordings. How do I relate to this line of the acrostic which begins with the same letter as my own name?

When we davened it this way last Sunday, I experienced a kind of aural tapestry in which different threads flashed brightly at different moments. People who shared each initial letter were scattered around the room, so as we moved through the prayer, voices rang out here and there, moving and modulating as the wheel of the prayer carried us forward. It was like being inside a popcorn machine in which each pop! was praise.

It's been more than a week, but I find myself still drawn to "my" line of the ashrei. This morning I held it in my consciousness for a while, thinking about what it says to me today.

This line teaches me that awe, fear, and reverence are appropriate responses to the Holy Blessed One. That the connection between us is two-way; God receives our prayers, and is aware of our yearning and our longing. That in some deep and perhaps indescribable way, God arises to free us from constriction, to save us from what seeks to weigh us down. That God's hearing (or maybe our awareness of being-heard) makes liberation possible.

If there's something you're seeking today, something you fear or something you long for, I wish you this same awareness: that God hears us, and that on some level we are answered, always.

Technorati tags: , , .

Contemporary theology

I've been tagged by PamBG to try my hand at the "contemporary theology books" meme that's going around.

Trying to answer these simple questions has awakened me to how few of the books I hold dear are theological texts. I could easily recommend titles relating to Torah study or to Jewish practice, but theology qua theology turns out to be a challenge for me.

My choices are fairly idiosyncratic, and say at least as much about me as they do about contemporary Jewish theology! So I welcome suggestions and discussion in the comments section of this post, if anyone is so inclined.

Three of the most influential works of contemporary Jewish theology:

  • Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology by Arthur Green. Rabbi Green uses the lens of Jewish mysticism to explore the nature of God and the levels of access toward God to which we can strive. This book offers a framework for seeking God, organized into four sections which relate to the four worlds, four levels of soul, and four letters of the Tetragrammaton.

  • Standing Again at Sinai: A Jewish Feminist Theology by Judith Plaskow. I'm not sure this counts as "contemporary" anymore -- it came out in 1991 -- but it had a tremendous impact on the Jewish world, and it certainly had a tremendous impact on me as a Jewish woman. This is one of the germinal texts of Jewish feminism, and still really worth reading.

  • I'm having a tough time choosing a third essential text, so I'll offer a couple of options for those wanting an overview of this field: Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader, ed. Elliot Dorff and Louis Newman, and The Many Faces of God: A Reader of Modern Jewish Theologies, ed. Rifat Sonsino. 

Three lesser-known books almost everyone should read:

A bonus fourth rec: The Volcano Series by Alicia Ostriker. This collection of poems is also a powerful work of contemporary Jewish theology. These poems engage with God on a variety of levels; many consciously evoke psalms, and wrestle with questions of divinity, theodicy, gender, and ruach ha-kodesh.

I'd love to see answers to this from any of you. If you've done this meme, please drop me a comment and point me to your post; and if you haven't done it, and would like to, please consider yourself tapped.

Technorati tags: , , .

This week's portion: Moses, the bush, open eyes

In this week's portion -- Shemot, the beginning of the book of the same name -- we get a lot of good stories. Here we read about the birth of Moses, his episode striking the taskmaster and then running away, and eventually his encounter with the burning bush. That's the story I chose to focus on in this week's d'var Torah at Radical Torah.

Here's a taste:

There's midrash which suggests Moses wasn’t the first person to pass by the burning bush. Others had walked by and ignored it. Maybe they thought they were seeing things. Maybe they assumed it was something other than what it was. Maybe they figured there was some rational explanation for a bush that burned but was not consumed, and anyway they had things to do, sheep to herd and goats to yell at. One way or another, as a result of their distraction they missed the presence of God, the ruach ha-kodesh, manifest in plain sight.

Read the whole thing here: Opening our hearts and our eyes.

Technorati tags: , , .


You know how in musicals, characters break into song seemingly at random, usually with no awareness that there's anything strange about singing at any or every moment of the day? Being at Ohalah is a little bit like that, and as I reflect on what it feels like to be heading home, I think leaving the singing behind may be the hardest part.

We sang early in the morning, at shacharit (and when there were options between different services, I chose the ones likeliest to be musical.) We sang to begin every conference session, and to end every session too. Sometimes we even sang during sessions, as a kind of aural palate-cleanser between speakers. We sang at the end of every meal. Throughout the gathering, there were people clustered with guitars and hand-drums, learning songs or teaching them, all over our corner of the hotel.

On the SuperShuttle from Boulder to the airport, when we got a good view of the mountains we broke into one of my favorite tunes for "Esa Einai" (in English, "I cast my eyes up to the mountains / from whence comes my help...") Our driver must have been bemused, although -- as my seatmate noted -- at least it wasn't "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall!" As groups of us exited the shuttle, at the different stops along the airport walk, others still on the bus sang farewell songs.

And then suddenly I was in the line for security, and finding a place to ensconce myself near my gate, and realizing that if I want music in the rest of my day, I'll have to whip out out my iPod.

In truth, there's no shortage of music in my life. I feel very lucky in that regard. But it may take me a few days before it feels entirely normal to begin a task without singing first. For now, as I prepare to fly home, those last songs are still echoing in my ears.

Technorati tags: , , , .

Words and notes

This morning, Reb Marcia held forth on the conference theme of ruach hakodesh. She used her time to delve deeply into some important words. "After all," she noted, "ha-kadosh baruch hu [the Holy Blessed One] creates with words, and we use so many of them and rarely mean any of them."

Obsession with words isn't new for Reb Marcia. Her book The Path of Blessing is a close exploration of the six words that begin every Hebrew blessing. (I reviewed that book here.)

Today she taught that one way to learn about a word is to come to understand its opposite. We looked at shalom, at the phrase hayom harat olam (usually rendered "today is the birthday of the world"), and at different ways of understanding the word simcha (usually translated as "joy.") And, of course, we explored the cluster of meanings and connotations in ruach and in kodesh.

At one point she told a beautiful story, of which I offer a tiny taste here:

I had for a long time on my mantel a silver flute, a chalil. I used to enjoy taking it down and just holding it in my hands...

One day I gave it away to a flautist. I could feel its longing to be played, and no matter how much I admired it, I kept it from its purpose.

This helped me understand the rabbis' statement that a human being is like a shofar. Were it not for the Holy One of Blessing blowing through us, we would make no sound at all. We long to be played.

I love the idea that we are instruments, empty until the Breath of Life breathes in and through us. That we yearn to contribute to the melody of the world.

Technorati tags: , , , .

Two tiny Ohalah moments

Saturday morning we read the very end of the book of Bereshit during services. As is customary in Jewish Renewal, we did three group aliyot during the Torah service. I went up for the third aliyah, when we read the verses wherein Joseph's brothers fling themselves on his mercy again, fearing his anger. But he reassures them, saying, "although you intended me harm, God intended it for good." I figured I could use a blessing intended to help me look at what might appear to be harm, and to find some kind of good in it.

Our theme for this year's conference is Manifesting Ruach HaKodesh. "Holy Spirit" is a decent translation, though ruach is also breath; it's the spirit of YHVH moving over the deep. Ruach is inspiration, aspiration, wind, interbreathing (what you might call con-spiracy!), presence, the storm, the calm within the storm. Ruach  carries, creates, hovers, motivates, sweeps one clean, inspires, animates, fills, quickens, transforms. As we brainstormed this list of qualities and ideas relating to ruach, before our morning text study session, the word came in that interstate 36, nearby, has been closed today because of unusually strong winds...

Technorati tags: , , , .

En route to Ohalah

Three small brown birds perch on an interior windowsill, high on the wall of windows overlooking gate C14. As I watch, one flies down to the carpet and sits beneath an airline wheelchair; two more skitter about, chattering. I wish I hadn't thrown away the crust from my disappointing airport pizza; I would have fed it to them.

I'm en route to Ohalah, the annual gathering of the Renewal rabbinic association, for the second time. I've imagined it often in the intervening year, picturing how my experience might shift as I grow deeper roots in this community. I've had a mental image of meeting with my director of studies, poring together through my big blue binders, which track every course I've taken and every paper I've written since I began the program. I was halfway to Cleveland before I realized I'd left the binders on the shelf.

No big deal; my director of studies has records of everything I've done, and thanks to this laptop so do I. And meeting with my spiritual director requires only presence, not documentation. Still, I feel some chagrin at having forgotten them at home. Of course, until I saw my internist two days ago I wasn't certain I'd be cleared for travel. Maybe it's no wonder I'm not as prepared for this trip as I would like.

My brief hospitalization has the strange quality of dream now. As though, now that I've returned to my life, those days will melt like a mirage. They won't, of course; next week will hold more tests, more looking for answers. Meanwhile I'm going to Ohalah, with my tallit and tefillin and blood pressure monitor in my rollerbag. The trip is unfolding against a backdrop I never imagined.

Then again, isn't that always the way? Soon I'll settle in to another smallish plane, read more of Tom Montag's beautiful memoir Curlew: Home, and let the universe carry me closer to where I'm going, one breath at a time.

Technorati tags: , , .