It's fun to read back through a year's worth of posts, looking for my ten favorites. Themes and subconscious fixations are often clearer in hindsight, and you may be able to spot a few of mine in these posts. Thanks for reading Velveteen Rabbi in 2007, folks; here's to 2008!
Worth the work. "I get stuck a lot. I falter, and have to start over. It's frustrating to feel so inept, to lose my stride so easily. I'm used to being good at things -- and, as a corollary, to doing things I'm already good at. Sure, my working life poses challenges all the time -- it wouldn't be interesting, otherwise -- but on the whole, these days, I tend to stretch by aiming to do better at things I already do reasonably well. Neither knitting nor leyning falls into that category, and it's humbling to see how easily I can be reduced to abject frustration."
Message in a bottle. "I have many metaphors for the months since my December stroke. At times I've felt like a sailor in a tiny craft, skating across the surface of the unfathomed deep. I'm content, even singing a sea chanty or two -- until I realize how vast the waters below me are, and how a storm would swamp me. At times I've felt I'm on a rollercoaster, wheels ticking slowly as the cart ascends so gradually I forget I'm even moving -- until with a whoosh and a plummet I'm in freefall."
Worship through corporeality. "The obsession with dividing everything into clean and unclean, good and evil, may seem unduly dualistic. And the assumption that the physical world cloaks sparks of God in four levels of shell or peel may be strange. But what appeals to me here is the understanding that physical acts like eating aren't inherently good or bad -- and that the moral valance arises through our mindfulness and our intention to serve."
Through a stereoscope, darkly. "As a kid, I had what we called a lazy eye: one eye wandered, without volition. Eventually a pair of surgeries were required to correct it. As a result, I spent a lot of time at opthalmologists' offices with an opaque plastic circle over first one eye, then the other, trying to explain and understand what I saw. My eyes offer different pictures of the world even now -- color tones vary slightly from one eye to the next. (When I'm using both eyes in concert, the dominant eye chooses the color palette.) That turns out to be a good metaphor for how I'm relating to the ongoing investigation of my health."
Prayer at Panim. "Probably the most remarkable part of the Panim rabbinic student retreat, for me, was the davenen (a.k.a. tefilah -- loosely, if inadequately, translatable as 'prayer.') A tefilah committee, comprised of one student from each of the participating seminaries, met several times over the phone before the retreat to determine how we would pray together. They tackled major issues, including the length and style of our Torah readings and whether we would have any kind of mechitza. (Short answer: no, although the reality was...complicated.)"
On mindfulness and matzah. "In the physical world, this week we set bread aside and eat the flat cakes our ancestors improvised when they left Egypt in haste. (Well -- those were probably more like chapatis or naan or tortillas or soft matzah. Manischevitz's sheets of perforated papery cracker bear little resemblance to what our ancestors would actually have prepared. Whatever; it's still a metaphor, whatever shape it takes.) What does this choice mean in the imaginal realm, in the worlds of emotion and thought and essence?"
Coming of age. "[W]e'll be 125 people, spanning the spectrum of Jewish practice and observance. We are affiliated Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, and Renewal. Some of us are unaffiliated. Some of us are alienated from religion in general and/or Judaism in particular. Some of us are non-Jews. Some of us have a regular davenen practice; others dread their rare visits to synagogue because the experience is so opaque. What we have in common is a love of my niece, and the desire to be present as she formally marks her entry into a new phase of her life."
Returning where we've never been. "To her credit, Ruth doesn't say, 'Stop wallowing!' (Ruth also doesn't say, 'What am I, chopped liver?') Ruth simply cares for Naomi, compassionate even in the face of her mother-in-law's inability to recognize her loyalty. In poet Alicia Ostriker's midrashic retelling, Ruth muses, 'Greeted with joy on her return by her townspeople, she announces that she is empty. It is I then who must fill her.'"
To see what hurts. "Maybe I should start observing Tisha b'Av by volunteering as an emergency room chaplain. On this day, of all days in the wheel of the Jewish year, we're meant to connect with our own brokenness; with suffering and loss; and with the terrible things we do to one another around the world, hatred and violence and damage caused by our own human hands."
Thirteen ways of looking at Yom Kippur. "It's always a little bit hard to explain why I so deeply love going to Elat Chayyim for Yom Kippur. The answer has something to do with what I feel when I first drive across the threshold: gladness, relief, gratitude that the place and its community exist and that I have been blessed to find them. My first visit to Elat Chayyim was five years ago, at the old site in Accord, and I didn't know what I would find there. Ever since then, returning to Elat Chayyim feels like my soul is coming home."