Liminal and limitless
February 21, 2011
Ordination, my spiritual director told me recently, can be like childbirth. Yes, one opens up and something comes through one -- but that's not the end of the journey, it's only the beginning. The work now is to learn how to keep my own spiritual channels open so that blessing can continue to flow, and to navigate the "contractions" of ordination's aftermath as I enter this new phase of my professional, emotional, and spiritual life.
It's a powerful metaphor, and with that metaphor in hand I've been looking back on the six weeks since I received smicha (is it really only six weeks?!) and seeing their various peaks and valleys in a new light. Ordination comes at the end of a long journey, but it's also the beginning of a new journey, and I don't yet know where that new journey is taking me. Someone asked me last week at the reading I did at Knox how I navigate being a rabbi and a poet, and I said I had only been a rabbi for about a month and he should ask me again in five years! We both laughed, but I was only half-kidding.
There have been a lot of moments of intense emotion over these last six weeks: more than usual? or am I just espcially attuned to them right now? I can't tell. One way or another, this winter has offered me alternating periods of emptiness / quiet, and periods of densely-packed opportunities for emotional and spiritual work.
So I'm working on a poem this week about liminal spaces. It seems as though a lot of people in my life are in liminal spaces: done with school but not yet working, done with pregnancy but not quite adjusted to new parenthood, in between one assignment and the next. No longer on the shore, but not yet certain how to get to the far side of the water, or where that distant shore might turn out to be. I know that's how I've been feeling lately, at last sometimes, and it can be a challenge to be at-home in the not-knowing.
And I've been thinking a lot about the dual roles of mother and rabbi. Both are caregiving roles. Both are roles which are potentially all-consuming: is a mother's work, is a rabbi's work, ever really done? Both can be vocations. Both my identity as a parent and my identity as a rabbi feed into my poetry (and vice versa), and I believe deeply that all of these roles can nourish each other. But I'm also already becoming sensitive to the risk of feeling perennially as though I'm not giving "enough" -- to my parenting, to my partnership, to my community, to my work, to myself.
The only path I can see through all of this is a path of accepting that there is always more work to be done than can ever be completed. The work of mothering, the work of rabbi-ing, even the work of poetry: in the words of Mishneh Peah 1:1, eilu d'varim sh'ein lahem shiur, "these are things which have no limit." I don't yet know how I'll manifest balance between them, and I can't know where these vocations will take me. All I can do right now is breathe into the occasional contractions as this winter births me into a new spring, and trust that a whole-hearted commitment to the work will be enough.