Three days at Knox
February 18, 2011
On my first day in Galesburg, after a walking tour of the Knox campus (including the site of one of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates) and lunch with a handful of Knox faculty and staff, I had the profound pleasure of discussing my Akedah Cycle of poems (now published in 70 faces) with the students in the Feminist Methodologies class who had been assigned the task of reading the relevant sections of Genesis alongside the poems themselves.
We had a fabulous and free-wheeling conversation about the Bible (some of them had gone to years of religious school; others had never cracked open a Bible before), midrash (which one of the students compared with fanfiction, to my delight -- that's an argument which I'm going to explore in some depth in a forthcoming article), theology, names for God, the divine feminine, the Lurianic cosmogony and the task of lifting up the sparks, reproductive technology, the idea of reading beloved texts with awareness of their problematic qualities but still with love (I was thinking of Wendy Doniger's excellent essay Thinking Critically About Thinking Too Critically [pdf], though I couldn't come up with her name in that moment), the responsibility to wrestle with the texts we hold dear, and more.
That evening I gave a talk about midrash and poetry, which culminated in a reading of the Akedah Cycle and then some Q-and-A. That was a lot of fun, too; I had forgotten the extent to which those poems were intended to be read aloud (though of course they were; I wrote them as a sermon in the first place) and people asked excellent questions, like how becoming a mother had changed my relationship with these Torah texts and whether I'd explored the extent to which some of these same stories appear in the Qur'an. (I got to talk a little bit about the retreat I attended for emerging Jewish and Muslim religious leaders and the study of the Joseph/Yusuf story that we did there...)
Thursday morning was spent with a rotating group of Knox students (from SASS, Hillel, and other places), a giant latte, and a pile of mini-muffins from the local bakery. We talked about school and religion and theology and travel and life after college and all kinds of good stuff. And then I got to have lunch with three faculty members, during which we discussed everything from hadith about Isaac and Ishmael to the appeal of Eastern religious traditions to religious pedagogy to the theologies of Battlestar Galactica and the Sarah Connor Chronicles.
And finally, on Thursday afternoon, I read from my poems as part of the Caxton Club's literary series. I read mostly poems from 70 faces, though also some poems from chaplainbook, and even a handful of poems from Waiting to Unfold, my as-yet unpublished manuscript of mother poems. The crowd was smallish (perhaps because the posters had, it was discovered, been printed with a January date) but those who were there were receptive listeners, and they asked fabulous questions afterwards -- about my creative processes, about commitment, about Torah poems and motherhood poems. It was grand.
And now, as Shabbat approaches, I'm on my way home -- and getting ready to lead services at my shul tomorrow morning, and looking forward to seeing my sweet little boy again! I'm so grateful to the community at Knox for welcoming me into your midst. Thanks for giving this rabbi, poet, and mama a chance to spend a few days with you, discussing subjects I hold dear.