Southern Quebec on a spring afternoon.
On Saturday evening we gathered in a beautiful underground chapel at the Unitarian Church of Montreal. This might in another church have been a plain cinderblock room, but here the four walls were painted with scenes from Canada's different landscapes: on one wall boreal forest, on another plains and prairie, all the way to the icebergs and polar bear cubs of Nunavut. The one pillar in the middle of the room was painted to resemble a tree. What a transformation!
Some folks came from the Unitarian Church of Montreal, a bunch from Chavurah Har Kodesh, plus one fellow blogger (that I knew of, at least), Susannah of Delight Was Once. We dimmed the lights and began with havdalah, which was lovely; it was the first time I'd ever used ras el hanout as the b'samim, the fragrant spices intended to revive us from the departure of Shabbat's extra soul. I think I saw one person moved to tears.
And then I asked the crowd to tell me favorite bits of Torah, and/or bits of Torah which challenge and distance them, and explained that if I had poems which arise out of those bits of Torah I would share those, and that would be the structure for the reading. People asked for wonderful and surprising things. Usually when I do this, people ask for Abraham, Isaac, Joseph; this time people asked for the thicket of sexual laws in Leviticus (I read "Naked" and "Gevurah"), for Miriam (I was so sorry I didn't have my seven Miriam stories poems with me! though I read my Song at the Sea poem), for Moshe receiving revelation.
After the formal reading was over, people stayed and schmoozed for almost an hour, eating cookies and drinking juice and chatting with me and each other as I signed books.
And then I went home with my friend Shoshanna, and savored a Unibroue, and in the morning I got to enjoy crépes and a bowl of café au lait big enough to swim in.
Montreal skyline, seen through my windshield.
Christ Church Cathedral is glorious and soaring. It has a beautiful ornamented ceiling, and stained glass windows which put me in mind of Reb Zalman's saying that in order to understand how a Christian worships, one needs to enter into his/her sacred space and relate to it from there -- to see the beauty of the stained glass windows from the inside, as it were. When we arrived, the choir was practicing something which sounded late-medieval or early Renaissance, with close harmonies, exactly the kind of music I used to most love to sing.
The service was lovely (complete with a baptism of three kids, which we were all invited to come up close to witness.) I enjoyed the sermon, which was about Cleophas and Mrs. Cleophas meeting Jesus on the road from Jerusalem -- and about intertextuality, which was a great set-up for our lunchtime discussion, actually.
And then we had lunch -- 20+ people around an enormous table eating sandwiches -- and Beth and I talked about poetry, Torah, midrash, and interpretation. I shared five poems from 70 faces ("The angels say" from the akedah cycle for Genesis; "The Psalm I Sing" for Exodus; "Like God" for Leviticus; "Downside" for Numbers; and "Mobius" for Deuteronomy -- please note that I'm linking here to the original versions of the poems; some were revised before publication, but these are the online versions I can point to.)
Using the five poems as jumping-off points, we talked about each of the five books, about their themes, about midrash and feminism and wrestling with difficult texts, along the way touching on Israel/Palestine, miscarriage and motherhood, and more. (A video of our conversation will be online at some point -- I'll let y'all know when it's up.)
And then helping hands whisked away the sandwiches and the water pitchers as I signed books and chatted with folks, and slowly people drifted away until only my hosts and I remained.
And once we changed into jeans, Beth and Jonathan and I walked around town, and had coffee and pastries, and relaxed with an early evening glass of wine, and eventually strolled to a neighborhood bistro for dinner just before closing time.
And in the morning, I drove home.
Edited to add: for more on this, don't miss Beth's beautiful post Sweetness, about our presentation, our afternoon together, and the wonders of a friendship which bridges so many divides, religion among them.