A blessing for board elections
Haveil Havalim (Jewish Blog Carnival) #336

Shviti, a poem about finding God even in what hurts



שִׁוִּיתִי יְי לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד / I keep God before me always. -- Psalm 16:8


Always before me:
in the checkout line
at the pharmacy
where I'm reading mail
on my phone, in the pixels
of my computer screen

in the locked ward
where I never know
who will want
to talk about God
and who will shuffle past
without meeting my eyes

in the stranger
whose barbed words
leave me sick and sad
and in the tallit
I wrap around my shoulders
to hold me together

in my toddler's cries
at four in the morning
in the painful conversation
I don't want to begin
in every ache
help me to find You

The title of this poem is the Hebrew word "Shviti," which means "I have set" (or, more colloquially, "I keep.") It is the first word of the line from psalms which serves as this poem's epigraph. Artistically, a shviti is an image (usually of God's name) designed as a focus for meditation on the presence of the divine. (Here are images of a whole bunch of them.)

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, teaches that this word is related to the Hebrew word hishtavut, which means "equanimity." When I keep God always before me, then I have equanimity; nothing can shake me. (I posted about this teaching back in 2007.) This is not an easy teaching to embody.

It's easy (for me) to find holiness, and to find God's presence, in the world's beauty: the pink smear of sunrise across the horizon, a child's laughter, the embrace of a friend. It's a lot harder (for me) to recognize the presence of God in suffering and in discord. But even in what hurts, there is opportunity to open the heart to God.

Wishing all of y'all a Shabbat of wholeness and peace.