A taste of 70 faces -- set to music!
First of May

Celebrating Shabbat...with the poems of Rumi

Back in January, at Ohalah -- the annual conference of the association of rabbis for Jewish Renewal -- I attended a Rumi morning service led by my friend R' Ed Stafman. I found the Rumi service to be incredibly powerful. We prayed a fairly standard weekday morning service, with all of its component prayers, with one twist: accompanying each Hebrew prayer was a poem by the Persian mystic Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks. I promised myself then that someday I would do something similar at my shul.

This coming Shabbat morning -- Saturday, May 5 -- I'll be putting that promise into action, leading what I'm calling our first-ever Rumi Shabbat service. I've adapted the liturgy which my friend R' Ed put together (his liturgy was a weekday one; this is a Shabbat liturgy, and I made a few changes to make the service hopefully fit my community as well as possible.)

I'm really happy with the end result: a 38-page booklet which contains each of the Shabbat morning prayers (either in abbreviated or fulltext form) alongside Rumi poems which speak to the same themes, and often reference the same scriptural stories, as do the prayers. I also spent some time browsing the internet in search of images to enliven and adorn the pages. So hopefully the physical document will be lovely to look at, as well as beautiful to read.

I'm hoping that this service will be meaningful to all who attend, and that it will open up some new ways of thinking about and understanding our liturgy. I know that for many people the beauty of the traditional liturgy is often obscure or hard to access. Perhaps these Rumi poems (which are quite beautiful, as poetry qua poetry) will help us see our familiar liturgy in a new light. And, of course, there's something wonderful about using the poems of a Sufi poet to illuminate new facets of Jewish prayer! The mystics of every tradition, I find, tend to be in-touch with the Oneness which underlies all differentiation.

The service will run from 9:30-11am, as usual, followed by kiddush (blessing bread and wine and gathering for a little nosh) and text study. This week I suspect our text study may take the form of a conversation about the service we will have just prayed.

If you are a fan of Rumi's poetry but have never spent much time with the Jewish liturgy -- or if you pray Jewish liturgy regularly but perhaps don't know Rumi's work so well; if you are looking for a warm and welcoming place to celebrate Shabbat, to offer thanks and praise, and to lift up your voice in song; if you're in or near western Mass.; I hope you'll join us.

To whet your appetite, here's a taste of the sort of thing you'll find in this service. Here's our setting of Psalm 150: a Rumi poem, the Hebrew text of the psalm and its translation. (The prayerbook booklet I'm making will also have transliteration, for those who are not comfortable reading in Hebrew.)

Psalm 150

Let the beauty we love

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

הַלְלוּיָהּ, הַלְלוּ אֵל בְּקָדְשׁוֹ, הַלְלוּהוּ בִּרְקִיעַ עֻזּוֹ:הַלְלוּהוּ בְּגְבוּרֹתָיו, הַלְלוּהוּ כְּרֹב גֻּדְלוֹ: הַלְלוּהוּ בְּתֵקַע שׁוֹפָר, הַלְלוּהוּ בְּנֵבֶל וְכִנּוֹר: הַלְלוּהוּ בְּתֹף וּמָחוֹל, הַלְלוּהוּ בְּמִנִּים וְעֻגָב: הַלְלוּהוּ בְּצִלְצְלֵי שָׁמַע, הַלְלוּהוּ בְּצִלְצְלֵי תְרוּעָה: כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ הַלְלוּיָהּ. כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ הַלְלוּיָהּ:

Praise God in God's sanctuary
praise God in the sky, God's stronghold.
Praise God for mighty acts;
praise God for God's exceeding greatness.
Praise God with blasts of the horn;
praise God with harp and lyre.
Praise God with resounding cymbals,
praise God with loud-clashing cymbals.
Let all that breathes praise God.