Who continually renews
December 24, 2015
In rabbinic school I learned to love the daily liturgy. I love all kinds of variations on that liturgy, and I also love the phrases and images of the liturgy as we've received it.
One of the neat things about davening with a (somewhat) fixed liturgy is that while the words remain the same, the lens I bring to them changes. Words and phrases mean different things to me at different times. Lately when I've been davening, my attention has snagged on one line in the morning prayer which blesses God as creator of light. In Hebrew, it's this:
וּבְטוּבוֹ מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית
In English, these words describe God as the One Who, every day, in goodness, continually renews the work of creation.
"Continually renews the work of creation." Sometimes that phrase suggests to me that God is perennially speaking the universe into being. As Torah teaches that creation began with the words "let there be light," just so, every atom which exists is being spoken-into-being by God in every moment. Sometimes that phrase suggests something different: that every morning we wake to a world which is (or can be) entirely new. No matter what happened yesterday, each day is a chance to begin again.
Today I was struck by the first word in that phrase, which means "in [God's] goodness." God renews creation each day not out of habit, but in goodness. (Or "with goodness" -- the Hebrew could be translated either way.) Goodness is the tool with which God renews creation, or maybe the renewal of creation is itself goodness. It is goodness which brings about renewal, and renewal is perennial. Creation is constantly being renewed, and because we are part of creation, so are we.
I know that sometimes in my life I feel stuck, or I know that someone I love is stuck: in illness, in grief, in a difficult situation that (no matter how I might try) I can't balm or fix. I know that every human life comes with heartache. I know that sometimes the things that hurt feel perennial and never-ending. The hurt can feel as though it will swell until it eclipses everything else.
At those times I need a reminder of precisely what this prayer teaches. I need to be reminded that renewal is foundational and is built in to the fabric of the universe. I need to be reminded that creation didn't just happen once-upon-a-time: it's still happening even now, in every moment. I need to be reminded that (at least, in the view of my tradition) goodness is central to existence as we know it, and that goodness is always unfolding. That God is always unfolding. That creation is always unfolding.
Yesterday morning I davened the morning service at 30,000 feet as I flew back from a few days visiting family. As early sun gilded the beautiful bright tops of the clouds, I blessed God Who creates light: not only the literal light of the star we call the sun, but also the light of wisdom and of insight. And I paused for a while on the line which names God as the One Who every day, in goodness, continually renews the work of creation. I'm glad to have the daily liturgy to remind me that that is so.