Saturday, August 27, 2016

Talk to Me

I pray because it helps me to remember that I'm still here. Much of the time, I am wandering around in my life, daydreaming about missteps in the past or possible pitfalls looming in the future. If I find myself unexpectedly in the present, I am likely focused on explaining the origin of the stain on my skirt to the woman from Ecuador who works at the dry cleaner or concentrating very hard on cooking the pasta al dente. Prayer happens when I simply notice that I'm alive and spontaneously feel a boundless gratitude for this existential situation that I can't explain. I can't explain life or death. They are equally mysterious. I am just awestruck. To give the experience some shape, I sometimes begin with a prayer formula, like the Hebrew baruch atah adonai...I say, dear God, Holy One of Being, thank you for this day. Other times, I don't speak at all. I simply see pictures in my mind's eye, a place of vision that is not dimming with age.

Lately, I've been reflecting on Psalm 118:24, This is the day that God made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. The first phrase comes easily. This is it. This is the day. It will not come again. There is an awareness of mortality folded into this is the day. Every time I open my eyes to this knowing, I see that my days are numbered. A minor slip-up can catapult me out of life and into something else that I cannot be expected to understand. I can be taken by surprise. I can be taken. The Hebrew word zeh, or this, is one of God's innumerable names. This and this and this and this. Anguish and babies and elephants and grapefruit. Thunderstorms, Tolstoy and dog shit. All happening, all renewed in every sacred sunrise.

Like light from a distant star, let us rejoice and be glad in it has only just arrived in my awareness now that I am in my seventies. I am not being called to party which I was once very good at. I am not being asked to pretend that people in Syria are not being attacked with chemical weapons or that people I love are not suffering. The psalm is suggesting that I remember to rejoice in my aliveness, my witness. Beyond that, it invites me to join in the universal heartbeat. Let us rejoice...for better or for worse, we're all in this together. The witness is collective.

I wasn't brought up with prayer. Like many people, especially people from largely secular Jewish backgrounds, I found the idea of prayer foreign and disquieting. It felt like a form of propaganda designed to disempower me, to transfer my agency to some invisible, elusive, but at the same time all-powerful being outside of myself. Alternatively, I would worry....what if I'm just talking to myself when I think I'm praying? But over time, the border between my consciousness and the larger consciousness became porous. I now feel less earnest about prayer, more like a small child humming and telling stories to myself while I draw pictures with crayons or look for pieces to a puzzle. Small children are still connected to the breath of life through words, music and images. All of us project our individual experience out into the collective story that some people call God. We just don't call this prayer. Children understand how the limits of one person can dissolve into the enormity of all there is. When I come to that understanding, I can sing the truth of a particular moment, while washing dishes, walking in Stockbridge, drinking cold water on a hot day. Even if the prayer arises out of a sadness in my life, I lose exclusive ownership of it when I share it with all that is listening. The sharing is an act of generosity, a way of saying, here, take this piece of me, even the anxiety and the despair. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.


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14 comments:

Lee said...

Thanks for this, Susie. Especially the reflection on Psalm 118.

Susie Kaufman said...

Thank you, Lee. Would love to hear from you about your engagement with Psalms. It feels like the discovery of a new solar system.

Peggy Braun said...

Oh, Susie--that was so beautiful. I just received news that a dear friend died of a massive stroke yesterday, so rejoice in this day feels just right. It lands at the perfect time.

Susie Kaufman said...

Sudden loss is so hard. Thinking of you with love...

Jinks said...

This piece is a prose-poem, a mystical and beautiful meandering in the realm of consciousness and life. I love it. Jinks

Susie Kaufman said...

Meandering seems like the right way to go. I can't get to these places in a straight line.

Barbara Drosnin said...

yeah.
beautifully articulated.

Susie Kaufman said...

Feels good to share this with you

Sonia said...

Thank you for this. Touches me deeply in places I need to remember. Vivid image of child drawing w crayons!

Susie Kaufman said...

I'm thinking a lot about collective witness since writing this. So glad to have something to contribute.

Amy Tanner said...

Beautiful, Susie. Thank you for this deep dive into yourself <3

Susie Kaufman said...

I'm appreciating that way of being with art more and more. Holy vulnerability.

Rosemary Starace said...

Thanks for thinking about these things, Susie, and articulating them with such care.

Susie Kaufman said...

The articulating is part of the spiritual practice. A blessing for me, for sure. Thank you, Rosemary.