Saturday, August 27, 2016
Talk to Me
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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