(B)logarhythm

A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a performance hall...

I'm sick on the couch today, which means lots of spaced out thinking time. I've been ruminating on something that happened this weekend...

I was on stage at an interfaith concert in Toronto Saturday night. Multiple faith groups were represented in a community gathering to honor an incredible rabbi (Larry Englander) who has given blessing upon blessing to the larger TO community.

We were about to sing the finale. A gospel choir, amongst other groups, joined us at the stage. I took a moment to address the crowd.

I'm not sure what I said, but I do know that I spoke different words than expected. In hindsight, I believe I was inspired by the outwardly demonstrative faith of the choir. If you've spent any time in church (AME or otherwise), you may be aware of the incredible freedom with which folks express their faith. They affirm as one speaks. They nod, and vocally add their support to thoughts, sentiments and statements.

Most importantly, they do not fear acknowledgement of their relationship with a higher power. Whether you connect with the One or the Three (or any other number, for that matter), there is incredible inspiration to be found in a fearlessly outpoured sentiment of belief. 

I'm used to experiencing God as a euphemism. A burning bush, perhaps. Jews typically beat around this bush (pun very much intended), simply acknowledging that we all... acknowledge. 

The choir's relationship with their faith did not stop at simple acknowledgment. Words that inspired them were met with vocal affirmation. They gave themselves to the moment, really listening, really affirming. They brought the room together because they were not afraid.

I long for this in my own life, in my own spiritual community. I wish for that freedom to be found again. I believe we once knew it well; at Sinai, at the Red Sea... we exclaimed our faith. 

Truth: I'm not opposed to your beliefs differing from mine. I actually support it. (Read: I do not "tolerate" it. I *support* it). 

Monochromatic faith is like tossing a baseball in the air and catching it yourself. Sure, you are technically throwing and catching, but it's ultimately a poor substitute for tossing the ball around with another person. You learn, you adjust, you see more clearly when another person plays catch with you. You appreciate how the ball approaches you in different ways, and you enjoy throwing it back and forth. It builds camaraderie. It creates relationship. It puts us all on the same field. 

I want to live in a world where everyone gets to play catch.

The choir, by being present in the moment and affirming my words, invited me to toss the ball around.

And I am grateful.

אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ.

God, open my lips, that I might declare Your praise.

Anna

I just had a 15 minute conversation with a stranger in my lobby.

 

I was returning home after walking Zach and Judah to school.  As I walked up to the front door of my building, I saw a white-haired woman sitting (in a strangely contorted way) in a chair in the lobby.

 

I’ve seen her before. She usually just sits there, listening to a small transistor radio that sits beside her on the seat. She speaks very slowly and with a thick accent. She always smiles and says hello. If my kids are with me, she likes to comment on how handsome they are.

 

I walked inside. We exchanged hellos. I wasn’t in a rush, so I asked her how she was doing

 

Here is what I learned:

 

Her name is Anna.

 

That’s A-N-N-A.

 

It’s a Jewish name.

 

She is shrinking.

 

Her husband is buried in Greenwood Cemetery along with most of her relatives.

 

She is from the old country. Czechoslovakia. Which, she tells me, is not a country anymore. They did, however, have a Jewish president.

 

She has 2 sons. One lives in Dallas. One lives in the building. That son put himself through college.

 

Her husband died when the boys were in high school. He worked on Broadway as an electrician.

 

Then…

 

She stopped remembering. Just for a second.

 

It was like the wheels stopped turning. Like the power grid dimmed and the lights flickered. She put her hand to her temple and mumbled.

 

Suddenly, she came back. House lights on. She was fine.

 

And, out of nowhere, she said:

 

“You know… God bless the Jewish people… and, God bless all people.”

 

Her son came then to pick her up. I said goodbye, and told her that my name was Josh. “That’s a Polish name!” she exclaimed. She smiled. I smiled back.

 

I got into the elevator.

 

And went up.

Counting to 10

 

My kids are learning to play hide and seek.

I loved this game as a kid. Our small suburban house had lots of little spots that could serve as viable hiding places. I remember my mom occasionally needing to coax me out after I’d found a particularly effective station and remained there long after the game had run its course.

These days, I live in a NYC apartment along with my two little men. Space is, to say the least, at a premium. Hence, appropriate hiding places can be in short supply.

Not that we don’t manage, however. My three-year-old son spends a good amount of time lying semi-motionless under a blanket in the middle of my bed, hoping time and time again that I will fail to notice the significant lump rising up from the mattress, let alone the steady stream of muffled giggles that it emits.

Consequently, it often takes me several minutes of intense “searching” to find him. I call his name as I look in the closet, in the bathtub, in my backpack…

Eventually, with great fanfare and astonishment, he is found. After a good laugh, the boys switch roles and his four-year-old brother goes off to “hide.” Eyes covered, I slowly and deliberately count to 10, and suddenly a slightly larger lump in the bed has appeared…

While our family gaming tradition continues to grow, I‘ve recently reached a tipping point in my personal journey. I’m experiencing change in fundamental ways. And, in an ironic sense, my search for growth is informed by this gameplay.

Truth: I’m tired of looking for God in the bathtub.

I’m often struck by how our larger community deals with the concept of a God that is. Some choose to not invoke God’s name at all; others need a euphemism or a piece of poignant imagery simply to be in relationship, relying on burning bushes and parting waters to bridge their intellectual and spiritual selves.

I believe in a God that is everything and everywhere, the One great unifying force that binds us together on every (un)imaginable level. I believe there is More, and I want to get closer to It.

Like many of us, I’ve spent much of my spiritual adult life discovering meaning and connection in a series of bursts.  Maybe it’s a natural product of personal maturation, but I’ve tired of doing an Israeli line dance around the edges of my spiritual life. Once in a while, I’ll hold onto friends and loved ones as we move toward the center of our circle, raising our joined hands in the air as we converge into a connected community. Then, just like that, we are back on the outskirts, circling the center where we will reconvene in sixteen or thirty-two bars.

I’ve often grappled with the question of why we don’t just stay in the center. Were we to remain there without end, would it lose its luster, no longer as special as it was when we reached there only occasionally? Or, would the intensity of the center become overwhelming, rapidly escalating into a new and tremendously powerful experience? I don’t know. And at various times, like many of us, I’ve been deeply afraid of finding out.

I’m not suggesting the viability of an existence that occurs solely in that center. I’m simply stating that we could stand to spend more time there, both individually and as a community.

If we believe in God’s oneness, if we are all made b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), and if we are all part of the One... then we hold an intrinsic responsibility to embrace the depth of that connection and to let go of the fear which inevitably surrounds it.

The words in the siddur are simply a door, the rituals of Jewish life simply a vehicle. They are not a destination, but a path. If we are content to let those tools be the extent of our spiritual connection, then we miss the point entirely, allowing ourselves to diminish the possibility of More in favor of what is known, safe, and secure.

Baruch Atah, Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha Olam, whom we seek in the quietest and most remote of places. May we be granted the courage to truly see… even if we don’t begin by counting to ten.

RH13

5:42.

Tuesday.

Third of September,

Two thousand and thirteen.

The day before Rosh Hashana.

Window seat at Café Martin, Brooklyn, NY

 

Here, in the first quiet moment I’ve given to self-reflection in some time, I am moved to share thoughts on the year to come.

I’ve watched this year pass through the narrow view of a telescope, lens dirty from dust and smoke, emotionally detached but somehow present thanks to the distance such a device affords. I’ve seen quite a bit this year. Death, joy, fear, rapture, connection, disappointment, pride, love... it’s a long list.

Here are, as distilled from a recently retired Moleskine and in no particular order, this year’s life lessons:

  •  If you lose God, just find a kid.
  • Music is in the making.
  • We are all, in one way or another, praying to ourselves.
  • God is; God is: God is, God is.
  • There is always hope.
  • Any moment can be the moment when something momentous occurs.
  • If you swear that you will never love again…
  • Money kills. How ironic then that in the end, we could not (would not) (should not) care about it less.
  • It’s time to be an artist, which essentially means that it’s time to be.
  • Believe in the power of positive change.
  • It only takes one. Truth.
  • Family is kinetic, not genetic.
  • Bloodlines don’t necessarily lead to love lines. (Fortunately, love lines are not bloodline-dependent.)
  • There is no reason an omelet should contain only one kind of cheese.

Wishing all of us, each and every one, a beautiful and blessed year to come. 

Shana Tovah,

josh

to what is new


to what is new, and yet, has always been


i know not from where You have come

but I will not question


i am not sure how a lone soul can breathe this essence

but It is strong, and physical, and It passes through me with wild joy


i wish i could understand

but ultimately, the search for understanding may diminish the wonder

and so I simply receive, blissfully, without the clarity that tends to

shove me from the road of forward motion


doorsflyopenlightsflareandfiresmokerises


and suddenly, it is not about the door


nor, about the way it may be opened


for there is


bright


Light.


-jn