Malchuyot: A Rosh Hashana Reflection on Surrender, Life’s Imagination and Who’s In Charge: Everyday Magic, Day 627

I was asked to speak to one of three themes central to Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). The themes basically are sovereignty, memory and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). I gave this talk this morning at the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation on Malchuyot (sovereignty), my little exploration in four parts.

1. King of Kings, or the Fire That Makes the Circle

In traditional scripture about Malchuyot, we revisit God’s sovereignty in the metaphor of king of kings, which portrays God as made in our image, or at least in our medieval, male, hierarchal image. I turn to another metaphor: God as the fire we circle around. You can’t stand in the center of the fire and understand fully what the fire is without causing yourself great harm. But you can stand beside it, feel the warmth, see the light, witness the nature of fire: powerful, ever-changing, a wisp of the smallest flame or a blazing roar.

Whether we talk of the king of kings or the fire, we draw on metaphor. “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant,” Emily Dickinson writes of both poetry and the holy. We cozy up to what’s beyond our grasp, largely invisible, diverse and infinite by telling this truth slant, which in Judaism manifests in many names for God: Lord, Holy One, Hashem, Adonai, El, Avinu, Yaway, Shekinah, Elokim, Creator of the Universe, I-am-that-I-am. God is “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” as Dylan Thomas writes: the sudden wind that shakes the cedar, the red sky backlighting my husband in the field, the rain in the middle of the night, the lightning strike from cloud in the diagonal distance to pond before us, the laughter on the phone that snaps me out of my mind’s trap, the rolling surface of ocean holding up the boat, the sky, the unfolding weather. God is the fire in the breath within and around us.

Whoever or whatever God is — and even whether we believe in God, any variations of the holy one, or not — this fire makes a circle of us, right now, right here.

2. Who’s in Charge?

We Jews excel at making things happen. If we’re going to be control freaks, we’re going to be effective control freaks, which makes it harder to surrender, and see how the curtain between us and the actual world is often our thoughts and our thinking. I confess to be a control freak (at least in my crunchy exterior), yet I also know, increasingly as I get older, how little control I have, how even my best thinking, at its more expansive, only catches a microscopic sliver of good and bad, and to quote Sufi poem Rumi, what lies in the field beyond good and bad.

“Life has more imagination than we do,” my friend Shelley told me 15 years ago when she and her then-partner, two very white women in central Vermont and their adopted one-year-old African-American daughter, came home to a voice on their answering machine that asked, “Do you want the brother?” Their daughter’s biological parents had another baby. While Shelley’s partner balked, saying, “We’re too old, too tired, and we don’t know price for cialis 10mg anything about boys,” Shelley just took her partner’s face between her hands and said, “Don’t you think we have enough room in our hearts?” Flash forward to now: Shelley’s daughter and son are now teens.

Life did and does have so much more imagination than we do, so why wouldn’t we want to surrender to a wiser, more creative force?

3. Surrender, Dorothy!

That’s what the witch sky-wrote on the big, open sky, and Dorothy did eventually surrender, not to the witch, but, after the last balloon of hope vanished over the horizon, to having no control. She had to break her heart open to discover what power she did have: the power to go home. Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, writes:

The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness — to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge — that is the path of true awakening.

Chodron adds that human beings are wired to want ground under our feet, but life is groundless: unpredictable, chaotic, mysterious, as hard to catch as wind.

Surrender on the High Holidays is both an individual and collective act of faith: we pray, chant, sing, dwell and eat at the same convergence of time and geography. We use this space to cultivate awareness of life beyond our plans or hardened hearts. We let ourselves break, a little or a lot, open to not knowing. Someone or something else is driving the bus, and the sky unfolding us across our lives is vast, beautiful, changing. Surrender.

4. “Please Let the Power of Hashem Increase”

Malchuyot, at its heart, asks, please, to let the power of Hashem increase, explains Reb Zalman, who adds that only through awe and love do we give our prayers wings. He says, “It’s not enough that we pray in our prayers, ‘Write us into this or that book,’ if we are not writing our own qvittel/note for ourselves,” evaluating our year and turning our lives toward holiness and uprightness. Rabbi Nachman of Bretzletalks about the mutuality of longing: us for God and visa-versa, and how Malchuyot calls on us to acknowledge this longing at the core of life.

I do a lot of writing workshops with people living with serious illness: chronic, overwhelming pain they can only escape for small stretches; late cancer diagnoses that leave them only a season or two left without knowing for sure; and progressive neurological diseases that vanish their ability to walk, write, speak. I love facilitating these workshops because the veil is gone. What matters most is what remains: the yearning to live, the love that survives us, and the the courage to go on. To me, this is what it means to let the power of Hashem increase.

Whatever or whoever is in charge, we’ve always had the power within us to surrender, and return home. Now that we’re gathered around the fire together, don’t you think we have enough room in our hearts?

Entering the Days of Awe: A Rosh Hashana Poem: Everyday Magic, Day 626

Here is a poem I wrote last year to welcome us to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and the ten days between this holiday and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. During the days of awe, it is our responsibility to make right any wrongs we sparks or participated in with others on the basis that praying to God only makes things right (at best) with God.

Entering the Days of Awe

Let us walk unfettered into these days

unfurling in the sun, wide fields of old grasses

bracketed by sunflowers and pebbles.

Let us step into the lapis sky that fastens itself

to the driveway, the sidewalk, the worn leaves

of dying summer under new leaf fall.

 

Let us give up the wasteful thinking,

the 2 a.m. anxieties over what cannot be changed,

the waking with a gasp. Let us stand in the morning,

the new chill of the air clearing the disgards of time,

fear, reaching too hard or not enough.

 

Let the wrongs be made right. Let forgiveness

overtake the words we hear and pray, the stories

we’ve made and tilted. Let us remember this dreaming song

from all our beloveds long gone or just over the bend,

each note engraved with lost lands, singing

of how good it is when we dwell together.

 

Let the peripheral vision in the days of awe show us

the world, the first seeing of the heart, the last pulse

of those we love who travel with us. Let the wind shake

the trees, the tattered leaves shine, the last butterflies

flash their orange, the first dark blue of night

open into a panorama of past and present light

on its way to us all.

 

Let the next breath we take inscribe us in the book of life.

Let the next breath you give welcome us home.

— Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

 

Throwing Our Cares On the River: Everyday Magic, Day 419

Susan with her grand dog

On Rosh Hashana a bunch of us from the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation gathered at the river like we do every year for Taslich, a ritual to cast our sins on the water or — to release what no longer serves us to the forces that be. This is one of my favorite rituals all year, a time of tossing crumbs and handfuls of old bread into the Kaw River, letting go over what needs to move on.

What made it all the more special to me this year was walking from downtown Lawrence to the river with Forest and a friend facing health challenges. We wove through a neighborhood, pausing to admire stone rabbits in a yard or a multi-color painted lady of an old house between talking about what’s behind and what’s ahead. Once at the river, we circled the sculptures of Native people and a small deer, sat on the rocks by the water and admired the sky.

Don't mess with the women in black

Soon people from the LJCC joined us for a short service, standing on the banks of the river in a circle, prayerbooks in hands as we prayed in Hebrew and English for renewal and peace. Th

en it was time to throw bread on the water. “I’ve got a lot of sin. Come share it with me,” Sharyn told us, holding up a hunk of challah. I ended up with small pieces of challah, whole wheat and rye bread, tossing them onto the rushing river alongside others.

With one of my friends, we actually call out what we’re getting rid of: “Moments of not being kind enough!”, “All forms of self-hatred!”, “Not enough clear seeing!” and whatever else comes to mind. With another friend, we tossed hunks of old challah in silence. Standing with old friends and my youngest son, I threw a lot of bread on that river as the fresh breezes of a perfect autumn day cleansed us all.

Walking back downtown, down a trail hugging the edge of the water, with my friend and son, I felt new as the rivers surged way ahead of me, taking what cares I gave it far around the bend.

Entering the Days of Awe: A Poem for Rosh Hashana: Everyday Magic, Day 418

This is the poem I wrote yesterday and read today at services at the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation. L’shanah tovah!

Entering the Days of Awe

 

Let us walk unfettered into these days

unfurling in the sun, wide fields of old grasses

bracketed by sunflowers and pebbles.

Let us step into the lapis sky that fastens itself

to the driveway, the sidewalk, the worn leaves

of dying summer under new leaf fall.

 

Let us give up the wasteful thinking,

the 2 a.m. anxieties over what cannot be changed,

the waking with a gasp. Let us stand in the morning,

the new chill of the air clearing the disgards of time,

fear, reaching too hard or not enough.

 

Let the wrongs be made right. Let forgiveness

overtake the words we hear and pray, the stories

we’ve made and tilted. Let us remember this dreaming song

from all our beloveds long gone or just over the bend,

each note engraved with lost lands, singing

of how good it is when we dwell together.

 

Let the peripheral vision in the days of awe show us

the world, the first seeing of the heart, the last pulse

of those we love who travel with us. Let the wind shake

the trees, the tattered leaves shine, the last butterflies

flash their orange, the first dark blue of night

open into a panorama of past and present light

on its way to us all.

 

Let the next breath we take inscribe us in the book of life.

Let the next breath you give welcome us home.