More Poetry for Elul

From the great Canadian-Jewish poet, Shulamis Yelin (1913-2002):

In your image,
in your image, God,
You made me in your image,
and I reach upward, seeking –
to be like You, God.

Just? Like You I’m vengeful.
Merciful? Like You I seek an understanding heart.
Jealous? Yes, I’m jealous
and iniquitous
and long suffering –
and like You
I dream to make a world,
(in miniature, God),
to do my bidding.

And loving I can be, yes, loving,
to a penitent, punished child.

Yet clearly, God, most clearly,
do I see in me your oneness,
your all-oneness,
your aloneness –
in my heart.


For Elul: All Things Must Pass

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-ATb5FNci8%5D

For your Elul viewing/listening pleasure:

Here is a clip from the “Concert for George,” which was held in November 2002 on the first anniversary of George Harrison’s death. It was a star-studded affair organized by his family and arranged as a benefit for Harrison’s charitable foundation.

Among the many memorable moments in the concert was this performance of Harrison’s solo classic, “All Things Must Pass” sung by Paul McCartney. I find it quite moving to listen to the spiritual message of the song, doubly meaningful on this particular occasion. (Not to mention watching Harrison’s son Dhani – the spitting image of his father – playing backup guitar.)

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey


For Elul: Robi’s Letter

Some more Elul reading material for you:

In March 2002 Robi Damelin’s 28 year old son, David, was shot and killed by a Palestinian while serving in the Israeli army. Robi has since become a leader in The Parents’ Circle, a group of Israeli and Palestinian families whose lives have been torn apart by violence and now work together for reconciliation and peace.

As part of her own work, Robi decided to take the courageous step of writing a letter to the mother of the man who killed her son.  I can think of nothing more appropriate to this season of our reconciliation than Robi’s profound words.

An excerpt:

After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation. This is not easy for anyone and I am just an ordinary person not a saint I have now come to the conclusion that I would like to try to find a way to reconcile. Maybe this is difficult for you to understand or believe, but I know that in my heart it is the only path that I can chose, for if what I say is what I mean it is the only way.

Click below for the entire text:

Read the rest of this entry »


A Radio Story for Elul

Your next homework assignment for the month of Elul is to listen to this recent piece from NPR’s “This American Life.”  I chose it because so much of our spiritual preparation during this season focuses on our struggle with change. Is it truly possible to turn our lives around?  How do we hold on to our faith in our ability to change – and the potential of others as well?

The hero of this story is an amazing woman named Ton’Nea Williams who, while working at a juvenile detention facility, befriended a boy named Kenneth and attempted to set his life on the right path. As you will hear, the story takes some unexpected twists and turns. I particularly admire it because it asks the most essential questions, but refuses to provide us with easy answers.

The program lasts approximately a 1/2 hour, but trust me, this story is well worth your time – and is utterly appropriate to our Elul preparations.


A Meditation for Elul: Yes, God Loves You

As I mentioned in a previous post, during the month of Elul, I’ll be offering occasional “Elul Meditations” that I hope will help with your spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. This one is an excerpt from a Rosh Hashanah sermon I gave ten years ago entitled “The Season of Our Loving.”

If we don’t relate to a personal, supernatural God on High, what could it possibly mean to pray prayers that say “God loves us?”  Maybe – just maybe – it means that our love for one another is but a hint of something much greater: an infinite place of unconditional love that pervades the universe. Perhaps the simplest way we experience God’s love is when we look into the eyes of our own loved ones. I am reminded of Jacob’s unbearably touching words, the words that come when he finally reconciles with his beloved brother Esau: “to see your face is to see the face of God.” Could it be possible that when we love another, we are tapping into a well that connects us with a transcendent love greater than anything we can possibly imagine?

Ahavat Olam – “with an unending love you love us, Adonai, our God.” I understand this prayer as much more than simply a tribal statement of faith about God’s exclusive gift of Torah to the people Israel. At its most profound level, this prayer expresses our sense that there is a source of unconditional love that surrounds all peoples always – an “Ahavat Olam.” It is reflected in our love for one another, but it is not ultimately dependant upon it. For if love is only a transient feeling or sensation, then it is not truly eternal. Perhaps when we say “God loves us,” we are simply saying that this life force – this love force – is an elemental part of our lives and our world. Like the love we share with true loved ones, it has a transformative power. It connects us in a profound way. It protects and validates us. It helps us to overcome our solitariness. It keeps us safe.


My Prayer for Elul

It’s Rosh Hodesh Elul, the first of the last month of the Jewish year – also known as the month of spiritual preparation that leads into Rosh Hashanah. I plan to write extensively about Elul rituals over the next few weeks – in the meantime, here is my own rendering of Psalm 27, which is traditionally recited every morning this month.

Rosh Hodesh Sameach – a joyful and spiritually fruitful Elul!

Psalm 27

You are my light my hope
why should I fear
You are my life and my strength
why do I tremble

When I contemplate surrender
to my dread
to my terror of the unknown
I hold tight to you
and your strength gives me strength

Just one thing I ask of you
just this one thing
that I find welcome in your home
all the days of my life
to behold your beauty
to dwell in your innermost place

For in you there is shelter
in times of hardship and disquiet
in your tent there is sanctuary
from that place I will sing
a joyful song to the darkness
with openness and love

Do you hear my song
do you hear me when I cry
do not turn away
I seek you endlessly
I turn toward your light
it seems
I’ve sought your face
forever

Still in my darkest moments
this I do know
even if my father and mother abandon me
you will always be there
to gather me up

Teach me the ways of wholeness and justice
remind me that no matter how far I may stray
from this path
there is always a way to return

Even if I can’t always see it
I will ever believe in your goodness
right here
right now
in the land of the living

Hold on to your hope
and be strong
the time of our return will soon
arrive