improbably, the prayer shawl
it’s as if the voice calls to me from an ancient canyon, a hallowed space carved through time and history. the history of this perpetually-spinning planet and its holy peoples, and, now, the history that is mine, carved across the years.
i yearn to wrap myself in the folds of the prayer shawl. to cloak my shoulders, burrow my arms, to bend my knees and bow down in the way i have long watched my prayerful beloved. a part of me, yes, aches to be enfolded, to feel the soft threads against my bare skin, but more against my heart. to be swept into the incantations of long ago and forever. to confess and call out to the God who is Avinu Malkeinu, “loving parent, Sovereign of our souls,” in the translation of our synagogue’s new prayer book.
i immerse myself in this span of holy time — the days of awe, rosh hashanah, the jewish new year, through to yom kippur, the day of deepest atonement — as if a tide pool that washes over and through me. it’s at once a cleanse and elevation, a surrender to another key, a frequency and melody and language that carries me to another plane. an otherworldly plane.
and yet, it’s one that comes on and through the worldliest of channels: the trip to the butcher shop, the spice jars pulled from the shelves. the chopping and stirring at the kitchen counter. the strolling through the garden, cutting stems to tuck in wide-mouthed jars and pitchers strewn across the table. the gathering of pomegranates, apples, acorns — sweet fruits of the new year, blessed offerings of the season of sacred bounty.
i have always loved the whole-body immersion of judaism, the ancient call to prayerfulness, the stories set in desert and dry land, the image of the sacred quenching that comes through the oasis, the raining down of sustenance from heaven, the voice that calls out, unseen but deeply heard.
these days i seem to be wrapping myself in all sorts of unfamiliar sacred threads, in threads finer-grained in their unfamiliarity, because their language is new to me, the constructions of sentences, the word choice, the tales they choose to tell. i’ve been going all summer to a just-past-dawn service in an episcopal chapel, one presided over and preached by women. wise women. soulful women. women priests.
it is a soul-stirring thing in the landscape of religion to walk into an unfamiliar place, to listen to the unfolding of an unfamiliar script, to feel each word and gesture as if new (because to me it is new). and thus to feel it so deeply fully.
it’s the element of exposure. the eyes-open willingness to surrender. to submit to that which by definition is foreign, uncharted, able to come up and grasp you, unsuspecting. nothing’s dulled; it’s all bristling, and stands at full alert. you never know what might be around the next bend. and thus you enter wide-eyed, scanning. catching every shift and nuance, passing through the sieve of your soul as if the first rinse.
so it’s always been for me in the folds of judaism, the religion i’ve stepped into because my heart and soul pulled me toward this man who is my beloved, my much-tested companion on this long journey called our married life. i feel it wholly because it’s new to me in so many ways, and now, 30 years after i first stepped — quaking — into my then-beau’s synagogue, its refrains come washing over me with decades of resonance. i find my place, i pull familiar threads round my shoulders, taut against my heart. i am cloaked and covered, kept safe, and free to burrow deep inside, to pore over the holy text, to consider prayers and, most of all, the image of the God who puts pause to the mad dash of the everyday. who awaits our urge to surrender. to bow down and pay attention. to hold high the sanctified blessing of the gifts that abound at the cusp of this new and holy year.
in the cry of the shofar, the coiled ram’s horn that calls out the new year. in the minor chords that rise up from our soul’s deepest depths. in the warm notes of spices saved for now. and in the prayers unfurled in each day of the days to come…..
i find my shelter and my refuge, my call to courage, and the certain whisper of the Most Holy. here, in the soft folds and sacred threads, i pull the prayer shawl round my shoulders. improbably, i tumble toward my heart’s deepest resonance.
l’shanah tovah u’metukah — may it be a good and sweet new year…
have you ventured into a sacred landscape that at first was unfamiliar, and did it sharpen all your senses, and draw you deeper into some universal understanding, some fine-grained sense of holy truths?
p.s. my friday mornings these days include a drive to the far side of this little town to drop my sweet boy off at the faraway high school campus where he is shepherding the new freshmen into their high school adventures. this puts a bit of a pause in my morning writing, and thus delays its arrival in your mailbox, if you’re one who receives this by e-post. apologies for the delay, but this is my last chance, my last year, of dropping my sweet boy at the schoolhouse door, and i am relishing every drop of it. (even the days when we are running late and i am not quite as “chill” as he wishes me to be….)
Memories!! Now I call my grandsons on their first day of school-in NY, by the way!! I applaud them for handling the chaos of NY as sensitive young men!!
As I read your post, I remembered attending my nephews’ bar mitzvah in Champaign. One of those same boys is now the rabbi at a synagogue in Northbrook, Rev Aaron Braun. I am Catholic, but have attended Jewish weddings, bris’ and bar mitzvah because my sisters’ boys are precious to me. I always marvel at how meaningful their traditions are and how much commonality we share, even tho it’s not verbalized!
oh, my gracious! i wish i could say i know your nephew the rabbi, but i don’t — though i will now keep an eye and ear out for him. i find all paths to God intertwine beautifully, richly, and only amplify the whispers and trumpet blasts of each.
just tucked my brisket in the oven — not what we usually make. but the senior in high school put in special request, and as mentioned (a million times) this year he finds nearly every request magically, heart fully granted! xoxoxox
Oh I loved this all the way to very end about Sweet Teddy. I’ll re read again as I was I enjoyed every word! xoxo
Sent from my iPhone
xoxox always, always love you, my emphatic mary angino, heart of my hearts…..xoxox
Holy places, holy days: I found my special place at the National Cathedral in DC when I ventured in on a guitar mass in the basement. There was no difference between it and the Catholic ones I was brought up on except….we sometimes had a woman priest whose young son would sit behind her on the step. (Am thinking the catholic church could take a lesson here!) The chapel of the Good Shepherd holds 2people and is my special sacred place. Do enjoy this last year, darling!
well, well, well, i should have known i’d not be alone in venturing beyond familiar walls, and oh i love that image of the priest’s young son sitting behind her. we do not seem to color in any lines, do we sweetheart? though we color richly wherever we put down our colors…..sending giant giant hugs to you, your beloved, your boys. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox (that was a LOT of hugs and kisses!)
How did you know? This was precisely the mini-retreat I needed on this dark, rainy afternoon. Thank you… A thousand blessings upon you and your dear family as you observe these high holy days. Sending love… xxx
ohhhhhhhh, bless your heart! bless you for entering into this prayer shawl that covers us all……a thousand blessings to you, sweet and beautiful heart….
a few extra morsels for the table, found in this morning’s OnBeing newsletter, on prayer from two poets and a rabbi…..
Pádraig Ó Tuama, glorious Irish poet, writes this in his book,
Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community:
“Prayer is rhythm. Prayer is comfort. Prayer is disappointment. Prayer is words and shape and art around desperation and delight and disappointment and desire.”
Poet Marilyn Nelson describes prayer as the experience of being “quiet enough to feel held, to feel the embrace of the divine, to realize that I am a part of something vaster than vast; and to feel that, to recognize that, to feel thankful for it, and to hope that by opening myself to that awareness, that I am allowing some of that to come through me.”
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:
“Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.”
Snuggling into your prayer shawl of realization and acknowledgement of
God’s Presence. To you and yours, l’shanah u’metukah. with Love.
ahhhh, bless you, dear dear gentility. and may your new year, too, be sweet, and gentle, and radiant, and rich.
because i woke up achy all over, from a brand new cold, i decided to have church right here at my kitchen table, with the whole of OnBeing. i leave one more wonder, a paragraph from Padraig O Tuama’s essay, “Oremus” (“let us pray,” in Latin):
“Prayer, like poetry, like breath, like our own names, has a fundamental rhythm in our bodies. It changes, it adapts, it varies from the canon. It sings, it swears, it is syncopated by the rhythm underneath the rhythm, the love underneath the love, the rhyme underneath the rhyme, the name underneath the name, the welcome underneath the welcome, the prayer beneath the prayer. So let us pick up the stones over which we stumble, friends, and build altars. Let us listen to the sound of breath in our bodies. Let us listen to the sounds of our own voices, of our own names, of our own fears. Let us name the harsh light and soft darkness that surround us. Let’s claw ourselves out from the graves we’ve dug. Let’s lick the earth from our fingers. Let us look up and out and around. The world is big and wide and wild and wonderful and wicked, and our lives are murky, magnificent, malleable, and full of meaning. Oremus. Let us pray.”
I am so very sorry to hear that you woke with one of those “change of season colds!” My prayer is that it has a short life!!
I love OnBeing, but don’t get to listen to it often enough!!
ah, dear lou, thank you for short-life-cold prayers. i don’t get to listen to OnBeing often enough either. when i find something really good, i bring it here. xoxox