Anybody Home?: TorahCycle Pekudei

Toldot

When I was in high school, my father, much to my chagrin, began answering the phone saying Nobody home!, mostly in jest but also implying prospective friends or dates too flummoxed or intimidated were people with whom I should not socialize. (This the same guy who, invited to a boring relative’s three months out, intoned gravely I’m sorry, I have a funeral.)

These days when we say Nobody home, we’re usually referring to what we politely call a “senior moment,” a confusion/absence of facts or names, one or many synapses misfiring. We’re so in the moment we can’t add more to it, or so “out to lunch” we can’t cope with what’s already on our plate.

So how do you know if there’s somebody home or not?

In this reading we’re told “HaShem’s glory” descended to fill the mishkan and will hover over it in a cloud as a sign of God’s presence. If the cloud rises in the morning, time to pack up and get shlepping. If the cloud remains low, a day to stay put. HaShem will also keep a fire burning in the mishkan each night.

Hearth fires give security. Very different than being out in the dark wondering what’s too near, eying us with predatory intent. The fire mean’s God’s home and with you. No matter what’s circling, you can feel safe and protected, if you believe HaShem is home.

How can we know as clearly when we’re really present? Having our brains respond accurately is a good start. Other parts showing up help too. If we’re talking I might hear your words. But that doesn’t guarantee I really understand you, or that I’m ready to help. I may hear that you need something, but unless I open my hands, my wallet, or my heart, you might think nobody’s home.

So if we’re not always fully present—for whatever reasons–why would we assume the divine presence is always on tap? Cloud, schmoud! Couldn’t it be smoke and mirrors?

Q: How do you know anyone’s really home in the mishkan?
A: It’s partly a matter of faith. But if you’re not at home in you, it won’t much matter.

More answer: To live with greater awareness and intention, you have to be home in yourself, regardless of what/who is outside you. You need a strong center, though not one that’s housed in too strong an ego. You should be at least as receptive as you are active. Working on your karmic homework while listening for the help that’s offered you regularly.

How? To really connect with HaShem, not just sidle up to the reassuring presence of the fire or the cloud, you have to really be home in your inner mishkan. You need to listen with your heart and soul as well as with your ears. If you’re thinking too much about your t-shirt dyed pink in the wash, you’re unlikely to hear divine insights, even if they’re telling you how to bleach it–or your soul–white again.

Final answer: If you’re at home with you, HaShem is too.

Why We Pray: TorahCycle Emor

EmorEvery spiritual practice has rituals and observances. Why? To know ourselves. To honor creation. To create community.  What’s at the core? Creating communion with however you think about the creator, the eternal life of all the worlds. My shortcut word for this connection is prayer.

One of my favorite poets is Rumi, who talks to and about G-d the way one does to a lover. With adoration, passion, and longing. With a deep and wondrous sense of the ecstatic. Holiness filled with joy.

When you meet a person who’s going to become important in your life there’s an almost electric moment of wow. Energetically it’s like how Legos feel when you press them together. That satisfying little pop into place. Held.

I think that’s why we have prayers and song. Why the words get into our bloodstream like cosmic earworms dialed to the right channel. Pulling us towards the holy like one Lego calling to another, reinforcing itself on a cellular level. Like the Sanskrit greeting Namaste, I greet the holy within you.

I assure you, I’m not that gracious if you cut me off in traffic. But I get it in theory. And think we all need to practice the grace that’s embedded in the idea of graciousness.

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, just wrote a lovely little book called Help Thanks Wow, three essential prayers. It’s a great distillation of when folks pray, even those who don’t often walk into a temple, mosque, or church. Those prayers said with a sincerity that ritual obedience does not always engender.

But still we gather for services, festivals, and holidays. My Lego and yours, together. Rubbing our stuck places against one another. Hearing in the off-key singing and occasional cough the complex friction of family. Learning how close we can come, and where our boundaries are. Where we love and where we don’t.

I’m always amazed when I’m reminded the heart’s a muscle. Like others it can get flaccid if you’re lazy, or dirty with plaque if you don’t feed it well. Soaring with boundless joy or aching with pain, it’s an amazing barometer of how our soul is feeling. All part of why we pray.

We talk to HaShem when we love, when we’re afraid, and when we hurt. We come as seekers. As petitioners. To receive. To bargain. To wrestle. And ultimately to accept.

A few months ago I was thinking about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief. They shed light on how and when we pray. Not always in this order, but she’s pretty perceptive: Anger. Denial. Bargaining. Depression. And finally, acceptance.

Good times are easy. Hooray for blessings with bread and wine, apples and honey. Other times we’re asked go without. To fast. To learn life’s about boundaries and limits as much as access to the infinite and unconditional. Through all these times we pray. If we’re lucky, we find solace, insights, and hope.

Exercise: This week’s a great time to listen for when you pray spontaneously. Pay close attention to how you’re feeling and what you’re asking for.