No Straight Lines: TorahCycle Behaalotecha

BehalotechaIf personal progress were linear and long-lasting we’d all be the people we wish to be and sometimes imagine we are. We wouldn’t battle recidivism or doubt, wouldn’t have to haggle with ourselves every time we’re confronted with choices or temptations, and would know how to get from here to there and from now to then in a manner that’s far easier and more effective than how most of us seem to journey .

Instead, many of us live much of our lives in the conditional subjunctive. The tense that says If only, Only after, the kind of If/when, If/then states of being that help explain why we, like the Israelites, need many years to get to where we think we want to go. We alternate huge sprints of positive and powerful momentum with periods in which we lurch along in bumpy spasms, or, worse, feel painfully stuck.

While we’re travelling, our goals may change. The journey will certainly change us. Things we thought we couldn’t live without may later seem shallow or hollow. Actions or events we never valued may inspire us. Gifts that appeared like manna from heaven lose their luster, or conceal big challenges. And when we’re in pain we sometimes become whiny, greedy children.

Despite the pejoratives, what we complain about also sheds light on what’s missing from our lives. Helps inspire us to get our butts in gear again. Though sadly too often we complain about what’s missing, rather than appreciating what’s good, and how far we’ve come.

Aspirations are great. Are you prepared to have every wish satisfied now? Are you ready to be at goal, whatever that is? Or do you recognize how you grow from the struggles of the journey?

I’m not talking gigantic crises. But rather the benefits from  weeks, months, and seasons spent examining the spots on your soul, whether they’re injuries you caused yourself or wounds imposed by others. These come from unconscious actions and careless speech more often than intentional desire to do harm. But they still cause pain, and keep us tethered.

Every time we’ve been hurt or wounded, every time we’ve suffered sadness, disappointment, regret, fear, jealousy, envy, or any of a host of painful experiences we hobble ourselves. The reason progress takes so long is that we’ve become practiced at embedding these into our hearts and souls, and at projecting those negative feelings onto others. Every time we do, we add another layer of pain that needs to be removed, sooner or later, to get to goal.

The active present tense is a great way to clean those spots. And now’s great time to look yourself in a clear bright mirror, and take an inventory, chakra by chakra, of your emotional traits, habits, and history.

Use your now to get to goal. Focus on one goal at a time and look both backward and forward. See what your journey has taught you, and also what old baggage you’re carting around that’s making you heavy, slow, or stalled. Take some time this week to compost it by the side of the road, so you can move forward with new inspiration and enthusiasm.

The Path of Blessing: TorahCycle Naso


This week’s reading contains one of my favorite prayers: the Priestly Blessing. I think this prayer is at the core of our relationship with the divine.

It’s said at very special times in the Jewish calendar, though my memory is that it was said whenever I went to services. I think so because I reveled in hearing the deep-voiced rabbi bless us all, with both hands outstretched (in a way that mirrors the Vulcan salute that Spock gives on Star Trek when he says, “Live long and prosper.”)

The three lines are profound and powerful. The prayer creates a womb of love and protection for each and all. If you surrender to it, you’re filled with the feeling that nothing can harm you and that you are an extension of holy light.

Here’s what I remember from my childhood, with apologies to those who don’t like the G word: May God bless you and keep you. May the light of God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God’s face be lifted unto you and may all your paths be paths of peace.

Hard to have a bad day when you’re held in that.

The Priestly Blessing is about being illuminated from without, and of taking that holy light into your beingness, so you are also illuminated from within. Of having your holy spark rekindled. Of bringing that spark into every aspect of how you breathe and live.

That’s a whole lot of prayer rolled into three lines. And a direct key to the heart of why we pray: We want to be and feel loved. We want a divinity that will help us make and enjoy a life of protection and peace.

But the world’s not at peace. Even we aren’t always at peace, within ourselves or towards others. This blessing asks us to create peace so that we and everyone can enjoy it.

Shalom is one anchor of the prayer. The other is “graciousness,” an expansive, inviting quality untroubled by fear or desire. Most of us aren’t in that state often enough. Our prayers are too often about wanting something or avoid something. An ailment healed, or maybe help at work. A shiny red bike or its adult variations. Give me generally outweighs me giving you.

When our personal stories take up all our time and attention it’s easy to miss the bigger picture, what we’re here to do not only for ourselves but for others. If we’re reminded regularly to be, to truly let in HaShem’s light, something changes. We’re prompted to elevate our wishes for a more gracious world for everyone.

The Priestly Blessing offers us a safe place for the most tender and vulnerable parts of ourselves. The ones we think no one ever sees, or that no one would love if they did. The ones we most fear might be wounded or misunderstood. The Priestly Blessing gives us the knowing that we will be loved and blessed regardless. It gives us hope for both inner and outer peace.

Does this blessing give you what you need? If you were writing the priestly blessing, what would it say?

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.