The Oboe–For Me and You

makingoboereeds.com

Marcel Tabuteau

“You see what fun you can have with your music, ha ha” The scratchy, flinty French-accented voice came from my summer oboe teacher, Joseph Robinson, who was patiently and warmly showing me how to play music rather than strings of notes on the instrument. He was lovingly making light of one of his teachers, Marcel Tabuteau, as his way of affirming the ordeal of taking on the playing this instrument, which I along with so many others brought onto ourselves, because we cannot imagine life without it.

 

What is it about oboes? I was captivated by them at age 13 when my Beginning Winds teacher showed us a scratchy black and white film about double reed instruments. That afternoon I had been prepared to drop off to sleep as soon as the lights were dimmed in the autumn heat of the band room. Instead of boredom, I began to hear earthy, unctuous sounds crying out of the projector’s sound box. I was transfixed, bewitched by the slender and seductive black ebony body of the oboe on the screen. The memory of it predominated everything in my mind for weeks, and finally, my flute teacher brought me an oboe to try for a few months. He handed me a questionably useful reed and the advice that he didn’t know how to play an oboe, but the fingerings were similar to the flute’s. I tried it and a crappy sound came out: success! I’d made a sound! After he left, I took it into my room and shut the door. More crappy, happy sounds came out! I was playing! After that, I played my flute music on the oboe. I was enraptured; my dog hated it. After three months, my music teacher asked for the oboe back. It was rented on trial, and it had to be returned.orchestraproblems.tumblr.com

 

For decades, I wanted to play oboe, and put the flute away and became a biologist. Then a homemaker and parent. When I turned 50, I started to find time for myself again and walked into a music store one day, thinking I could rent one for a month and either get it out of my system, or maybe…keep playing. I kept playing.

Much of my life these days is structured around playing the oboe. I no longer scare my pets, in fact my cat goes for her special listening perch when I start to play. I considered going to conservatory and making it a livelihood, but the reality of my increasing age caused me to listen to advice and keep playing as a passion. In the meantime, I began to develop my studies and livelihood as a Rabbinic Chaplain. I have had no problem finding intersections between my work in spiritual care and playing music.Kol Nidre Lewandowski

 

There are times when words just are not right. Music is prayer without words. When Reb Zalman Shachter-Shalomi z”l died this year on July 3rd, I was in Oregon at the ALEPH Ordinations summer retreat program, along with most of the teachers in the ALEPH programs. When we heard the news of Reb Zalman’s death during the break in our morning classes, a reforming of our world began. People had been touched by Reb Zalman in so many different ways. Some had had very deep and personal relationships with him, others were colleagues, students, newly ordained, and some were his first musmachim, ordainees. I had met him for a personal moment last January, in a frame of stillness amidst a crazy busy conference room at the annual OHALAH gathering in Boulder, CO. He was very kind and loving, clearly appreciative of the efforts we students made to learn and then teach others how to live in the four worlds of doing, feeling, knowing, and integration. When I heard the news of his death, my mind immediately went back to that tender moment with the kindness in his eyes, and their beckoning instruction to share that kindness, and with strength and conviction.

forward.com

forward.com

Another student and I were scheduled to lead the next service in the afternoon that day. At first, some balked at the notion that two students would lead this congregation of leaders and teachers in this first gathering and service after Reb Zalman’s death. I was not afraid: I said who but his students’ students should lead this service? The faculty debated this along with so many other immediate decisions, and they came to us with the request for us to lead this service. My companion and I then spent the rest of the day together. We supported each other: her poetry was perfect for this service, and my oboe playing was a natural complement. We chose thoughtfully and deliberately what order things would be in, maintaining the liturgical flow, but with the colours of poetry and music. There had been rumours that my voice was not strong enough: and also loving encouragement that nonetheless, I was strong, and to find the way to use that strength in prayer leadership. I decided to open the service with ‘Adonai Ro’I Lo Echsar’, Psalm 23, composed by one of my teachers at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hazzan Gerald Cohen. He had written the melody as a dedication for a friend who had died, and I always felt swept aloft when I played it.

We decided what to wear, bookended ourselves, her with colours and myself in golden hues. We went to the sanctuary and set up the room, and then dressed. It was getting to be time. One teacher wanted to lead the first Kaddish Yatom after Reb Zalman’s passing, the prayers of mourning. He suggested my partner read the psalm as the music was played. I confidently said this is a time beyond words now, and that prayer was also in music. He assented.

en.wikipedia.org.advanc.io

I now have to admit that playing this piece as an unaccompanied solo had always brought me many challenges, especially in endurance over the length of the continuous playing, the many rises and falls in emotions and dynamics, and the juxtaposition of difficult fingerings. Despite this, I have played the piece numerous times in public, and what I wanted now was to create an opening in hearts, to give the signal that it’s okay, go ahead and feel as we move forward together.

The time came, and I brought the instrument to my tongue and rolled the reed back into my lips. It was a good reed, one Joe had made for me, and it was good music, re-written for solo oboe for me by Gerald. It would be okay, everyone was where they needed to be. I played what I felt in me, from the timbre of that day and of others, and what I so longed to be able to do when I was 13. As often happens when I play at auspicious times as these, the pages of music disappeared, and rather than being fearful, I let go and disappeared too.

endureinstrength.orgTowards the end of the piece I returned and knowing I had a good reed and instrument, brought the piece in to home with a dropping off of a pianissimo down into a soundless abyss. Then, my partner read her poetry, and I channeled my strength into leading the room in prayers. More poetry, prayers, and then a close of the service with my oboe. Uh oh, this last piece was such a low register, and I had not planned how much to play or when to let the congregation take over the melody. Somehow, it all blended, almost in a call and answer of melody and chorus. I put the instrument down and breathed. For a moment I looked at my partner, and then we were mobbed. Teachers and congregants came to us, grateful for the words and music, some in tears, others with hugs. We had opened a space together, poetry, music, prayers.

 

Why do I play the oboe? For me and for you.

images

Cities of Refuge

What does a City of Refuge look like to you? is it a stone walled primitive city, a refugee camp in a third world country, an internal place where you go to be alone, to hide, to find peace or reconciliation, or safety? Or a place to go to chill out when stuff goes awry?
 
10mosttoday.com

10mosttoday.com

Cities of Refuge are the topic of last week’s Torah portion, Numbers chapters 34-35, or Masei. These are designated places to go for asylum for someone who has inadvertently killed another person. Why is this in the Torah, and why in these chapters? Let’s look at the topic from Judaism’s four levels of Torah study, or PaRDeS, used by Jewish scholars.

The acronym PaRDeS comes from the first letters of four words, Pshat (the literal meaning of the text), Remez (its allusions), Drush (the homilies that can be derived from it), and Sod (its mystical secrets)[i].

imagesIn Hebrew, the word pardes means garden. It is believed the root of the word, paradise, too.

Let’s look at cities of refuge with these four levels:

Pshat, the Torah portion describes how cities are to be located in the new country. To accommodate what has been formerly a mass of wandering peoples, a city must have a designated place for those who have inadvertently committed murder. Why? Historically, justice was done in a literal way, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. This was accepted law and suitable means of justice for nomadic societies. A more compassionate need to protect those who inadvertently kill someone needed to be established when movement stopped and people became tied together in cities: Imagine that you accidentally dropped a load of bricks on someone and then their designated avenger came to kill you, according to law. The confinement of city life would also mean close living quarters within its walls. The pshat understanding is that the innocent could leave their home and travel to another city for safe dwelling, something new for the settling tribes.

thenextweb.com

thenextweb.com

Remez suggests this alludes to something more tangible, the institution of community safe havens, transition houses, and identity change programs. It further alludes to our emulating the nonjudgmental protection of the Shekhinah when bad things happen to good people, a reminder of the always available Love of a Higher Power. It alludes to the settling of the people in a homeland and the need to realign values and laws.

Drush is a derivation of the word d’rash, or a homily. The moral lessons of the city of refuge are those that we can apply to our own lives. How often have you sought refuge from mistakes or criticism, taken a timeout from a relationship, a leave of absence from work or school? The lesson is to take regular time aside for daily self-examination, for looking at mistakes as part of being human, and ways to make amends to oneself or to another.

We are encouraged to find a way to come home to ourselves. The Torah is encouraging us to do this by telling us to create cities of refuge in our personal country of dwelling.
 

Sod is the mystery. How do these cities of refuge help, after all? Are they an escape from reality, can they become an addictive retreat from responsibilities?

bagdcontext.myblog.arts.ac.uk

bagdcontext.myblog.arts.ac.uk

These cities of refuge actually have tight boundaries and restrictions on the user: according to text, once claiming refuge, one cannot leave until the Kohen Gadol, or High Priest, has died. No one can buy your way out, buy you as a slave and take you out, and you cannot leave on your own to return to family and home. The refuge city is a prison in many ways, much like the incarcerated singer in Johnny Cash’s song who laments how the train whistle is making him crazy, knowing that there are people traveling on the train while he sits stuck in prison. One can choose to take refuge, but there is a fine line between what is refuge and what is prison. The same could apply to things we do ourselves, things that begin as a welcomed comfort or diversion from troubles, but become confining in themselves if used beyond their healthy limits.

And who is this High Priest? The pshat might imply this is the Kohen Gadol of the Jerusalem Temple, and it may well have been understood that way. The literal translation of kohen gadol is also ‘great priest’. Is it possible that the Great Priest resides inside our own selves, in the form of a controlling ego?

psychologytoday.com

psychologytoday.com

How often does our pride protect us after committing an inadvertent mistake? In fact, the painful feelings might even feel as bad as if we’d committed a murder? The results are often denial, procrastination, avoidance, stagnation, bodily aches and pains. We find ourselves adrift, unable to connect with family, friends and work. A friend says his way of coping when such self-critical feelings arise is to ask himself, ‘but did anyone die?’ How are your resources or means of vanquishing your imprisoning tactics?

Finding ways of releasing ourselves from our own created ego-refuge ‘city’ requires engaging in practices such as prayer, meditation, mindfulness, aimed at a metaphorical death of our ‘great’ ego: we are released from the bondage of overextended pride or denial. This is hard work, well worth the reward of return to liberation.

We can again become priests of wisdom, yielding hardness into humility, making amends, forgiving ourselves, and returning to the lightness of our souls and others in wholeness and Shalom.

The City of Refuge, is it that far from where you live?

 

[i] http://www.chabad.org/search/keyword_cdo/kid/8968/jewish/Pardes.htm

Women of Purim

Purim is next weekend. For some, it’s the holiday excuse to dress up, be silly, an listen to the whole Megillah–literally: and we’re required to become so drunk that we can’t tell the heroes’ names from the villain’s in the story. 

torahtots.com

torahtots.com

timeanddate.com

timeanddate.com

The story of Purim is called the Book of Esther. Growing up, I learned that Esther and her uncle Mordechai, were the heroes, and that Queen Vashti, King Ahashverosh and Haman were the bad guys. I loved eating the hamentaschen Haman’s Ears pastries, and twirling a loud grogger when Haman’s name was read in the Megillah to blot out the sound. Usually by the time the long night of reading and noisy silliness was done, it was getting late; I’d be ready to eat one last hamentaschen and want to go home to bed.

 This annual ritual was something we did outside of our secular lives. The holiday was not relevant or even mentioned at grade school, as I recall. Yet, it was so big in my synagogue and family life. Our family photo album has pictures of my father dressed as for Purim in a costume that looked suspiciously the same as the one I wore at about his age, around 8 years old.

Me and Dad PurimAs we often say in Judaism  לדור ודור  from generation to generation.

quakemosaics.com

quakemosaics.com

My ideas about who the heroes were or weren’t have shifted. What I heard as a little girl was that Esther was the good, beautiful queen, who replaced Vashti, the wicked disobedient one. Lesson: be beautiful and cooperative or you will be banished. Esther was rather passive, and it was her uncle Mordechai who had the instincts and push to urge her to save the Jewish people. It appeared that she had no reason to ‘out’ herself as Jewish to King Ahashverosh. It was Mordechai’s urging that caused her to step aside from her wealth and position, to petition the King with her beauty and good cooking to help her people.

fineartamerica.com

fineartamerica.com

The ploy was a success, and the condemned Jews were able to prevail.

 

Now I see a re-write of this story, especially on this rainy Vancouver International Women’s Day. Vashti was a disappointment in the story because she would not display her charms publicly to her King’s drunken banquet guests and his public. Perhaps like many of us women, she believed she was more than a rack to display a diadem from.

images-4

blogto.com

In fact, the King’s advisors saw that, and told him to get rid of her, lest all the women of his kingdom follow her example and become disobedient. So he banished her, to maintain order in the households of the kingdom.

The Purim story is not called the Book of Vashti, though, it is the Book of Esther. We are left with that scenario as an aside, and Vashti’s disobedience is seen only as important in that it creates the opportunity for Esther to enter the scene and later be able to help her Jewish people as a Queen.

I admire both women. Vashti makes a risky personal decision in emancipating herself from degrading treatment by her husband. Esther makes a risky public decision to use her charms and position to save her people. They both could have chosen to be passive and continue to enjoy abundance and comfort.

Yet, ironically, one has been vilified and the other celebrated. For women, saying No seems to have much worse consequences than saying Yes, even in the context of heroism. As little girls and boys that was what we learned.

imgres

mirror.co.uk

Have things changed much? I am older now and can choose who my role models are. I like Vashti because she needed to draw a line in the sand for herself and women. She was so committed to this that she sacrificed her own welfare. It was not in vain though. Her piece of the story remains in the Book of Esther. Clearly it was important; her story could easily have been scrubbed out by early redactors. Her actions are those of a true leader and voice for freedom and from oppression. Look who else set the stage by saying No, some of whom did not survive to see the fruit of the seeds they planted in history: Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Joan of Arc, Benazir Bhutto, Harriet Tubman, and today, Malala Yousafzai.

 

Things haven’t changed much. We still meet resistance if we need to say No. I admire Vashti and see her as a role model. She tells us, ‘Say it if it’s the right thing to do, maintain your self-esteem and that of others who need your voice’. I wonder where Vashti went? Perhaps she became just another invisible single woman, lost in the crowd, past her prime, alone. Maybe she found a place of belonging somewhere new. Her legacy remains for us to learn from.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

imgres-1-e1394351941271

chabad.org

Esther is also my role model; for how to do the right thing, even if you don’t really have to. Yes, Mordechai did have to urge her on, but then again, he set her up as a comfortable queen for Ahashverosh. Realizing that her wealth and status truly did put her in the best place to appeal on behalf of the Jews of Shushan, she decided to put her wealth to a purposeful use beyond herself. What she models is how one can transform from being insulated and comfortable, to seeing our abundance as the very means to reach out and make a difference for others. Sometimes it takes the outer voice, symbolized by her uncle Mordechai, that calls to us to reach out and make a difference.

 

Whether by inner convictions, such as Vashti shows us, or outer directors, such as Esther’s, both show us that women have strength and power.

We need not remain hidden, or only in supportive roles in the background behind men; the Book of Esther tells us that we have the power to make a difference, if we are willing to step out and speak, write, sing or perform our truth.

images

 

The Ki Tissa of Recovery

When we allow release to come, we find ourselves on the same sojourn through the wilderness our ancestors took; and if we allow ourselves to open to our potential, we may find the strength and maturity we so hope to develop along the way.fuccha.in

Ki Tissa is the section of the Israelites’ journey from Mitzrayim that takes us further along our way through the wilderness of discovery and formation. We leave Mitzrayim, Egypt, much like adolescents or runaways, with belongings slung hastily over a shoulder, barely wanting to look back.

Predictably, as soon as the thrill or high or novelty wears off, we are homesick for the familiar place, where our short memories recall fish and leeks to eat, and security.

open.salon.com

As a loving parent who sees their maturing offspring lose focus, God finds that it is time to take a census, a time for our people to be counted and accountable for themselves to their Higher Power. It is time to say, Count me in, I’m my way to independence and responsibility, no longer to be kept and managed by our Egyptian overseers.

flickr.com

Part of becoming independent is surrendering to a Higher Power, of recognizing where our boundaries and limits of what we can realistically control lie. Here, in Ki Tissa, God instructs us to surrender what we can, to build the Mishkan. But, God does not instruct us all to do this in the same exact way: God, or our personal Higher Power, knows that we are not all the same, not all of the same talents, gifts, and abilities.

 

What we learn in Ki Tissa, is that those for whom surrendering material items is their best offering, are to do so, and they bring gold, silver, copper, fibers and pelts; safeguardingtheeternal.wordpress.com

and those for whom surrendering their creative talents is their best offering, are to do so. They are instructed by God on how to smith, weave, sculpt and build the Mishkan from these materials.

emastorah.blogspot,comHow do we understand this message?

One way is to take an account of who we are, and what our realms of abilities and being are, and what are not.

Another way is to let go of trying to be like someone we are not, or try to control how someone else is; maybe a family member or co-worker comes to mind. In recovery, we let go, and surrender to what our Higher Power asks or instructs of us.

We can let go, to leave others in God’s hands, too.gladlylistening.wordpress.com

When you are on your way in the Wilderness of Uncertainty,

Who will you answer as when others or your Higher Power call to you? How will you take inventory of who and how you have been, and where you see yourself now?

This is the message of Ki Tissa.

blogs.ssrc.org

Bo: What a Plot!

The reading for last Shabbat was parasha Bo, which is the 10th chapter of the 2nd book of the Torah, which is called Shemot in Hebrew, or Exodus in English.

Imagine it is Kabbalat Shabbat, here is my d’rasha for you,lmdb.com about Bo:

Has anyone seen the film, ‘The Ten Commandments’?

Anyone seen it…lately?

Ok. Well, I ask because yesterday was my grandmother’s birthday, z”l,

and her favourite movie was…The Ten Commandments!

as I was studying the parasha for tonight’s drasha

I could almost hear her voice kvelling,

She would say, “What a movie!! Such wonderful costumes, and acting…

AND–WHAT A PLOT!!!   Grandma Dot

 

Yes, Grandma, what a plot, indeed. And, then I started to wonder what it was, besides the fact that it’s THE TORAH, that makes this story have such a “great plot”?

 I began to read the first line, and some answers started to come to me:

1001C0101003C101

“God said to Moses, ‘Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants for the purpose of putting my signs in their midst. And so that you will tell into the ears of your children and the children of your children how I raised you up from Egypt and of my signs which I put in their midst, and they will know that I am YHVH.'”

 

What dramatic opening lines. Wow. COME to Pharaoh. Not GO to Pharaoh, because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and the heart of his servants. Not his servants’ hearts. But the heart of his servants.

So, God is beckoning Moses toward Egypt, with the suggestion that God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart,

as a way for God to show God’s Might and Power,

and to escalate the tension between the Pharaoh and his people:

as his heart hardens, so does their desire close for more punishment from the plagues.

 

What is meant by heart? justmytype.ca

My Biblical Hebrew teachers taught us that in Tanakh times, the HEART was the where one’s will resided. They didn’t know what the BRAIN did, except maybe make the limbs and bodily functions work.

So the WILL of the Egyptians was also becoming hardened and closed off.

The grand purpose of all this was to create a platform for raising the stakes between Pharaoh and Moses

so that God would need to manifest greater and greater powers,

through the signs, or plagues,

and thus once and for all, be shown as God Most High and Powerful to all of Egypt. And

cccindy.comThis was to be told right into the ears of Moses’ children, and their children,

for all the generations of Israelites to come.

So that they will know that God alone is YHVH.

 

I think some of the appeal of this story line, that makes it such a good plot, as my grandmother would say,

Is that this dynamic happens not only in this one Biblical story,

But in our own lives, communities, and even world events. Sometimes, an idea or action that helped protect us from harm can go awry and go too far:

On the personal level, can you recollect times when you just kept resisting hearing someone’s needs or advice, and kept finding ways of ignoring obvious signs of seriousness until it was too late?

Or a community that ignores the needs of its poorest residents to the extent that the needs builds up and create an overwhelming housing and mental health services problem to contend with;

Or the hardening of hearts that at various times in history has led the world to a scary international escalation of terrorism, wars and arms threats.abstractdesktopnexus.com

 One thing God is telling us in this passage

is that we can get ourselves into trouble by running around

creating great plots and

ways to avoid letting in what our opened hearts

we know is the truth.

 

With this story, we can remember,

through telling it year after year,

That God comes along with you

And is greater than any Pharaoh’s hardened heart.

 

My grandmother always encouraged me to be my best, and part of that is having the privilege to study Torah and remember that God is greater than Pharaoh.

Grandma Dot

images

   

 

 

 

 

Who Made Miracles שעשה נסים

Tonight I kindled the Chanukkah lights for the seventh night in a row.

imgres

At my hospital work, I had a full day of attending calls to visit patients and led a group in our hospital’s psychiatry department. I realized that now I’ve gone and done it; I am officially a ‘working stiff’, as my grandmother, who was the breadwinner in her household and marriage, used to call herself.images

 

It’s been over 30 years since I last worked full time. Many of my friends are either beginning to retire from employment, counting the days, or have begun independent practices of whatever their working career was. Myself, I am just beginning to re-enter the work force while I complete my professional education.

 

Today was a day of real work. I recently finished my fourth and final unit as a student Clinical Pastoral Education, now ahead lie nine months of clinical residency; time to spend time integrating and serving in the work I have trained for, as a Spiritual Health pambg.blogspot.comPractitioner, sometimes called a Chaplain.

Tonight, the kindling of lights meant more to me than ever before. As a milestone of education has passed, I now see that more milestones lie ahead on the horizon. As I light the seven candles in my urban condo window, I remember the story of the people long ago who would not give up their identity and practices in order to fit in with their foreign overseers’ wishes. I remember what a miracle it was to persevere and succeed in regaining their prized spiritual tabernacle, and how the simplicity of the contents of a found cruse of oil could symbolically extend the light of success beyond the ordinariness of a single night.

zeynalogul.com

zeynalogul.com

This has been and will continue to be an ever revealing and paradigm-challenging trajectory on a ship that pulls me along through space and time.
 

I chose to formalize as work what I do so well naturally: my former life of creative time and Jewish values and observance are now forever altered. I’ve stymied my preference to march to the drummer of my inner calling and outer cultural heritage in order to meet the scheduled production of easing spiritual distress and enhancing medical healing my work requires. Like the Maccabees, my inner life though, has started to rise up and challenge the administrator who dictated the need to repress creativity and subjugate it to writing reports and playing other peoples’ music.

tomtommag

tomtommag

I called a friend for comfort, and I’ll admit, a kick in the pants. He said, ‘play your oboe and write’. I’ve been getting these lectures for several weeks now from friends, both my outer world companions, and internal voices. It’s so easy to let it all go and slip into the frame of work, yet as an artistically gifted co-worker said to me, it becomes toxic if you stop creating and keep it all inside.

The Compassionate Oboe

The Compassionate Oboe

 

 

I’ve missed you all, my readers, my keyboard, my blog, and my oboe.

 

I had a dream that a famous Jewish musician came to play music with me. Here I am, back on board. All the orchestra Christmas music stayed in its folder this evening, and I played my circle of 5ths, embouchure and tone exercises, and gifted myself with release in my own bath of freigish veygeshryn’.

 

The work won’t go away, there will always be patients and seekers to visit, a ceremony to create, another memory to honour, a co-worker to support. That is my chosen work; I now see it is not a substitute for visiting myself; creating my own ceremonies and memories, and sharing love and mutual support with friends.

As I remember my promises to myself, my prayer is to not lose myself along the way ahead, and I thank God for this Chanukkah time of remembrance and rededication.

 chanukahblessing2

 images

 

On Rosh HaShanah It’s Okay to Ask

Summer’s over, well almost. Here on Commercial Drive where I live, it’s still okay to sit at an open-air patio and tuck into a plate of jerk chicken, or sample a selection of Belgian beers with a cone of pomme frites, or sip an espresso and argue in your home tongue about soccer stats

.bcrobyn.com

Last evening I indulged with half-liter of Zinfandel and baked brie with a friend; my only concession to the season was worrying about whether it would be gauche to wear a straw fedora after Labor Day, or go with my black pin-stripe topper instead. I went with the straw. Afterward, although easily my bedtime, I wandered up The Drive to do some errands at the 24hr pharmacy and took in the last touches of summer evening blues notes and sidewalk dramas before cooler weather sets in.

What did I learn this summer? There’s always a story to share:

The first thing: what a J at the end of a sentence meansJ. I started getting emails and texts with these errant J’s and assumed that spell checkers everywhere were having a strange J-worm working through them. Then I decided with humility to ask someone: did she know she’d sent me a text with a J at the end of the sentence, and what it might mean? Google answered that one; a glitch that turns email smiley faces into J’s. Okay, now we get to see an onslaught of J’s until we all move on to using our words once again to say what we meanJ.smileysymbol.com

As usual, I did learn some Big Things. I would say that for me, the image I carried this past series of weeks between being a CPE summer Chaplain Intern and my upcoming year of CPE Residency, would be that of myself at the rim of a precipice. I reckon I’ve been at that precipice my whole life, and thought myself pretty enlightened that I could look down into the chasm and be alternately amused and terrified, but remain there on that edgy place and keep fresh.

In a way, that has been a good strategy for navigating life’s unpredictability, staying in a place of panoramas and choices of views and vistas. Creating music and words, learning, settling into patterns that are familiar, going to school, studying, housekeeping, and volunteering in the community.

depositphotos.com

What I didn’t see coming was that this seeming freedom and freshness was not providing me with comfort or answers to the reality of beginning a full time practice of presence for others after a 30-year hiatus from full time work. Merely standing at my familiar edge was not taking me where I needed to go any longer.

I needed to turn around, and here I found my place of falling: in teshuvah. Tonight the Jewish New Year starts, with its call to self-reflection and return to the land of one’s soul. In gratitude, I began to shift from the summery delights of The Drive, and tuck into this work of return.

I’ve found myself in the image of Jonah, whose story is the focus of Yom Kippur, struggling to deliver the message of imminent doom to my free flowing lifestyle. Everything was about to radically shift and I was not ready.blog.chron.com

So I ran away from the cliff edge and hid. Clearly, I was hiding in the belly of a great fish, because eventually, sensing that I was staying immobile in its great tummy and not moving along, I was belched out. That may have felt good to the fish, but now I was back at that edge and looking at the great chasm again. I realized that hiding was not a long-term solution, and it was no longer possible to merely stand on the edge and take in the view. My life was in motion and I needed to keep moving.

So, when I found myself belched up back on the ledge, I leapt in. Dop, right into the chasm. Free fall.

I don’t recall any story in Jewish text about a free fall like this. I do know about faith and the metaphor of leap of faith. As I fell, I had to let go of all of it, every intangible commodity that I had built up over the years, all my currency of choices and freedoms.

At various moments, I released some of the baggage that had kept me on the edge; it was now dragging on me as I fell. One piece was keeping my old computer. I could have done this years ago, but the safety of hanging on, not knowing what the future might look like, kept me from making such an obvious purchase for a writer and composer. There are no guarantees of success that come with the computer, so I let the free fall continue, recognizing that not having faith in what calls me forward, is a recipe for failure.

I kept falling. Next, transit. I loved being carless in New York. My love affair with transit bubble soon burst after returning funfunvancouver.blogspotto Vancouver: it’s wet here! and we don’t have subways all over the city, we have slow as molasses buses and toy Skytrains. It’s been a miserably wet and slow year on transit and slogging in the rain to get to a co-op car. All of the places I needed and wanted to go, and people to see, were waiting, and the romance of being car-less was gone. I accepted the very real limitations of the car-less life and decided to buy a car.

You might be thinking this is actually an indulgent way to start the New Year. In fact, that crossed my mind–Oy, more baggage to lose.

Here is a teaching that reassured me.

At the New Year, in our liturgy we ask over and over again from God for things; good health, food to eat, healing, success in our endeavours, long life, happiness, children: are we being selfish and indulgent? Is God bored with all these requests? Here’s what I learned from studies in chassidus:

We humans need stuff, like food and drink, marriage, commerce. We are earthly beings. Engaging in practices to become pure spirit or to dwell in un-embodied enlightenment isn’t what God has in mind for us, and I say this because God already has beings like that: God has the angels and heavenly beings.

Rosh HaShanah is on the 6th day of creation, not the 1st day. Why? the final phase of creation, humans, can remember God and God’s supremacy or kingship. And humans need all the things that were created on the first five days. So those things, whatever they are, sunlight, fish or vegetables to eat, water to drink, the stuff that we make cars and computers from, are necessary for elevating ourselves, to enable us in our humanness to help others in need, and to remember and celebrate God, the Source of all things.

It’s said in Psalm 107:5 ‘Hungry and thirsty their soul languished within them’. Standing on the edge as the perpetual observer and not eating or drinking prevents us from nourishing the soul, serving oneself and others, and elevating the everyday towards God. About 30 years ago, a psychic came up to me at a meeting and told me I am sitting on a fence and when will I get off and start helping others?

Accepting what is not going to change, I am finally taking that leap off the fence, taking the plunge that calls me to accept what gifts I have with gratitude, and move forward to learn to serve in a helping profession,

Two messages from my inbox yesterday: to ‘fall, knowing that there will be something solid on which to stand or you will be taught to fly’ (Patrick Overton);kuilapele.wordpress.com

‘Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated: you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps’ (David Lloyd George).

I thought this would be a summer of beach time or a holiday away; instead, it has been a free fall. Every time I get that stuck feeling, I remind myself of the free fall back in the chasm, it’s been the safest place yet, and I’m learning to fly.

May your year be filled with good things, health, music, wisdom, joy and healthy steps.

 

From Curing to Caring

 
I had long believed that Judaism was historically lacking in the wisdom to heal that so many other faiths and spiritual paths have built into them. This caused me to explore many other modalities of spiritual and physical wellbeing for sources of comfort, wisdom, and healing.
aeonmagazine.com

aeonmagazine.com

When I decided to embark upon the study path of Rabbinic Chaplaincy, one of my educational goals was to seek these sources within Judaism. After all, we’ve been around for over 5,700 years. We must have cultivated some gardens of wisdom in this area.

While studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, I was delighted to find myself in classes that presented this material from Jewish primary sources, eg the Talmud, Mishnah, Pirkei Avoth, etc.

In preparation to entering a year of residency in Clinical Pastoral Education in hospital here in Vancouver, I began to synthesize what I am learning, from a variety of educational sources. Here, as we anticipate the Jewish High Holydays during this month of Elul, is a first integration of my personal and theological understanding of the difference between curing and caring:

enwikipediaorg

en.wikipedia.org

R. Johanan once fell ill and R. Hanina went in to visit him. He said to him: Are your sufferings welcome to you? He replied: Neither they nor their reward. He said to him: Give me your hand. He gave him his hand and he raised him. Why could not R. Johanan raise himself? 11-They replied: The prisoner cannot free himself from jail. (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5b)

Why bring this story to you as we approach the Yamim Noraim (Jewish High Holydays)? because I see in it much about the relationships and parallels between illness, health, and teshuvah (return to the Source). I am not suggesting that someone is ill because they made a mistake or committed a sin. In fact, we can all think of examples of well-meaning adults and children who experience illness or die, while many seemingly wicked people enjoy good health and long lives. So, that is not my purpose in sharing the above story.

There are two part to the above selection from Talmud that help us understand the nature of our pains or sufferings: notice in the story the question R. Hanina asks: Are your sufferings welcome to you?

Now, take a deep breath, and ask yourself this same question, too, Are your sufferings welcome to you?. Go ahead…ask. And listen for the answer. Are your sufferings welcome to you? are you ready to turn this around for yourself? if so, that is how our Jewish practice of teshuvah can help.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

twilightivewordpresscom

twilightivy.wordpress

THIS SUMMER AT ALEPH’s annual Smicha Week for Ordination Students, I took a course on Teshuvah. Oy, did I learn that we commit avairos, as Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, calls them. These are mistakes, ‘oopses’, some intentional, some we didn’t know we did until we find out later. The practice of teshuvah helps us to reckon with these so they don’t stay stuck to us, like toxic sticky notes, making us anxious or even ill.

Two steps are involved in this teshuvah practice: acceptance and forgiving our self; and, reaching out to another who may have been hurt or hurt us, with acceptance or forgiveness. We are limited creatures; it’s good to remember that sometimes.

The second thing to notice in the Talmud passage is the last line: The prisoner cannot free himself from jail.

democracyandclassstruggleblogspotcom

democracyandclassstruggle.blogspot.com

In creating teshuvah, in caring about ourselves and about others, we recognize that we cannot do teshuvah alone; that having someone to reach out to, to be a mirror, or to give an outside perspective, is needed. In my Clinical Pastoral Education program this summer, one of our lessons about  reaching out was,  ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’.

Sometimes others see the forest while we are too busy being lost amongst the trees. We all have our reasons for wearing blinders or hiding painful or confusing topics from ourselves.

When it was first suggested to me that I should consider using my intuitive skills in a helping career, I balked and said, “No! I couldn’t feel right asking people to pay me to tell them what they already know!”

Well, that was several years ago and to be honest, I have paid the piper to tell me things I thought I didn’t know, too. How long can one spin their wheels or rattle the bars on their self-imposed prisons? Thankfully, we live amongst those toward whom we can reach out, and reach in and hold up those hidden places to the light of day.

Of course, once you know something, you can’t go back and not know it. You can move ahead though, knowing that you have been freed from prison, to find a way to make teshuvah. This doesn’t mean you’ve been struck by magic bullet and a cure; what spiritual care offers is care to go alongside as you work your edges.

IT seems have become too guided towards the expectation of cures, and too far removed from the care once provided by our relationships with family doctors, neighbours and clergy.

Spiritual health is an essential part of physical health. May you be blessed with a year of health, happiness, peace, and long life.
 
images

Visiting the Sick, Knowing the Self

Last week I had a series of dreams that I could not remember any details of, except that they all had a dog in them…
 

It is unusual for me to not have recall after I awaken. I have a practice of recalling my dreams, where I find wonderful insights into my motivations and how to approach decisions that await me when I am awake.imgres

 

One of the dogs that came to me is my dog Carlea, who was my companion, conscience, and escort in my many activities and adventures for her first four years of puppyhood and adolescence. When I moved to New York 18 months ago, I knew was not the place for her; she had grown up in rural Saskatchewan and Vancouver, so it was out of the question to bring her into metropolitan Manhattan to be an apartment dog while I ran all over the City taking voice and music lessons, going to seminary, and chaplaining at hospitals. She still visits me sometimes, just a brief breeze of picture memory, and sometimes, like last week, she comes and lays her soft head and long muzzle on my belly while I sleep, my arm wrapped over her silky-bony frame. Maybe she was called because I had felt troubled by some looming decisions that were not yet fully in my awareness and would appear later in the week. Her presence was reassuring and loving.Carlea email

 

If someone were to ask me to describe what pastoral care is, or Bikkur Holim visiting the sick, or being a chaplain, that is how I would answer. Being a reassuring and loving presence, someone who comes, unbidden, to be a comfort and witness when someone feels disconnected or alone.

Our human quest to domesticate everything, including the medicalization of illness, how to be sick and how to visit someone who is sick, has necessitated the development of guidelines. We seem to have lost the natural instincts for what to do. Thankfully, our various ethnic traditions have preserved much of that indigenous wisdom we once had. Our traditions can offer us many tips for being a good visitor: things to say; and also things not to say–my teacher Rabbi Simkha Weintraub would call these, ‘unintended curses’; we have advice on how to offer help;we have the Jewish book of rules, the Kitzer Shulchan Aruch gives us strict details such as when to visit, where to sit or stand, what times of day not to visit, and more. The bottom line though, is to come, like Carlea: as yourself, yet without any agendas.

imgres-1

This isn’t so easy as its simplicity suggests: we all want to be helpful, and what is helpful can be hard to figure out on your own. In fact, if you do try to figure this out on your own, you’ll be missing the input of the person who is ailing: ask them what they want, otherwise, you are likely only serving your purposes and not theirs. Here are some examples of what people who are sick tell us, in a survey compiled by Rabbi Weintraub:

“Ask me, don’t exclude me or make assumptions about what I need”

“Listen. Don’t try to make ‘it’ better before you know what ‘it’ is”

“Don’t staunch tears. Don’t be afraid of tears or rage; respect them”

“Teach me how to pray—not just ‘nice’ prayers, but prayers that rise out of my rage, my loss, my paralysis”

“End the silence. Bring illness out into the open”

How is it that we have become so detached from someone who is ill that we suddenly start making assumptions about what they want, try to keep everything light, cover up the depth of their illness?

There have been many answers, and bearing in mind that we have all been sick at some time in our lives, it is not a foreign land or unexplored territory for anyone. What is happening then, is that the sick person becomes a mirror that reflects our own mortality, or ‘there but for fortune go you or I”. We want to be close and helpful, yet at the same time we keep our distance or create false lightness as a barrier to accessing our inner fears and discomfort about illness or death.

seagrasshome.com

seagrasshome.com

 

But, that’s okay, we all have that reaction. And, there are ways to be present without raising the shields that disallow the sick person their need for your company and companioning attention. The best solution is to know yourself. Be aware of what your needs are, and stay tuned to what the care recipient is asking from you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In Native American tradition, Dog Medicine asks you to understand how much your sense of loyalty or convictions to offer care, are overturned by your need for approval or keeping things safe and comfy for you and others looking in on the situation. The modern practices of Spiritual Health Care do, too. The following questions are guides for you, taken from the shared wisdom of past and present. They offer ways to ask yourself how well you are tracking yourself while you care for someone else:

  1. Have I recently forgotten that I owe my allegiance to my personal truth, or am I seeking external gratification when I help someone?
  2. Is it possible that gossip or the opinions of others have jaded my loyalty to a sick friend?
  3. Have I denied or ignored someone who is trying to be my loyal friend when I am ill?
  4. Have I been loyal and true to my goals to be present for people in need on their terms?

The double Torah portion this week, Behar-Bechukotai, concludes with instructions for how to care for those who find themselves in times of need, widows, orphans, indentured servants. As always, we are reminded to treat them as members of one’s own household, and to remember that we were once slaves in Egypt. What does this tell us? To not lose that God connection, the one that reminds us that because we may be in good straits now, that can change at any moment, and the person you are taking in, could one day be you.

70point8percent.blogspot.com

70point8percent.blogspot.com

Along these lines, there is a saying amongst the community of people with disabilities: they call the rest of us CRABs, “Currently Regarded as Able Bodied”.

photography.nationalgeographic.com

photography.nationalgeographic.com

In an instant, such as an accident or the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon, your healthy bodily capacities can be gone, and you will find yourself depending upon others as never before. In Judaism, we have the Torah to tell us how to respectfully engage people in need, bearing in mind that we were once in their shoes. And modern Spiritual Health Care practice tells us how to look inside and know who we are before, and as we are, offering help.

 

May we be blessed with remembering our capacities to truly who we are, as we companion with and help others.

This Sunday, May 5th from 1-3pm I will be leading a further discussion of Jewish and Modern Traditions for Visiting the Sick at Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver. See my Events Page for more details.

 

 

 

Lost and Found

At our last meeting, my Spiritual Director treated me to a story that illuminated how the many threads in my life were not weaving together well as a garment.
imgres

He told me a Chasidic story about a man who cherished the one item left to him after his beloved father died—his father’s gold watch. Every day he would look lovingly at it and then put carefully away. One day, though, he couldn’t find it. He looked everywhere; needing to find it took his whole attention and nothing else mattered. After all, beyond the value of the gold watch, it was his father’s memory that he had misplaced. Finally, in utter despair, he gave up looking for the watch. He completely bared his soul, and beseeched God to help him.

“Why have You hidden the watch from me? My life is nothing without it.” And…then the watch dropped from above right onto the table in front of him.

goldprice.org

goldprice.org

A couple of weeks later, I wrote my Spiritual Director this message:

“Dear DDK,

Shavua tov, I hope you are doing well and found good things, especially to eat, over Pesach…

I wanted to check in this morning, after many thoughts to do so over the past few weeks, after our last meeting. Many things have shifted and I feel I am entering some new territory. I hope this check in is helpful for you too.

When I awoke the morning after our SD together, I recalled the prayer for gratitude and insight we’d closed with. Then, when I got up, I could not find my eyeglasses.images-1 That’s very unusual, there are very few places in my apartment they could be. Right away, everything felt like the story you told me about the man who couldn’t find his father’s gold watch. I sat down and thought about how I may be doing too much and not fully allowing them to register, only the actions and outcomes.

I stopped looking for the glasses and decided that insight was the only way to get answers now. I came back to my centre for a while and waited.

Then I knew: the glasses were not really gone anywhere, maybe it was me. Doing many meaningful things, and naïvely trying to control all their outcomes.

I sat with the not new knowledge that it was once again time to allow myself the grace to let go of the control method of navigating my life, and let God, or insight, or wisdom guide me. Then came a place of calm, much like being in the eye of a storm;

and then the storm also passed. You’ve probably guessed that when I got up from my chair, the glasses were easily found. images-1It was time to let go of the many stuck places I was in, and find better places to be. Suddenly, it was easy to know what to hang onto, and what I could let go of or replace.

Each morning, I’m waking in gratitude, or returning to deep gratitude; and as in the prayer you offered, take each step of the day with the possibility that it may hold insight or guidance, or wisdom.

This is very liberating: I’m finding a context for what I do now. Of course, that means entering new territory. My experience in hiking tells me to take my steps with deliberation and intention at this time, watching for loose rocks and bared roots while enjoying the embracing landscape.”Sue Grand Canyon 08

What have you lost lately…or better yet, what have you found?