A Bruckner Farewell to Jude

I just came home from attending a Symphony concert this evening. The program was filled with unfamiliar pieces written by familiar composers, Prokofiev and Bruckner. These selections had much in common, particularly their apparent roaming from theme to theme and modulation of mood and modes.

My mind has been filled with too much information this past week. I’ve been awakening from health problems that have waylaid me for the past few months and prevented me from engaging in the things I love most and do best. Some self-focus and attention to healthcare has brought the restoration of my body’s inner chemistry. It’s also unleashed an avalanche of information in the way of waylaid emotions, misplaced jobs, forgotten rendezvous, sheets of unplayed music, and a dear friend whose memorial service is tomorrow afternoon.

galleryhip.com

galleryhip.com

I am writing as a writer about a writer. I had known Jude for 7 years; about the time I started facilitating a writing program for mental health consumers, Write From The Heart©. He was one of my first participants, and continued long afterward to be in the program. At the time, he was already a speaker about mental illness, and yet new to writing. One time I had a guest speaker, a very famous journalist, come to the class to talk about writing: I think Jude’s life changed dramatically having been touched by celebrity, bringing him closer to knowing that being on the margins was only a mindset; and that anyone could come close enough to touch the edges where celebrities could be someone we know on a first name basis. Even ourselves.

This evening though I sat with a friend at the symphony in the lower balcony, surrounded by an audience that despite the announcements not to at the opening of the concert, clapped between movements. They also dog-whistled and jumped to their feet, bringing to mind a Vancouver Canucks hockey game right in the midst of the grand old dame of the Orpheum theatre.

They also started to leave in the middle of the Bruckner symphony, which came after the intermission. I guess there was nothing for them to whistle about, as each of the movements became more and more unresolved and restless. And so did the some of the audience, so they left. Except for the man behind me who kept whispering too loudly to his neighbor and had to be shushed.

The third movement came to an end, and many in the audience tried as usual to applaud; but the conductor leapt adroitly right into the last movement before a hand clapped, thank Goodness. People sank into their seats, obliged it seems that there would be more of the same to come.

fineartamerica.com

fineartamerica.com

My tangled thoughts had become an unresolved jumble too, but of information: too much music to learn on too many instruments with too many performing groups; someone who had just phoned me that evening to minister to their loved one in the hospital and I pondered when to visit; how to squeeze in time to run writing programs, minister to others, and also take care of my own health plans, and how I had not yet had time to be with the loss of Jude.

I felt agitated as the unresolved music spread out further and further in its disresolution. In affinity, my waycrossed needs and thoughts were snagged into the sounds, as if blithely grabbing a handhold on a passing streetcar to an unknown place.

msrempelmusic.blogspot.com

msrempelmusic.blogspot.com

I liked the ride. The wave of loss and tears rolled down my cheeks as swells of a romantic theme swept over the orchestra. I could see the big fiddles, cellos and basses, bowing as if adrift on a sea, pulling together with the waves of sighs and resolves.

The call of horns drew me to the other side of the corps, and some noble truths about Jude emerged. How generous he had always been, down to the core. Gifted in his ability to tell things straight, yet always with the caveats of great humility and graciousness. He was fun and funny, and his serious demeanour made him even more so.

vancouversun.com

vancouversun.com

One of my best memories was over this past spring. We ran into each other waiting for the #20 bus downtown–otherwise known as the ‘You Could Die Waiting For the #20 Bus’. This one was the ultimate trip: Hastings Street was blocked off, and it took 1-1/2 hours to get to Clark St, which is actually only a 45-minute walk away. We had a wonderful ride, the bus full of DownTown EastSide characters and community. We slogged through police tape and flashing lights and had lots of time to talk. We talked about his work as a Peer Support Worker, about our plans for our third book*, about how mental health services, and our respective jobs. We were two sides of a coin, him working as a peer support to help people in their daily lives, and myself as a spiritual care support for times of crisis and questioning. He again talked about the writing program, and urged me to find a way to continue it, as it was on a hiatus while until finding more funding. He got off to go to his favourite greasy spoon restaurant and I rode the rest of the way home.

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

The music shifted at that moment of reverie into a disorganized lull again and there the ironic part of the story cut in. A couple of weeks ago, I received word that funding I had applied for had come through. It was after before Susan T and Margo R and I met to talk about our next book. Jude hadn’t shown up for our meeting. Jude never missed a meeting.

The next day, before I could tell them about the funding, Susan T called me. I was driving. She told me–Jude had died. I pulled over, stunned. Now Bruckner’s symphony music washed over me. Jude was in it, he was being pulled away with the breakers and current. ‘No!’ I thought, not now, not Jude!’ But it was true. Susan told me so. That’s why he didn’t show up at our meeting.

janstar.com

janstar.com

Now the music trickled over me more, little sand dabs of hot tears raining down, foretelling an upswelling wave about to crash. Horns blasted, the tuba bellowed from some deep underground belly, the one my doctor told me to breathe into, to allow myself a good relaxation response. The tuba told me to breathe, ‘way down there, feel the body right down to the basement, right down there where Jude lies’. Right down there where nothing and everything matters.

I was held and comforted by the rolling music, in just the right way of reaching into the hurt and loss. Over and over and out, from seesawing bows in the lower strings to the piping in of upper woodwinds; the Gabriel’s horns and trumpets, and the grandest of tubas. The conductor rocked and nurtured the latent nuances from their hesitations as we all headed home for the last gracing of notes, and Jude was held safe in my heart.

I won’t say how we were instantly alerted back to, for heaven’s sake, VANCOUVER, by the shockwave of a

lac-ltd.com

lac-ltd.com

shout out of ‘BRAVO!!!’ by someone seated right behind the conductor. The last of Bruckner’s notes was not even allowed to finish its breath. I’ll leave the etiquette conundrum for the symphony society to figure out, along with any  treatment for PTSD the conductor or orchestra members may require…

I returned to planet real life intact, but will never be the same. During that last movement of that Bruckner symphony, my world shifted forever. Jude is gone, the great sea of something greater than we are took him. And thanks to Bruckner’s music, our memories of Jude and his stories will live on. Our writers, Susan T, Margo, myself, will live with the intimacy we knew with him, that intimacy amongst writers that is so complete. Indeed, like the titles of our books, evening the frayed edges is a lifelong process. We love you Jude, and thank you for the time you gave us, and your stories that will live on after we too are gone.

eveningthefrayededges.blogspot.com

eveningthefrayededges.blogspot.com

* for further information about our books, go to: The Recovery Narrative Project©

Vayeitze: Man-O Manischewitz

I just had a sip of Manischewitz wine, expecting to have a bit of warmth and sweetness before calling it a night. As the sweetness turned into a glow, there came a rush of memory. I was suddenly a little girl again, maybe 4 years old, or even smaller, sitting at a big noisy table where my parents and grandparents and brother were all gathered for a holiday dinner. Those times were always so special to me: all my favourite people together in our home, even though it really was all so busy and hard to really take in everything that was going on. But there was the simplicity of that ritual we always had, whether it was Passover or Thanksgiving: the Manischewitz wine. Grandma DotI think my Grandma Dot had a lot to do with insuring that it was served, it was her ‘very best favour’ as she would say, as she took the first sip and became all smiles and more child than adult. I felt little, and loved and happy. At an older age, when we might have had these gatherings with other families and there was a ‘kids’ table’, we could get as giddy on the sweetened wine as we liked. It didn’t take much more than a few stolen sips to make us giggle and howl with laughter and feel our oats at our own festive table.

This leads me to think about the Torah’s Joseph and his family, the subject of next week’s portion, Vayeitze, found in Genesis 28-32. I wondered, did Joseph and his brothers sit around their festival table and partake of sweet wine, too? Did they also become giddy and silly together like we did? Could all the differences amongst them, the jealousy for Joseph, become blotted out as they took this truce time to indulge in sacred moments of gathering together?christianimagesource.com

I read the story and wonder how hard it is for the family of a visionary like Joseph to let go of their fearfulness for his differences and recognize his unusual ways as gifts, instead. Joseph was different in appearance, both beautiful physically and also to look at, and also in how he engaged with the people and world around him. He did not allow himself the usual social inhibitions in showing what his gifts were, in how he perceived the world through not only his dreams, but also the dreams of others.

Joseph was a tattle-tale. He had the habit of exposing his brothers’ foibles to his father, who seemed to reward him for his forthrightness with a special coat. There is no definitive translation for the Hebrew words given in the Torah for this coat: כתונת פסים can be translated as a coat that extends to the wrists and ankles like a great coat, or it can mean a coat made of many strips of fabric. Most commonly it is translated as a ‘coat of many colours’. All of these nuances tell us something similar about the coat and the status it conferred upon Joseph, especially in his brothers’ eyes—that his father gave him the honour of favoured greatness.churchhousecollection.com

 

How is it then that the father can see this emergent prescience but not the siblings? The strangeness of Joseph’s ways must have been an annoyance to his brothers who had to endure his tales and dreams and his perceptions of them from a dimension they had bible.canot yet reached. Or perhaps, it was that they had left behind their own natural pre-verbal abilities to perceive information intuitively by choosing to accept instead the structured external social systems of their clan and tribe. It is natural to fear someone who does not conform to the safety of the agreed upon social norms. The boundary between intuitively gifted and mentally ill are often confused, the similarities being the discomfort afforded by others due to the unpredictability or unconventionality of the gifted or ill person.

 

Other ways this might be expressed are gender differences. Perhaps the story of Joseph’s travails is a torah or teaching about homophobia or gender difference: after all, Joseph is hinted at as being rather effeminate by being beautiful of physique and to look at, not a particularly industrious shepherd, and is given a flowing robe by his father who dotes on him and rejects the advances of Potipher’s beautiful wife. These characteristics stand in contrast to how his brothers were and set him apart from them, creating the purpose for their plot to be rid of him and his outsider way of being.

lgbtqniversity.wordpress.comIt takes many years and much travail before he is settled and enabled to use his intuitive talents without retribution, as Pharaoh’s right hand man. And eventually his siblings, in their time of need, must come to him for aid. In what could have been a moment of ultimate revenge, Joseph instead remains loyal to his gifts and powerful abilities, and takes care of his clan.

 

I know this story began with a sip of wine a short while ago, but it is a memory that I believe we all carry. When was the last time you could let go into the reverie of childhood bliss, taking in whatever joy was surrounding you? Laughing together in gatherings without care, even if you don’t really know all the backstories in the room? Or listening without fear to your own joyous heartsong?

 

Joseph wasn’t a complete person as a youth. He needed those years of learning to navigate the reactions of others in order to become effective at being heard. Only then could he express his gifts to their fullest, as chief advisor for a powerful nation. In this story we get the chance to see how sometimes the youthful rawness of beauty and truth may need time to mature and ripen before it can be accepted. This takes patience and time, but eventually an adult can smile and look back at those wonderful moments of sweetness and warmth and give that giddy child a knowing hug and a wink.

shuu-shuu

 

Liminal Constructs

Today is the winding down after a two-week shift as the On Call Chaplain for the local hospital. It has been an unusually full two weeks. Yesterday I spent the whole day, from 9am to about 5pm with family members on the phone and then at the hospital. It was the third call in for a person who was now a patient on life-support in the ICU. depositphotos.comIn all three calls, the family was wanting spiritual support to help them transition into the decision to remove their loved one from life support. Their request was for a means of navigating the imminent transition of a known life and spirit, knowing that soon that loved one would be dying.

 

I know these are medical situations of the most serious kind, and that the Social Worker is specially trained to help with practical decisions for arrangements to transport the loved one’s remains. Somewhere in there is wedged the pathos and every day organic trauma that comes with the death of someone who has been part of our life. Someone we may have taken for granted just the day before, such as was the story of two of these situations. Then, unexplainably, a catastrophic physiological event happens. Our body, which we assume will take care of us, suddenly malfunctions: In some cases, decades earlier than we would have guessed.

People in their prime, who exercised, ate all the right things, and were people who others looked up to for inspiration and vitality.lladro.com

 

I am always pleasantly surprised when people who may not have any ties to a formal faith, will ask for spiritual care to come. They usually ask the Nurse or Social Worker. They may not have a ritual in mind, but just know that this is a time for prayer to an Unexplainable Source, whose spacious living room they may have just fallen into.

We walk in the constructs of our daily lives, but when natural events suddenly trump our constructed ones, we end up in the liminal space between the two.alizul2.blogspot.com

 

My training as a Chaplain is a mix of construct and natural instincts. I come to the work because it is my nature, for whatever reason, to dwell in the liminal spaces. Knowing this has drawn me forward into finding the constructs that will allow me to channel this way of being and knowing into a practice that others can draw upon.

 

Some of those constructs are taking almost 2,000 hours of Clinical Pastoral Education, or experiential Chaplaincy training. With the guidance of Supervisors, I’ve learned how to navigate the narrow valley between the liminal spiritual places and the constructs of health care, family, and faith systems.

 

Although yesterday was formally my Sabbath (Shabbat), I spent it at the hospital working. The ethic is that taking care of a life comes before even the commandment to take a day of rest. Today was my day of rest and it has been good. The sun shone all day as a wonderful autumn treat. I had time to float out my nets and enjoy the evenness in the gentle swells between the liminal and construct states. Tomorrow will be another day.susanjkatz.com

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.