I recently had the opportunity to interview poet and educator Merle Feld, author of A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition. Her book recently came out in a revised and updated edition that includes a readers and writers guide.
Here’s an excerpt from your most famous poem, We All Stood Together:
My brother and I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
of what he saw
of what he heard
of what it all meant to him
I wish I had such a record
of what happened to me there
Since the first time I read this poem, Iâ€™ve definitely thought of your poetry as a form of contemporary midrash. As a young woman it really freed me to look at the untold stories in the Tanach, gave me a peek into the authentic experience of women living during that time.
Reading a spiritual life, however, I notice that the bulk of your poetry is much more personal. And yet, as you go from community to community, these very personal poems are allowing others to deepen their own spiritual lives. This is the very reason that you created the reader’s and writers guide for the new edition of your book–to facilitate these types of encounters with your text. I find this fascinating–has the story of your spiritual life itself become the midrash to be interpreted?
Lili, this is such an interesting question. In all the work I do*, I see the stories of my own experience, my feelings, questions, sorrows, fulfillment, as an invitation – to readers, to audiences, to my many students – I am extending a hand, I am trying to encourage you to see your own life as sacred, as worthy of self-examination and reflection. One former student from years ago, now a highly successful rabbi herself with a large loving following, said to me when A Spiritual Life was published, “This is a gift, you give so much of yourself to others, you give so deeply.”
In the way I wrote this memoir, I don’t see it as egotistical – after all, a memoir can be “look at me and all the important things I’ve done” – no. Mostly A Spiritual Life is about what I’ve felt and thought, how I’ve struggled to make a meaningful life and especially how I’ve struggled to value myself and be empowered to live fully. But I see the purpose of sharing personal stories and poems as all being in the service of supporting the development of the reader. I strive to establish a really deep place as the place that it’s worth talking from – that’s the place I write from, and I’m trying to inspire readers and students to go to that deep place within themselves, to have the courage to do that, to do that work, to find their own authentic voice and to speak, write live, from that personal authenticity. And also to be in their communities and out in the world relating to others in that daring and true way.