Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I doubt I’m revealing any big secret when I write that many of us have been seeking and struggling to find balance, beauty, and miracles during these challenging COVID times.
Speaking personally, I discovered the spiritual practices that sustained me for years remained just out of reach during the early months of quarantine. Logging on before 7 am to check my email and daily Zoom meeting schedule and shutting down the computer after 10 pm, I found myself unable to recharge my soul even on daily walks. Nodding off with pen in hand as I tried to write notes of gratitude in my journal, I’d wake up at 1 am to see I’d succeeded in scribbling on the couch cushions again. Setting aside time to sit at the pottery wheel in the basement or to complete the New York Times Sunday Crossword was simply impossible.
In July, I set my vacation responder and took an entire week to reset my priorities. I read a book for pleasure, caught up on the crosswords, hiked in the mountains, and stayed offline. With one exception.
On Thursday afternoon, I logged into my personal email and clicked a Zoom meeting link to join a Spiritual Poetry Writing class, hosted by Tiferet Journal and taught by Donna Baier Stein, an award-winning novelist, short story writer, and poet. I’d been a blogger and member of Tiferet’s community, and a fan of Donna’s work for years, but I’d never been able to attend her courses or writing retreats until now.
Attending a poetry writing class, in person or online, felt like taking a risk. Open to the possibility of being uncomfortable, I breathed deeply and picked up my pen and writers notebook. At the end of 90 minutes, I realized I’d found balance and beauty, and a sense of peace that I’d lost sometime in March.
Throughout the Talmud, the sages teach us not to rely on miracles to save us. Still, when we fail to notice the miracles in our everyday lives we do so at our own peril. I enrolled in the full six-week course that ended in August. Although I’ll need to sit out the first weeks of the fall session that begins today—the Jewish calendar and my work schedule are over-programmed until after the High Holy Days—I am setting aside a few hours each week to read and write spiritual poetry.
I offer you this gift: “The Breath of Life.” It’s inspired by a line in one of the poems we read in class, and also by a line in the liturgy of the selichot service, in which we acknowledge that our souls and bodies are a gift from God. While it wasn’t my intention to write poetry for use in my professional life, I plan to read this poem and sing the line from the liturgy at a virtual 9-11 observance I’m hosting tomorrow.
Living in the realm of Tiferet and being in the community at Tiferet, I feel ready to enter the new year of 5781. May it be a year adorned with beauty, a year filled with miracles, for all of us.