My Days of Awe, 5776

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImpatience. Anger. Wastefulness. Restlessness. Desire. Haughtiness. Greed. Judgement. Pride.


I’ve been paying attention, especially the last few days. Now it’s getting serious. It’s the morning of the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.


Yesterday, just after I walked into the house after ten-and-a-half hours at the university, before I dropped my heavy book bag on the floor, I spotted a bowl of chips and an open container of my favorite salsa. But before I was able to crack the first of forty chips in my mouth, my wife said, it arrived crushed.

She was on hold, forty-five minutes waiting for a customer service rep. The post office. How to file a claim. A box of wedding gifts. [Read more...]

For the Newlyweds

18428477633_f488b3dd41_zMay you have the courage to let go of everything you know about yourselves—everything you have learned about yourselves up to this moment—that you may discover and create, invent and define new selves, a new braided Self. Like Sabbath candles that, at the start of Shabbat, stand side by side, each its own brilliance, its own accomplishment, may you move toward each other until you become like the braided Havdalah candle, its individual wicks joined to create of several a single, strong flame that is lifted into the sky at the end of Sabbath.

If I were called upon to offer a toast to the newlyweds, this might be the toast I’d offer.

Who dresses in the costumes of their ancestors, who signs the ketubah with the broken healthcare system and the cruel economy and anti-immigrant culture as their witnesses, the groom who is delivered to the mandap in a horse-drawn carriage, the bride who is walked down the grass aisle by her father and mother, divorced and united in love as they deliver their daughter to the huppah, the bride and groom who stand under the huppah-mandap where they vow and circle, circle and are blessed, these newlyweds. These newlyweds whose courtship was complicated by religion and love, politics and love, history and love, America and India and love, personal convictions and love. [Read more...]

What Is the Future?

desksIt’s the end of summer in the academic South, and I’m working on syllabi for my fall courses: Spiritual Autobiographies and Beginning Poetry Writing Workshop. I’m creating the schedule, weeks 1 through 16. I’m filling in the dates, 8/17, 8/19, 8/24…11/23. I’m sequencing the assigned texts: Darling to Dharma Punx; Incarnadine to Night of the Republic.

I’m imagining the writing exercises, the first one an object poem, where the objects are one, five, and ten dollar bills which I’ll hand out in class, and they’ll write, and then we’ll read Howard Nemerov’s ”Monday: An Introductory Lecture,” and I’ll let them keep the money. In Spiritual Autobiographies, the essay based on interviews of parents, grandparents, former teachers, or other adults with whom they interact, about their spiritual lives. In draft form, these essays will be used as another course text. What can we learn about spiritual experience from the lives of those with whom we speak? [Read more...]

The Mystery and Terror of Retirement

3461974640_6abc5773c7_zThe day after I let my wife know that we had enough money to pay for our son’s college education—he was a sophomore at Carolina at the time—, she let me know she had decided to retire in the fall. Our daughter was pregnant. The baby was due in November. After retiring at the end of October, my wife would head to New York to be with our daughter for the final weeks of the pregnancy and the first weeks in the life of our first grandchild.

For a few years, she had been gathering information and planning for her eventual retirement. Still, we hadn’t discussed, after I told her we had college covered, whether this was the time for her to retire. To me it seemed that she left for work one morning, made her decision during the day, and came home and informed me of it. Done deal. [Read more...]

Morning Prayer and The New York Times


Summer morning routine: a cup of Awake tea, the Opinion page of The New York Times.

What am I looking for to get my day going? Information to spark the brain? A needle to inject righteous indignation into my sleepy heart?

The flag is coming down. You know which one. I read columnist Nicholas Kristof’s “Tearing Down the Confederate Flag Is Just a Start.”

“America’s greatest shame in 2015 is not a piece of cloth. It’s that a black boy has a life expectancy five years shorter than a white boy. It’s that the net worth of the average black household in 2011 was $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to census data. It’s that almost two-thirds of black children grow up in low-income families. It’s that more than one-third of inner-city black kids suffer lead poisoning (and thus often lifelong brain impairment), mostly from old lead paint in substandard housing. More consequential than that flag is…” [Read more...]