Passover and Government Presence

The Seder table set on a tablecloth on the floor, flowers in the center in a tall vase, and a stretch of sun across the middle of the table“In what ways do you experience the presence of government—city, county, state, federal—in your life, your daily life, your professional life?”

That’s how we began, with that question. Asking questions, that’s the practice, isn’t it, that leads to liberation? And that’s why we were there that night, wasn’t it, to recount an experience of liberation in the past and to take the first steps toward our own liberation—personal, communal, national, global—in this moment?

A journey that would begin, as it does every year, around a beautifully set table, crowded with symbols, weighed down with books—one on each plate, with history, with a story that isn’t a story, with blessings and plagues, with songs that anchor us with knowledge of who we are and lift us up with rousing melodies.

Except that this year (why was this year’s Seder different from all other Seders?), the Haggadahs (the books), were stacked out of view in the corner of the room as the guests arrived. In their place, afloat on each guest’s plate, was a single sheet of paper on which was printed a seal—the city of Asheville’s seal, or Buncombe county’s seal, or the State of North Carolina’s seal, or the seal of the United States of America. [Read more…]

Share If You Agree

black and white film image of a bowler hat suspended over a bed of tall daisies I have had it with the rage.

It might drive me off social media.

At first, I thought it might just be a problem of living in metropolitan Washington, D.C., where the strident opinions held by many are usually interlinked with what they do for a living. No such luck, though: I’ve been on trips to Mississippi, California, and Texas in the past couple of years, and it has been just as bad there, too.

This social pose has driven me crazy for the past eight years, the ongoing and incessant braying that has filled up my Facebook notifications, the “Honk if I’m Paying Your Mortgage” and “I’ll Keep My Guns and Religion, and You Can Keep the Change” memes, which also appear on bumper stickers that I have to follow on the Beltway. [Read more…]

The Song of the Desert

dots-by-barbara-w-on-flickrThe Word of God which is his comfort is also his distress. The liturgy, which is his joy and which reveals to him the glory of God, cannot fill a heart that has not previously been humbled and emptied by dread. Alleluia is the song of the desert.

—Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

When the hospice nurse and social worker come to my parent’s home the first time, they are not what my sisters and I expect. Perhaps I was expecting a cliché: calm and restful sorts, hired because of their ability to show quiet dignity to patients who are dying. Instead, they are chatty and gregarious. Though their demeanor is initially surprising, there is a certain charm and assurance to their lack of worry about being so close to death; surely they also need a way to cope with the heavy burden of their job.

They are kind and highly knowledgeable, but they rush my mom through the heavy information about signing Do Not Resuscitate at Home forms, the different kinds of pain management options, and noticing the stages before death.

The nurse enthusiastically declares that she used to be afraid of morphine but she loves it now because of the relief it offers to suffering patients. I suppose it could seem jarring to someone newly acquainted with hospice care, but I think it’s necessary for my mom to hear. She’s been afraid of giving my father too much pain medication, afraid that she’ll be the one to kill him, not the cancer. [Read more…]

The Next Abraham

motherhood-by-barbara-w-on-flickrA few days ago, I was blessed to be present at my grandson Abraham’s bris, his ritual circumcision. The mohel, the rabbi who officiated at and performed the circumcision, explained to the family and friends gathered for the ceremony, explained that a bris is the way God signs God’s name on a Jewish male baby.

The day before the bris, women marched in solidarity all around the country and the world. Baby Abraham’s father, his uncle on his father’s side, and his oldest brother participated in the march in New York. So did the baby Abraham’s aunt on his mother’s side, uncle, and five-month-old niece. They were joined by baby Abraham’s stepmother on his mother’s side.

My wife, baby Abraham’s maternal grandmother, the baby’s biological grandfather on his mother’s side, and I stayed home with the newborn and his mother. At just a week old, baby Abraham was still too young to be taken to the march. And his mother was still recovering from the delivery. Had Abraham been a month or more old, I’m sure we all would have joined the rest of the family on the march. .

Everyone knows what happened on Friday January 20, the day before the women’s march.

It was a charged moment to witness the circumcision of a baby, marking the moment he ritualistically joined the Jewish people’s covenant with God. It was a charged moment to welcome a baby to the Divided States of America.

But this bris in particular was a deep moment of union, a moment that, for those present and for all those who will, God willing, get to know Abraham as he grows, marked, in its quiet way, a mending of the nation, even the world. This bris marked a moment of joining in love parts of the world that some would keep apart by instilling in us fear of certain others, by dividing the world simplistically, dangerously into friends and enemies. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Sister Storm”

Lightning storm over dark neighborhoodI love the drama of this poem. Its title recalls St. Francis’s “Canticle of Brother Sun,” where Francis praises God through “Sister Moon,” “Brother Fire,” “Sister Water,” and so on. Jeanne Murray Walker’s Sister Storm, however, is violent and destructive—definitely not, in the poet’s view, an element through which to praise God. The poet talks back bravely to the lightening storm that is raging: “I defy you. Leave us alone / and tell your ugly cousin, war, / to leave our kids alone.” Then, in the poem’s final sentence of five lines, comes the powerfully constructive image with which the poet defies the storm: an image connecting people to one another and to the cosmos. The image is of the humble craft of knitting, which is made of interconnected loops “hooked” together. Walker envisions first her own house “knit to other houses”; then whole neighborhoods hooked together; then the entire human community “hooked to that bright creative engine, / to whose rule, before the sun, moon / and stars, we hold  out our hands.” I hear an echo here of the final line of Dante’s Divine Comedy: to that “love that moves the sun and the other stars.” This cosmic, divine love, in Walker’s vision, knits us all together in a creative work that overpowers the forces of destructiveness and death.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]