Friday, January 15, 2010

Sleeping Snakes

Here I am in my home town after years of being away. Ironically, I have come back to the place I fled at 17—St.Louis— for a rabbinic conference, of all things. And I am just blocks away from where I was raised. Flying in over the icy snake of the Mississippi, I can almost smell the earth; the naked trees and prim houses call to me. My chest aches, tugging me like an undertow to attend to my feelings. But I don’t, of course. I bundle up, breathe deep and catch the shuttle. Entering into the hotel lobby, I wince at the 18 foot crystal chandelier overhead, still putting off the call, and hurry off to the ballroom where I am scheduled to lead evening prayers.

Fortunately, I have a wonderful backup team of musicians and the zikhr movements and harmonies come easily. I ask the group to descend, to hush, to tune in to the Missouri earth, and the wise heartbeat of this place. The prayers flow.

Hours later, I find myself sobbing in the bathtub of my hotel room. The sleeping snake of memory has awakened and slithered its way to consciousness, beckoning me. There is no choice but to follow her to my interior. And who do I find in there? A multitude of mini-me’s gurgle out, each with her own painful memory…

—A five year old shrimp with bangs so short they pop out like uncooked spaghetti, nagging her siblings for attention.

—The fifth-grader dressed in a pink oxford shirt, terrified her newly sprouting breast buds are cancer;

—The kohl-eyed teenager who takes refuge from her parents’ fighting in sex, cigarettes and sunbathing naked on the roof.

Each one lonely, so lonely, and without comfort. Longing to be seen. Longing to be special to someone, anyone. O how we, creatures of God, are all so vulnerable. And the child within us never leaves, lingers forever in our cells, waiting for our visit, our curative touch.

On the plane back to Denver, the teenage boy sitting directly in front of me (who had so sweetly asked if I would be alright if he reclined his seat) takes ill . No one else sees him puking but me, furtively, copiously into the green airsick bag he found just in time in the seat pocket. Have mercy on us, holy Shekhinah, I prayed as I sent forth invisible snake arms to caress and soothe him.


Who is the tender child waiting for you at the door to your interior self? Make the journey and reacquaint yourself. Apply some tenderness where it is due. No love is greater.

Friday, January 1, 2010


A fresh slate.

Modah Ani Lefanecha! How I give thanks to you, Shekhinah, for the vast silence of this first cold morning of the year, which, like a field of clean white snow, stretches out before our eyes as sheer possibility.

Sheer Possibility!

Ours to dive into!

What marks will we make?

What will we do with our time?

Whatever it is, may it be honest, gutsy, and in accord with what lives deep inside as the truth, emet, of your being. (The aleph of emet, by the way, is the wild, untamable, core of mystery that lives inside you.

It must be set loose, or else you get meyt: deadness.)

So in that vein, the vein of truth, I hereby begin the Shechinah Monologues.

Why the Shekhinah Monologues?

The Shekhinah Monologues (which rhymes with another set of female monologues you may have heard, laughed, or wept at,) is an invocation to the truth of the divine feminine to come forth and through this communication.

Once while on a lecture tour in a Southern state, a woman with an up-do approached me and said: “Rabbi, do you mean to tell me that you believe in the Sh-KI-nah? Because I do. I really do. I feel her in the depths of my very being.”

I had to suppress an embarrassed chortle. The woman was extremely sincere. But she had pronounced the name of the feminine face of Gd with a long “i,” calling her the Sh’KI-nah.

I answered: I am going to assume you are talking about God and not your female organs, and in that case, then yes, I do indeed believe in the Shekhinah, and I too, feel her presence.

I believe the feminine face of God speaks to each of us from within, in the language of our truth, the emet of our being. And not necessarily the pretty, marketable version either, but the unfettered, wild truth. I also believe that God, the Shekhinah, and Life itself are begging us to express our truth shamelessly. That is, without shame, without apology.

When we express ourselves without shame, rather with moxy, self love, and the tension between our God-given power and our impermanence, (which is by nature very humble) then we are giving voice to our part of divine magic, which, incidentally, does live inside our body as well as beyond it.


This new year’s morning, for the first time in too long, I laid tefillin (a mitzvah stemming from the biblical words: u’k’shartem l’ot al yedecha, v’hayu l’totafot beyn eynecha, of Shema Yisrael fame. See Deuteronomy 6.)

No longer a rule-breaking no-no for many women around the world, this ancient ritual tells us to don black leather and tie ourselves up for the Lord. I wept as I wrapped the leather strap around my arm seven times, and sang the mystical incantation.

I felt the channels opening.

The gutters clearing.

The clogged drains from years past, and particularly the past one, quickly distill into hot tears of yearning.

A skyward release.

An earthward downpour.

I asked for many things, and felt the Shekhinah saying: Yes!

Throw open the doors and windows in whatever way you can, so I can flow back into your life! Dress yourself in black leather or lace, fringes or flannel ; whatever you like, but open to me!

Do you know how backed up I get? How lonely?

Say the words, bare your heart and ask for what you want and need.

I await you!

So friends, speak your wildest truth. Your deepest yearning.


Without compromise.

What is your truth this New Year?

What do you yearn for more than anything?

(If you don’t know, who does?)

Repeat after me: I YEARN FOR………

Write it out. Yell it out. Offer it up as your prayer.

And then listen well.

Happy New Year!

Quote of the Day:

"For my own part, I must confess, the spirituality of the leading movements of today ... is still a few degrees too rational, too lacking in daring, too unwilling to descend into chaos, the underworld, and there give ear ... and learn ... the longed-for secret doctrine of a new humanity.” Franz Kafka

from his essay, “Our Age’s Yearning for a Philosophy of Life. “

Published in 1926 (and we are still yearning…)