Sunday, March 29, 2009

Let's not forget to play

+Rowan, Bishop of Playing and colleague and friend of +Maya Pavlova, FBE, has a new post up. You can see his latest message there as well as handsome photos. My, he's a fine dog. If you click on the picture of him in the back yard you can see him really large and close up too. We love +Rowan.

Prayer Posse update, cont'd

More updates. Bless your hearts.

Deborah has gotten over her virus and is out and about.

Mimi's wallet turned up! An honest cab driver and St. Anthony did what they do best.

I am still writing. (With a break for church this a.m., the last of my Lenten Series session in the late afternoon / early evening, and supper and conversation with +Maya Pavlova. Also, I have to read and grade some exams and papers sometime before tomorrow morning.)

The funeral for Aunt Anne is Tuesday in Yonkers, NY. I won't be able to make it, nor will the other members of the Acts of Hope family (my 90-year-old parents who can't travel this week plus my Beloved Sibling and two generations of offspring who all live in Europe) but Anne's granddaughter, who was away in India with her (Indian) husband and children, was due back today with her family (this was already planned) so I think all of Anne's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be there. Thank you for your kind messages.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Anne Rothenberg, R.I.P.

My aunt Anne Rothenberg, née Anne Becker, died of cardiac arrest early this evening in New York.

Her son, my cousin Ron, said that she went peacefully. She had been in failing health and was undergoing physical therapy at a nursing home following a stay in the hospital after surgery.

Anne sang and played the piano (in her younger years she performed as Anne Barry) and was a vocal coach for Broadway performers. Her husband, my uncle Bill, died a few years ago after several years in a nursing home following a stroke. Bill had been a strong, handsome, athletic man, an educator, coach, and summer camp director and it was hard for many to see him weakened and unable to speak much after his stroke. Anne visited him every day after his move to the residential facility, staying most of the day and, after lunch, playing the piano for him and the other residents and singing their favorite tunes.

When we were younger and all involved in the summer camp my grandparents founded (Anne and Bill directed it for some years) Anne composed and directed children's musicals. At our big family reunion a couple of years ago, she sat down at the piano and played and sang, and several of us cousins sang with her. She was a spunky, dramatic, generous woman.

Anne was the mother not only of Ron, who cared for her kindly and diligently in her last months, but also of Lisa, who recently lost her husband Gerald. This is a lot of loss for my cousin Lisa.

May Anne rest in peace. May the Holy One bring consolation to Anne's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and may her memory be a blessing.

Earth Hour tonight, all around the world (so it's already happened in Australia)

BBC story here.

Turn off lights and other electric things (yes, your computers too) between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. today (Saturday) to draw attention to the issue of climate change.

Come back and tell your story here: What did you do during that hour? (This is a family blog, but if need be you'll find euphemisms, I'm sure. ;-))

Theology by candlelight here, I think.

Update on those Prayer Posse requests

Thank you, all, for your prayers. We welcome your weekend prayers too!

An update on how everyone is doing.

1. I spoke with P. yesterday. He is taking short walks every day. His voice continues to sound good. The sternum takes a long time to heal so he won't be able to lift anything heavier than a bottle of milk or to drive (seat belt is problem when you're recovering from chest surgery) for a while, but he is making steady progress. The dog is a little frustrated because she can't go on long walks, but sometimes there are visiting humans who take her out for a romp. B. (P.'s partner) is tired.

2. Deborah hasn't checked in but I am assuming no news is good news, because if there were trouble I would have heard from her spouse. I've left a message for her.

3. I am still writing. There wasn't much time for it during my teaching week but since Thursday I have been back at it almost nonstop. Big push today and tomorrow (outside of liturgy and Lenten Series). Keep prayin'.

4. Moira has a tiny faint squeak of a voice. This is good news. It means the larynx is still functional.

5. Mimi didn't find her wallet, but she got a new credit card, and she hasn't let a nasty English cold stop her. She continues to enjoy England in the good company of Doorman-Priest and his delightful wife.

We remember Ian, who died yesterday, and his beloved Lisa, who has lost the love of her life. Paul has a moving memorial post and also posted another beautiful piece of music as Ian was dying.

It's a rainy day in Greensboro. Yesterday was a rainy day in Greensboro. The day before yesterday was a rainy day in Greensboro. I am gearing up to do some writing and also to visit the computer people a bit later.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Love, loss, and grief: Ian and Lisa

Another loss in our blogging community. Lisa mourns the death of her beloved Ian.

MadPriest has posted the sad news and a photo of Ian and Lisa in happier days.

Grant peace and consolation, o Blessed One, to your children.

Icon of Holy Silence

Thanks to my friend Moira (the same one for whom some of you have been praying) for leading me to this icon by Bill McNichols (William Hart McNichols, S.J.).

Here is a short commentary on the icon by the artist.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On the church

Did I post this already months ago? I am not sure. No time to check right now , but I just ran into this quote while editing a piece of writing and it has a post-it on it saying "blog" which I obviously left there for a reason, so here it is.

I didn't make a "Dorothee Sölle" label till recently, so I can't track through that label whether or not I have already posted this, and there are too many posts under "theology" or "church" for me to take the time to sort through them, since I am working under deadline. Perhaps this will ring some bells for you.

Well, we can’t simply be "yes-people"‘ for the church. We are embarrassed on account of the church. It’s like we come from a lousy family: father drinks, mother yells, and the kids fight the whole day. Bishops drive limousines to hunger conferences...

Funny thing is, it’s our family, in spite of it all. We find it to be unbearable, stupid, next to impossible, phony–but we still stay with it. In other words we say: Dad drinks, and Mom yells... but Grandma is super and my little brother is absolutely the greatest. Clergy talk too much, church members have been asleep for centuries... But Jesus simply can’t be done away with, and there isn’t much to be said against people like Albert Schweitzer and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is these people –and God knows they are not just people who say yes and amen to everything– that we want to think about in this book. We want to talk about them. We want to try to say what it is that we find good about religion, why we need God and Christ and the Spirit, and why we put up with the church.

********Dorothee Sölle and Fulbert Steffensky
********Not Just Yes and Amen: Christians with a Cause

More later in the same vein.

John Hope Franklin, R.I.P.

The great historian John Hope Franklin died yesterday at the age of 94.

The Washington Post has several pieces about him including an obituary and tribute with a slide show here.

Duke University, one of the schools at which Professor Franklin taught, has a biography here.

From the WaPo obituary by Wil Haygood:

Franklin was among the first black scholars to earn prominent posts at America's top -- and predominantly white -- universities. His research and his personal success helped pave the way both for other blacks and for the field of black studies, which began to blossom on American campuses in the '60s.

In time, a second generation of eminent black scholars -- Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr., Georgetown's Michael Eric Dyson and Princeton's Cornel West -- would follow Franklin to the heights of America's most illustrious schools.

"He gave us a common language," Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, said yesterday. "As the author of a seminal textbook, 'From Slavery to Freedom,' Franklin gave us young black scholars a common language to speak to each other. He had invented a genre out of whole cloth."

Gates, a former recipient of a MacArthur "genius grant," for years was curious as to who had recommended him. He attended a dinner once with Franklin, and Franklin confided that he had been the one to recommend Gates. "And I cried at the table we were sitting at. A lot of us called John Hope 'the Prince.' He had such a regal bearing. We're all the children of John Hope."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


With an exclamation mark, because the angel came to Mary with big news.

Acts of Hope invites you to a little trip down memory lane:

From two years ago, here.

From last year, here.

Now, where did I put my Annunciation Day sermon from five years ago? From the pulpit of a high Anglo-Catholic church, no less. I think it is on my wheezing old hard drive which I must take to the tech-y man. You'll just have to do with the Magnificat. Much better anyway. This is the version from the Carmelites of Indianapolis's People's Companion to the Breviary.

My soul proclaims your greatness, O my God,
and my spirit has rejoiced in you, my Savior,

For your regard has blessed me,
poor, and a serving woman.

From this day all generations
will call me blessed,

For you who are mighty have made me great.
Most Holy be your Name.

Your mercy is on those who fear you
throughout all generations.

You have shown strength with you arm,
you have scattered the proud in their hearts' fantasy.

You have put down the mighty from their seat,
and have lifted up the powerless.

You have filled the hungry with good things,
and have sent the rich away empty.

You, remembering your mercy,
have helped your people Israel,

As you promised Abraham and Sarah.
Mercy to their children, forever.

************** Luke 1:46-55

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Oscar Romero, ¡Presente!

A busy day, but I cannot let it pass without remembering that today, March 24, is the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Monseñor Romero.

Here's the blog post from two years ago on this day, with an illustration and links.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Time for the Prayer Posse again

Some updates and prayer requests in the vein of what Paul the BB calls the Heart Thread over at his place.

1. My friend P. continues to heal after his triple bypass. The medical people are paying close attention since P. has limited kidney function and everyone wants to avoid complications. (There were a few after surgery, but nothing that they couldn't deal with, Baruch HaShem.) P. was in very good spirits last time we spoke. Recovery will take some weeks, but at least he's home with his partner and their dog. Prayers of thanksgiving and continued prayers for healing.

2. A friend of mine who is living with HIV infection and AIDS and generally in good health thanks to ongoing treatment has a bit of a virus. It seems to be a mild sort of thing, but nothing is ever minor when one lives with AIDS and worries about the immune system at all times. My friend is taking good care of herself and has attentive medical people and a dear wonderful spouse, but prayer is always good. You can call my friend Deborah.

3. I need to finish up a Big and Important Piece of Theological Writing in the next few days, a mighty task that holds as much internal fear as external challenge. This is one of those "bring out the big prayers" times. Please pray for the Holy Spirit's power and peace. Thank you.

4. Speaking of big prayers, I have a request for a dear old friend of mine - not old in years, she is younger than I and still in her late 40s, but we've been friends for many years. She's had multiple surgical interventions in the last couple of years and the most recent, just this past week, was especially scary because it involved a malignancy. (The other surgeries did not, though they were delicate and difficult.) The good news is that the surgeon excised the entirety of a malignant tumor in my friend's neck and that the tumor appears not to have spread to the lymph nodes. The bad news is that my friend can't speak. People often have sore throats after having been intubated, but this is not a sore throat: my friend has no voice at all. She is persuaded that the surgeon and anesthesiologist damaged her larynx during surgery. In a few days she will know more, but she is terrified. And weary, weary, of all the assaults on her body (especially parts of her face and head) in these last years. Please pray for my friend. Let's call her Moira.

5. And while you're at it, there is the matter of a lost wallet in England. Hello, St. Anthony? Would you help out our friend Mimi?

Thank you, dear Prayer Posse. Do your thing.

Mothering Sunday - Laetare Sunday

It's Laetare Sunday here in the Western liturgical churches and Mothering Sunday in the Church of England. My friend Rob (aka Padre Rob+, with a gorgeous new blog that is almost all visual) sent this prayer earlier today with a Theotokos, using one of the Theotokos apps on Facebook. I'm not the greatest Anselm fan on the planet (understatement), but this is lovely.

As a mother cradles her child, so you enfold us, gently in your arms. As a mother comforts their pain, you calm and quieten our souls with your love.

As a mother teaches her child, so, Lord, you guide us, leading us through life. As a mother listens and cares, O Lord, you hear us and answer our prayers.

As a mother cries for her child, so you are weeping over our sins. As a mother feeds us from our birth, you daily nourish us with the bread of life.

Jesus as a mother, you gather us all to you. In your compassion bring forgiveness and grace. In you tenderness restore and remake us, In your love, bring us joy, give us peace.

Song based on a text by St Anselm; music by David Ogden.

Rob notes that he is not the originator of this quote. A friend of his from London, John Woodhouse, shared it with him after his church sang it at Mass today. Come to think of it, John's is a blog I used to read regularly and hadn't visited in a while. Hello, Organist Librarian! And thank you.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy spring (Northern Hemisphere) and happy autumn (Southern Hemisphere)

It's Equinox Day, vernal here in the North and autumnal in the Southern Hemisphere.

Good health to you all, wherever you are, and good health to Earth and waters and skies.

I will bless you, Lord my God!
You fill the world with awe.
You dress yourself in light,

in rich, majestic light.

You stretched the sky like a tent,
built your house beyond the rain.
You ride upon the clouds,
the wind becomes your wings,
the storm becomes your herald,
your servants, bolts of light.

You made the earth solid,
fixed it for good.
You made the sea a cloak,

covering hills and all.

At your command
the sea fled your thunder,
swept over the mountains,
down the valleys to its place.
You set its limits,
never to drown the earth again.

You feed springs that feed brooks,
rushing down ravines,
water for wild beasts,
for wild asses to drink.
Birds nest nearby
and sing among the leaves.

You drench the hills
with rain from high heaven.
You nourish the earth
with what you create.

You make grass grow for cattle,
make plants grow for people,
food to eat from the earth
and wine to warm the heart,
oil to glisten on faces
and bread for bodily strength.

In Lebanon God planted trees,
the flourishing cedar.
Sparrows nest in the branches,
the stork in treetops,
High crags for wild goats,
rock holes for badgers.

Your moon knows when to rise,
your sun when to set.
Your darkness brings on night
when wild beasts prowl.
The young lions roar to you
in search of prey.

They slink off to dens
to rest at daybreak,
then people rise to work
until the daylight fades,

God, how fertile your genius!
You shape each thing,

you fill the world
with what you do.


Psalm 104:1-24

Translation: ICEL (International Committee on English in the Liturgy)
Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1995

Shabbat Shalom

A friend dropped by a few hours ago with a warm, freshly baked loaf of challah which she had just made. Mmmm!

I gave her some flowers from the yard-garden-whatever-this-land-is-called.

The weather is sunny and fresh.

Here, for your enjoyment and perhaps also your edification, are some Shabbat songs and prayers.

I think I posted this a year or so ago, but never mind. It's a traditional Sephardic blessing before lighting candles. The beautiful (more on Sephardic music here) is by Balkan composer Flory Jagoda. The words are in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish, which is to Mediterranean Jews what Yiddish is to Eastern European Jews). You can hear the song, sung by Susan Gaeta, if you scroll down the page to where it says "click here." Here's the page.

Thanks to for the above and for the following.

Kiddush (prayer over the wine) with either feminine or masculine God-language. Has the tune of the chant, too. Here.

HaMotzi[ah] (prayer over the bread) with either masculine or feminine God-language. With the tunes.

Contemporary blessing after the meal here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taking up our cross: a meditation by Magdalene

Okay, back to Lent.

Magdalene, ever the fine preacher, theologian, and biblical interpreter, has a meditation on what the cross is which is a must-read. When you think of someone "having a cross to bear," what do you think? When Jesus says "take up your cross and follow me," what does he mean? Read Mags's thoughts on this here.

P. is being discharged from hospital - and "A Prayer for Prayer"

My friend P. is being released from hospital, just a week after his surgery. I spoke with him mid-day and he sounded well. There will be long weeks of healing, but it will be nice for him to be back in his own home, with his partner B. and their very nice dog K.

Here is a final excerpt from the book, a kind of postscript called "A Prayer for Prayer," by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman.

O My God
My soul's companion
My heart's precious friend
I turn to You.

I need to close out the noise
To rise above the noise
The noise that interrupts--
The noise that separates--
The noise that isolates.
I need to hear You again.

In the silence of my innermost being,
In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,
I hear whispers of Your presence--
Echoses of the past when You were with me
When I felt Your nearness
When together we walked--
When You held me close, embraced me in Your love,
laughed with me in my joy.
I yearn to hear You again.

In Your oneness, I find healing.
In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.
In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again.

Please listen to my call--
*****help me find the words
*****help me find the strength within
*****help me shape my mouth, my voice, my heart
so that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer
In words only my heart can speak
In songs only my soul can sing
Lifting my eyes and heart to You.

Adonai S'fatai Tiftach--open my lips, precious God,
so that I can speak with You again.

From Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, C.S.W., ed. Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders unfold the Strength and Solace of Psalms. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994.

Special thanks to Anita D, who gave me the book lo those many years ago, around the time it was published.

Art: Modeh Ani, prayer of thanksgiving upon waking up. Dvora Black, art for children.

More on that 10th healing psalm, a day (or two) late

A couple of days ago, I posted the 10th in the series of Ten Healing Psalms according to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (Breslov).

I did not have time then to post the commentary from the book I've been using, so here are some excerpts.

The rabbi commenting is Rabbi Nancy Flam, and her commentary on Psalm 150 is called "Praise, Joy, Breath."

From the section entitled Praise:

***How can one praise God in the midst of serious illness? Praise God for one's situation not being worse? What if it is nearly as bad as one can imagine? Praise God for the memory of health? What if one was born with a congenital disease? Praise God for the depth of experience and insight which can come through suffering? Who wouldn't trade a little insight for a modicum of relief?

***The psalm says "Praise God for God's mighty deeds. ... What are these mighty deeds, this abundant greatness? The poem is vague; I do not know the author's intention. ...

***The mighty deeds might refer to God's intervening in history: Performing miracles such as splitting the Read Sea. Personally, I cannot conceive of God this way: A power who willfully changes the laws of nature to help a particular people. But I do affirm and praise God as the One who makes miracles everyday, according to the laws of the physical universe and the human spirit: The awesome power we sense as we witness fall turn to winter, and winter to spring; the One we feel when we experience true love and compassion; who has willed th natural cycle of growth and decay; in whose presence we find company in prayer.

***Such greatness pertains whether I am ill or well. Praise of God is not about me or my condition; it is about the reality of God.


***It may require a psycho-spiritual tour de force to praise God with joy and gladness in the midst of illness, but Rabbi Nachman challenges us to do so. Psalm 150 is nothing short of ecstatic, a glorious symphony which rises to a dazzling crescendo.... Perhaps the wildness expresses something crazed. Or perahps, in a rare moment of grace, one might play the music without fury, in touch with happiness, miraculously connected to God with praise in one's heart, lamrot hakol: Despite everything.


***HalleluYah: Praise God! The most breathy name of God is used here: Yah. Praise the Creator who breathed the breath of life into Adam and Eve and each one of us.

*******"The rabbis, of blessed memory, said, 'Let every soul (neshama) praise God.' This means: Praise God with each and every breath (neshima), so you can say at every moment and continually, "Blessed is the Merciful One, Ruler of the Universe, Master of this moment.'"
*************************Or HaGanuz LaTzadikim, p. 45

***The last line in the final psalm of Rabbi Nachman's tikkun brings us to an awarensss of the breath, rooting our being in the present moment, its reality and blessing. Fully present and mindful, we recognize that at all times, sick or well, we "have only moments to live" (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living, 17).

From Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, C.S.W., ed. Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders unfold the Strength and Solace of Psalms. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994.

The series began a little over ten days ago, before my friend P.'s bypass surgery, and continued each day with one Psalm (or excerpt from that Psalm) and a bit of commentary by a contemporary rabbi.

I posted every day, for instance and here. You can just scroll down to the first post and the work your way up if you are just arriving here.

Miriam and Jerusalem tambourines, Miriam tallit by Yair Emanuel

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Speaking of healing: I haz a little of teh sick

It's not teh sick in a humongous way, but it is sniffly and headachy and tired, so we are going to nip it in the bud and not let it get worse. The Editorial We has cancelled things right and left, begged out of this afternoon's funeral (just attendance, I didn't have any liturgical involvement), and found a replacement for at least one classroom commitment. No school for us today. We are being old-fashioned and Taking To Our Bed.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. Have one for me - I'm on ginger tea and quiet.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Healing Psalms, Day Ten - part 1

I am going to make this 10th healing Psalm last. Mostly because I have had a huge, long day and am cooking a little sniffle and want to take myself to bed and get a good sleep so that I don't get sick.

So I will post the Psalm tonight and then commentary tomorrow.

I'm posting the Psalm twice here, with the traditionally used pronoun in the first version and the other pronoun in the second. If G*d has no gender, then let's use all genders or none.

Psalm 150

Halleluyah/Praise God!
***Praise God in His Sanctuary;
***Praise Him
******in the vast expanse of Heaven!

Praise Him for mighty deeds;
***Praise Him
******according to His abundant greatness!

Praise Him
***with the blowing of the shofar;
******Praise Him
*********with the lyre and the harp!

Praise Him
***with drum and dance;
******Praise Him
*********with string instruments and flute!

Praise Him
***with resounding cymbals!
******Praise Him
*********with clanging cymbals!

Let every breath of life praise God,
******Halleluyah/Praise God!

Psalm 150

Halleluyah/Praise God!
***Praise God in Her Sanctuary;
***Praise God
******in the vast expanse of Heaven!

Praise Her for mighty deeds;
***Praise Her
******according to Her abundant greatness!

Praise Her
***with the blowing of the shofar;
******Praise Her
*********with the lyre and the harp!

Praise Her
***with drum and dance;
******Praise Her
*********with string instruments and flute!

Praise Her
***with resounding cymbals!
******Praise Her*********

with clanging cymbals!

Let every breath of life praise God,
******Halleluyah/Praise God!

Scroll down to posts below for previous Psalms and explanation of the origins of this custom of praying ten specific Psalms for healing of body and soul. Thank you, Reb Nachman. Blessings, all.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Healing Psalms, Day Nine

Psalm 137 is today's Psalm, the ninth in the series of ten healing Psalms according to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav.

This beloved, well-known, poignant Psalm is best known for its first six verses.

The end of the Psalm makes it one of the "angry Psalms," and a particularly shocking one at that, with its violent image. What shall we do with it? The other "angry Psalms" can be consoling, especially if one is despondent, depressed, feeling powerless, turning one's anger inward. But calling God's rage upon the children of others is another matter entirely. It feels far more horrible than calling God's rage upon one's enemies.

I have no answer for this, and today's commenter from the book, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, does not really address this dilemma.

Jewish and Christian traditions, including African American Christian traditions, have embraced this Psalm of exile and clung to it, and even transformed it (there is a fine book on African American Catholics called Taking Down Our Harps) - but they usually stop at verse 6.

Is the end of the Psalm something we need to say no matter way, lest we edit the Psalms at will and edit out their anger and passion?

Or is it one of those "texts of terror" that we should study like other texts of terror but not recite or listen to as holy scripture?

Here's the Psalm. Tolle lege, and see what you think and feel.

By the rivers of Babylon,
***there we sat and we wept
******as we remembered Zion.

Upon the willows on its banks
***we hung up our harps.

For there our captors demanded of us
******words of song;
***Our tormentors asked of us (with) joy:
*****'Sing to us the songs of Zion!'

But how shall we sing the song of Adonai
***on alien soil?
If I ever forget you, Jerusalem,
***may my right hand forget its cunning!

May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
******if I remember you not;
******if I do not set Jerusalem
*********above my highest joy!

Remind the songs of Edom, Adonai, about the days of Jerusalem--
***Remind those who said,
******'Raze it, raze it to its very foundation!'

Daughter of Babylon,
***it is you who are the annihilated one;
******Happy is the one who will repay you
*********for all that you have done to us!

Happy is the one who will grab your little ones,
***dashing them against the rock!

Rabbi Eilberg writes that she "had always read Psalm 137 only in historical terms, the homesick lament of the Jews in exile in Babylon, weeping for Jerusalem, their home. But to read the Psalm through Rabbi Nachman's eyes is to imagine the lament as my own, as a cry of despair and longing in my own times of pain and lostness and confusion, when I am disoriented, forcibly removed from the normal, comfortable times and places of my life. Rabbi Nachman invites us to read the psalm as our own cry, our own prayer, inviting us to move, as the psalm does, from despair to joy to power."

I gave you my commentary as much as Rabbi Eilberg's (there's more of hers in the book, but the paragraph above is a good summary introduction) and would be interested in knowing how you read and hear this Psalm, especially when you read it in the context of your own illness, suffering, troubles, and healing.

This makes me want to go to Reb Nachman's teachings to find out what he said.

Commentary and Psalm translation from Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, C.S.W., ed., Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders unfold the Strength and Solace of Psalms. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994.

Art: "A rare large framed Hungarian 19th century Jewish oil on canvas painting depicting the remembrance of the destruction of the Temple, in Hebrew "Zecher Lechurban" above the words of "The Rivers Of Babylon." Very vivid and colorful oil with various Jerusalem scenes, the painting is signed by an unknown Hungarian artist. It is a Jewish custom leaving a small part of the home unfinished in memory of the destruction and this painting covers that particular place. 88cm X 72cm." Via IVAntiques

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Healing Psalms, Day Eight: Breaking the Spiritual Gridlock

I spoke with P.'s partner B. earlier today and P.'s recovery is proceeding as well as can be expected. He's at the grumpy-and-in-pain stage, which I remember well from when my father had his CABG. But he's where he is supposed to be and the medical and nursing care at the hospital is excellent and very attentive. And kudos to the staff, all up and down the line, for courtesy and warm behavior toward B. as a same-gender partner. We shouldn't have to notice when people who are family to each other are treated properly, but since it's not the norm everywhere, especially with same-gender couples, we do. Would that this courtesy and kindness were the case all over the U.S. and all over the globe.

Today's Psalm from the Tikkun HaKlali, the Complete Remedy according to Reb Nachman of Bratslav, is Psalm 105.

Note: The commentator uses "He" a lot for G*d. Do not let the language keep you away from Godde. Change the gender if you need to. I am not doing so because I am quoting from a book, but in prayer I would change the language.

Rabbi Maurice Lamm writes in "Breaking the Spiritual Gridlock: An Introduction to Psalm 105," one of the chapters in the book we've been following (see bottom of this post):

****If we are going to heal from illness we need to break two kinds of spiritual gridlock. One paralyzes us so that we become passive and resigned; the other steals the very song from our throats, leaving us with only a groan. The spirit evaporates from our souls and we become submissive and flat. Psalm 105 teaches two positive ways to heal, and healing is the essence of health.

****First, when illness de-activates us, we follow a prepared script and act like victims--we become couch potatoes, helplessly watching ourselves get weaker. We are fed and injected and analyzed and tested and predicted and watched over and prayed for and spoken of behind our backs. It is a gridlock and paralyzes us and makes us feel worse. Psalm 105 tell us: "Don't act like a victim."

****Notice how the psalmist erupts and fires off ten staccato charges in five sentences--give thanks; call Him, make known His works; sing to Him; praise Him; speak of Him; glory in Him; search for His presence; seek Him; remember Him! To heal, to become whole, we must respond even ten times; energize our minds; and not allow ourselves to sink into victimhood.

****... It will require heroism to take our mind off our condition, to take control of our souls, to be courageous, to feel empowered again. You may say: "I can't think of anything else." Perhaps you can't, but try it. ...

****Now break the second gridlock. In the ten charges of the psalmist, one appears not to fit --"Sing to Him!" What's the value of a song? In our sophistication, we think of singing as an art form; but the Torah teaches that to sing is a blessing. In terms of the spirit, singing is on a higher level than speaking--it is why the Levites sang in the Temple. The word shir, meaning song, also derives from shur, meaning insight. When we sing we raise our souls to God, and we gain insight into Him. Through song we address God.

****And through song we learn to better endure our hardships. When life is not a song, sing! When King David was ill, he sang; when Cervantes, the great writer, was ill, he said: "He who sings frightens away his ills." ... Singing is an antidote to panic. The Hasidim taught us that. It lightens the burden, lessens the fear, steadies the nerves. Singing gives voice to our deepest feelings; it enables us to express ourselves even if we are the only ones who hear it. And we will have made ourselves heart. Singing lifts the heart.

****Even if all we do is chant "Oy Vay," over and over, to a tune we improvise--Shiru lo, "Sing to Him." Even a melancholy song somehow takes us out of ourselves and gives expression to our inner being. Sometimes I break out in a niggun--a melody that uses sounds shaped only by my emotions. It articulates a groan that forces its way oout of my interior; sometimes, it expresses an indescribably joy inside me that's in search of an audience.

Note from Jane: I am struck by how related this is to the African American Spirituals, the "sorrow songs" of slavery which are classics and still sung and listened to today. Many of them, like the Psalms of old, are laments. In naming suffering, they transcend it and in some ways also revolt against it. Laments help us both to survive and to resist.
Singing with friends, says Rabbi Lamm, harmonizes our own souls with the souls of those who empathize with us. The harmony, in magical ways, transfers the energy of the group to us fragile individuals as we lift up our voices and keep time together.

****Sing what you like; help others by offering to sing with them. ....

****To groan when we are ill is common; to sing is courageous. Think actively, sing passionately,. It will break the most common gridlocks of illness, and let our souls soar to new heights.

As for Psalm 105, it is really long.

I'm just going to post a few pieces of it, including the one to which Rabbi Lamm refers at the beginning of the long passage from his chapter (oops, sorry, Fair Use people; this really is fair use):

Give thanks to Adonai, call upon His name;
***Let all nations know about His deeds!

Sing to Him, compose songs, play instruments for Him;
***Tell all about His wondrous acts!
Take pride in His Holy Name;
***The heart of those who seek Him rejoices!

Search for Adonai and for His might,
***Seek His presence always!

Remember the wonders He has performed,
***His miracles, and the laws from His mouth.

Then comes the story of Adonai's relationship with the people of Israel from Abraham on, with Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron (no Miriam, no women), the Plagues and the Exodus, quail and manna and water from the rock...

For He remembered His holy word, His promise
******to Abraham, His servant.

He brought out His people with gladness,
******His chosen ones with joyful singing.

He gave them the lands of nations,
******they inherited that which nations acquire by labor.

So that they might keep His statutes,
******and treasure His teachings,

I know, it's an Alleluia during Lent, but I'm quoting. ;-)

Besides which, we're doing this in the context of a Jewish commentary.

Commentary and Psalm translation from Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, C.S.W., ed., Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders unfold the Strength and Solace of Psalms. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994.

Illustration above:
***Commemorative International (in the text about an Israeli coin modeled on this image) writes:
*****The Bible abounds with stories about Miriam, Moses and Aaron's eldest sister. We learn about her heroism and her compassion, as well as her great intellectual knowledge and leadership abilities.

*****The book of Exodus, describing the Exodus from Egypt, offers a depictive description: "And Miriam, the Prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the drum in her hand and all the women followed her with drums and dance" (Exodus 15:20). While others were complaining about the desert conditions, Miriam was giving thanks for the great and miraculous Redemption that had just occurred after the parting of the Red Sea.
*****The drawing ...was chosen from "The Golden Haggadah" printed in Barcelona circa the year 1320. The pictures in this Haggadah, among the earliest and most spectacular of the Sephardic Haggadahs, portray the events and characters beginning with Adam in the Book of Genesis and ending with Miriam's song in the Book of Exodus.

Ruether's early ecclesiology

For theology buffs. (I don't have time to explain the jargon but I thought at least a few of you would be interested in this even in its non-popular-writing form.) This is about and from Rosemary Radford Ruether's first book, The Church Against Itself, published in 1967! (The non-Ruether writing is copyright by moi, Jane C. Redmont, 2009. Mishandle it and I'll go legal on you.)

...Related to this tension between the reign of God and the church is Ruether’s predilection for dealing with the church in its historical concreteness. The Church Against Itself heralds Ruether’s ecclesiological preoccupation with the church as it is present in the world, not as an ideal image, principle or model. "It is necessary," Ruether writes, "to disentangle ourselves from the self-delusion of triumphalist ecclesiology which confuses the church’s historical existence with its divine essence. This confusion," she continues,
*****has the most serious theological consequences. When the church naturalises itself in history and disregards the tension between its existence and its eschatological telos, then it constructs a myth around its past that and present which distorts its true situation so radically that a reversal principle comes into play and the church itself becomes everything that it was formerly defined against.

....Another theme in Ruether’s later work announces itself explicitly here: the Christian tradition from which she starts and which she examines is the Christian tradition as a whole in its historical and ecumenical variety, not simply her own Roman Catholic church family.

More eventually. Stay tuned.

FDA and food safety: important appointments

This just in: two important Obama appointments that will affect all of us in the U.S. (and probably others too - I know of at least one case of FDA staff working with an overseas government).

Read it here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Healing Psalms, Day Seven: Crisis and Confidence

Continuing to pray with and for my friend P., who has just had a coronary bypass, and with all who need prayer and all who pray for others.

Psalm 90 is the seventh in this series of healing psalms according to Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, and the commentator today is Rabbi Eugene B. Borowitz.

Rabbi Borowitz speaks of "the simple shifts that are part of the quiet rhythm of the everyday. They raise us from the stability of routine to a warm feeling of confidence, or lower us into doubting that anything really matters or is worth our effort.

Our psalm speaks to me of this alternation of temper. We begin it confidently enough. After all, it is a psalm, part of our sacred literature, something Jews have recited for millennia and perhaps familiar from the early part of the Shabbat service. ..."

I am keeping the quotes from the commentary short because the Psalm speaks powerfully for itself.

A prayer of Moses, a man of God:
***Adonai, You have been a refuge for us
***in every generation.

Before the mountains were born,
***before You brought forth the earth and the inhabited world,
******from world to world--
*********You are the Almighty.

You bring people down
***from arrogance to contrition;
******You say,
*********'Return to Me, children of Adam and Eve!'

For a thousand years are in Your eyes
***like yesterday, which has just passed,
******like a watch in the night.
The stream of human life is like a dream;
***In the morning, it is as grass, sprouting fresh;
***In the morning, it blossoms and flourishes,
******but by evening, it is cut down and shrivels.

So are we consumed by Your anger;
***were are terrified by Your rage.
You have placed our sins before You;
***Our hidden misdeeds
******are exposed by the light of Your countenance.

All our days vanish
***in the glare of Your wrath;
***We have used up our years;
*******which pass like a word unspoken.

The days of our years may total seventy;
***if we are exceptionally strong, perhaps eighty;
******but all their pride and glory is toil and falsehood,
*********and, severed quickly, we fly away.

Who can know the force of Your fury?
******Your rage is as awful as our fear!
To count every day-- teach us,
******so we will acquire a heart of wisdom.

Return, Adonai--how long?
******Take pity, have compassion on Your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning
******with your Hessed/Lovingkindness,
******and we will sing and rejoice all our days!

Give us joy
***that will challenge the days of our affliction,
*********the years we have seen evil.

Let Your work be revealed to Your servants,
***let Your splendor be on their children.

May the pleasantness of my Master, our God, rest upon us,
***and may the work of our hands be established;
******Establish the work of our hands!

Rabbi Borowitz writes of the many shifts in mood in this psalm. He concludes:

"Will our prayer be answered? That is for God to determine. But in one sense, it already has been, for we end this prayer different from when we started it."

The sentence that strikes me is "Give us joy / that will challenge the days of our affliction, / the years we have seen evil." Is it not usually evil and affliction that challenge our sense of joy? Here the prayer is for Godde to do the opposite: to give us joy that challenges us! that challenges our past sorrows. That challenges even evil. And if we ask Godde for this, we must believe that it is possible. It will happen. Joy will challenge the worst of our memories, the deepest of our sorrows, the most terrible of evils. Joy will. Joy.

Photo: In the Woods (France), by Sébastien Lallement

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Healing Psalms, Day Six

We continue our series of the Healing Psalms of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav. Information on the series, Reb Nachman, and previous psalms and meditations here - or just scroll down.

Today's Psalm is Psalm 77.

The commentary or meditation is by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. Here it is in its entirety - today without the Psalm. It is titled
The Echo of Your Promise - Based on Psalm 77.

When I cry my voice trembles with fear
When I call out it cracks with anger.

How can I greet the dawn with song
when darkness eclipses the rising sun

To whom shall I turn
when the clouds of the present eclipse the rays of tomorrow

Turn me around to yesterday
thatr I may be consoled by its memories.

Were not the seas split asunder
did we not once walk together through the waters
******to the dry side

Did we not bless the
bread that came forth from the heavens

Did your voice not reach my ears
and direct my wanderings

The waters, the lightning, the thunder
reminded me of yesterday's triumphs

Let the past offer proof of tomorrow
let it be my comforter and guarantor.

I have been here before
known the fright and found your companionship.

I enter the sanctuary again
to await the echo of your promise.

From Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, C.S.W., ed. Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders unfold the Strength and Solace of Psalms. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994.

A happy anniversary

Today is the wedding anniversary of Mother and Father of Acts of Hope, both still alive, thanks be to Godde, at age 90. It is their 69th anniversary. They were married in Mexico City in 1940!

Father of Acts of Hope is a romantic and gave his beloved two dozen roses yesterday. She was thrilled. Today they will go out to celebrate -- during the daytime.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Healing Psalms, Day Five

P. is out of heart surgery and now begins the recovery, some of it short and some much longer. (The sternum takes a while to heal.)

Modern medicine is amazing, when you think about it, and so is the human body. Glory be to Godde for both of them, the science and the person. And please, Congress of the United States, can we have decent health insurance for all, and soon?

Back to our sequence of Psalms, recommended for both R'fuat HaGuf (Healing of the Body) and R'fuat HaNefesh (Healing of the Spirit). Rabbi Nachman of Breslov identified these ten psalms as the Tikkun HaKlali, the Complete Remedy.

Rabbi Nachman, or Rebbe Nachman as some call him, lived from 1772 to 1810, not terribly long. People died younger in those days. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 38. He lived in the era of the French and American revolutions, deist philosophers, the days of the Terror in France, and Napoleon - and very far away from them all, both geographically and philosophically, in Czarist Russia. He was a Hasidic master and the great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the great Jewish mystic and leader whom the editors of our book call "the progenitor of the Hasidic trend in Judaism." This movement stressed the mystical and emotional dimensions of Judaism to complement its intellectual and carefully structured dimensions. Rebbe Nachman was --among many other things-- a great believer in the power of prayer.

Today's Psalm is Psalm 59, with Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg as commentator. I'm going to be brief because I've just realized I'd better stay within Fair Use. And you really do want to buy this book. (Info at bottom of each post.) It's quite wonderful and you don't have to be Jewish to use or appreciate it. It might make you a little more Jewish, though.

Rabbi Peltz Weinberg writes:

This very personal psalm contains the cries of someone searching for help in the face of life-threatening danger, beginning with a plea in despair and ending with a song of praise and thanksgiving. It moves from terror to serenity in a three-fold structure telescoped into a mere 18 lines.

Just a few lines tonight, and then you can read the full psalm on your own.
Rescue me from enemies, my God:
***from those who rise up against me --strengthen me!
Rescue me from those who act treacherously;
from bloodthirsty people --save me!
For they lie in ambush for my soul,
***brazen ones gather against me;
***yet I have not transgressed,
*******nor sinned against them, Adonai!

But you, Adonai, You laugh at them,
***You scorn the evil among the nations.
***My Strength--
******for Your Help I wait,
******for God is my Haven
God, my Hessed/Faithful One,
***You will go before me. ...

Rabbi Peltz Weinberg writes:

... As the enemy is named and acknowledged, so is God, source of help, strength, and support. Three words appear in the Hebrew. Each word as it is pronounced allows the suffering person to leap across a chasm of hopelessness. The words are names of an intimate reservoir of help, an answer to the cries at the height of panic. The words are personal - ozi, My Strength, misgavi, My Haven, and hasdi, My Faithful One. As we name the unseen hands that cradle us in our most bereft moments, we can allow ourselves to lay some of our heavy burden in those hands. The psalmist takes a breath. We pause. Selah.

Previous posts on the Healing Psalms are here:

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four

From Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, C.S.W., ed. Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders unfold the Strength and Solace of Psalms. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994.

Update on the Peters family bereavement for Catherine and call for short notes

Deep thanks to all of you who posted condolences and intentions of prayer below in the comments section of my short announcement of the accidental death of Bosco Peters's daughter Catherine.

MadPriest has posted an update here, with information about a wreath and a booklet of letters that Alcibiades of Caliban's Dream is sending on behalf of our cyber-community. Go to Alcibiades's blog here for information about sending your note to the Peters family. I will also find a way to pass on to Alcibiades the messages you left below.

Please continue to pray for Bosco, Helen, and Jonathan and their family and for Catherine's friends.

O God who brought us to birth,
and in whose arms we die:
in our grief and shock
contain and comfort us;
embrace us with your love,
give us hope in our confusion,
and grace to let go into new life,
through Jesus Christ,

********Janet Morley

Short prayers: at a funeral
from All Desires Known: Inclusive Prayers for Worship and Meditation, expanded edition

Surgery update

My friend P., for whom I have been praying the healing Psalms in your company, had a triple bypass this morning and is now out of surgery and in the recovery room. Thank you for your continued prayers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Healing Psalms, Day Four

We continue praying the healing Psalms, the Tikkun HaKlali or "Complete Remedy" recommended by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. I am praying these especially to accompany P., who is having major surgery tomorrow. He is Jewish and this form of prayer seemed most appropriate.

My friend P. leaves his house at 4:30 in the morning to get to the hospital and check in around 5:00 a.m. and get prepped for his coronary artery bypass. Surgery will last several hours. He'll be "under" most of the day. I expect to hear from his partner B. sometime during the day or evening. Recovery after will take some weeks. They get you up and walking pretty fast (my father had a slightly more complex verison of this in his 80s and I was there during his surgery and recovery) but there is long-term rehab and one's sternum has to heal, which takes a while.

I have had a long day (I'm writing this third paragraph at 1 a.m. after interrupting the composition of this post for several hours) so will keep this as short as I can.

The Psalm for today is Psalm 42. I wonder if any of you have thought of it as a "healing Psalm." I must say that I haven't, as I tend to focus as many of us do on the first verse or two of longing for Godde. But the commentator for today, Rabbi Charles Scheer, calls this "The Remarkable Faith of a Downcast Soul" in his chapter title. Or maybe that's what the editor of the book called it.

To the Chief Musician; Instruction to the Sons of Korah
Like a hind crying for spring of water,
***so my soul cries out for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
***for the living El/Almighty;
***O, when will I come to appear before God?

My tears have been my food,
***day and night;
******my enemies taunt me all day, asking,
******"Where is your God?"

This I remember, and pour out my soul within me--
***how I used to walk with the crowd,
***moving with them, the festive throng, up to the House of God,*
*****with joyous shouts of praise to God
*********a multitude celebrating the festival!

Why so downcast, my soul?
***Why disquieted within me?
******Have hope in God!
*********For I will yet praise Him
*********for deliverance, for His presence.

My God, my soul is cast down within me;
***as I remember You in the land of the Jordan River,
******and Mount Hermon's peaks,
*********and the smaller mountain of Sinai.

Deep cries out to deep,
***the sounds of the opened sluices of heaven;
*******all your breakers and your billows
*******have swept over me.

By day, Adonai will command his Hessed/Loving-kindness,
***and at night, His resting place will be with me;
******This is my prayer to the Almighty, God of my life.
******I say to the Almighty, my Rock:
*********"Why have You forgotten me?
*********"Why must I walk in dark gloom,
***********oppressed by enemies?"

Crushing my bones
***my adversaries revile me,
***taunting me all day with,
******"Where is your God?"

Why so downcast, my soul?
***Why disquieted within me?
***Have hope in God!
******I will yet praise Him,
*********my ever-present Help,
***********my God

* Rabbi Scheer has a note here that the reference is to the festival pilgrimages to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

From Rabbi Scheer's commentary:

... [A]s the psalmist bares more of his tormented soul, he continues to use water as the organizing metaphor. Whereas earlier water was depicted as a nourishing agent, it now becomes a terrifying and destructive force. ...

... This psalm may hint at the only possible response we can make to overwhelming pain and loss. The psalmist asks himself, "Why so downcast, my soul? Why disquieted within me?" His answer is instructive. Having poured his heart out, he does not deny the reality of his pain nor does he present simple pieties to explain God's design. Instead, in the face of adversity, he presents a human response rather than an answer.

***The psalmist uses two words in the text that connect the faith of his past with hope for his future. In his concluding declaration of faith he says, ki od --"yet." This terminology suggest that, in the indefinite future, the exile will end. Although the current reality seems to preclude all reasonable hope, he reminds himself that there might yet be other options: "I will yet praise Him."

From Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, C.S.W., ed. Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders unfold the Strength and Solace of Psalms. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994.

See below (scroll down) for the first three posts on the healing Psalms.