I think I've been re-set, somewhat. My time at the mediation retreat was both jarring and profoundly calming. The rabbis who led helped direct our thoughts through the mitzrayim, the narrow places, of our paths and lives; the weekend was one big Amidah, a quiet, private prayer offered in the company of others on the same journey.
We even spent some time talking to God in a corn field, just like the 18th century Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav:
"As often as you can, take a trip out to the fields to pray. All the grasses will join you. They will enter your prayers and give you strength--when no words come, do not despair. Come back day after day to your secluded spot and wait. Just wanting to speak to God is in itself a very great thing. Even if all you can say to God is 'Help!' it is still good. Repeat this over and over again, until God opens your lips and words begin to flow from your heart."
They did flow, but in all that silence I became acutely aware of two states between which my heart travels during prayer: one, a quiet, peaceful energy and the other, which I experience whenever I chant Torah, its complete opposite: electric, awed, nervous. Both are honest, but the latter sometimes becomes a kind of armor, hiding me from truths I might not want to face. And even as I try to draw close to the words I chant, I also push myself away behind a mask of trembling knees and hands. I wonder how much deeper this experience might be if I could walk up to the Torah and grasp the yad without my knuckles turning white. Maybe I will, one day, when my silence and music become parts of the same thing instead of opposite forces.
Meanwhile, tonight is the first seder and I'm off to the wilds of Queens to be with old friends. Hoping all who read this enjoy many, many seasons of freedom and renewal (and great matzah balls, too).