Monday, November 02, 2009

851. Art

(This past Shabbat, the rabbi spoke about how the second word of the name of last week's parasha, Lekh Lekha—"Go, go to yourself"—gets all the attention. Thousand of paragraphs ponder the question of what "to yourself" really means—but that first word, "go," is a thorny one. We're good at avoiding "lekh;" we procrastinate, make excuses. This week, suggested the rabbi, "lekh." Follow Avram's lead and just Go. Do something you know you should, but haven't. Once again, as eleven years ago on the weekend of this same parasha, he was talking to me. There are at least three Really Big Things on my "lekh" list, including writing here and elsewhere—so in the spirit, if not the letter, of NaBloPoMo, I return to "lekh" this blog. Hopefully more often.)

Speaking of two-word names, the second part of mine has seen more action than usual. I've been thinking about making some personal art for first time in about—yikes—20 years. Last week I wandered through the Jewish Museum's "Reinventing Ritual" exhibit, getting inspired by interactive omer calendars and tiny bits of Torah literally prepared for ingestion. And yesterday morning I went to a wonderful talk by an artist and rabbi at the Museum of Biblical Art about ritual objects and sacred space. Judaism emphasizes the holiness of time, but we spend all our time in space—so that aspect of existence deserves honor, as well. But there's the whole second commandment thing, observed the artist, so some believe that "Jewish art" should stick to a prescribed set of boundaries lest we enter idol territory. Our ritual objects and prayer spaces are often blandly safe and clichéd as a result, which does no honor to the limitless beauty of Jewish concepts. I agree; I think God wants us to make art as well as pray in the spirit of radical amazement.

And yesterday afternoon, I got to experience a very different sort of sacred space than my usual venue. A friend had a party at her church, located in a tiny Queens storefront right under the el. But it could have been a castle, love transforming the room into a place of precious beauty. There were gospel singers, and the rich texture of an interfaith family so solid that only we foreigners from Manhattan were crass enough to notice. After a while the sound of the trains rumbling overhead began to remind me of the airplanes that crisscrossed the sky every few minutes above the apartment where I grew up, and I forgot how much I hated to cross that river. I felt safe and at home in a room more glorious in its humility than any grand sanctuary.

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