Sunday, February 13, 2011

970. 'Neath the elms

I'm still here! Spending much of my free time these days immersed in another project I hope will one day become part of my design business. It's starting slowly—but it's starting, the most important part. Alas, I have only so much extra creative energy to go around once the work day is over. I'm not taking my usual, wonderful writing class this winter, and haven't been blogging very much, either, both to make more time and space in my brain for the other venture. But "on chanting" and I haven't disappeared, and I hope to be back in full(er) force one day soon.

Meanwhile, a great deal of chanting going on. My casual remark to the cantor resulted in six weeks of aliyot of various lengths over the last eight, some sort of personal record. My nerves, still present, seem to have reached a peaceful if tentative detente with the rest of myself. One of my rabbis is teaching a wonderful class on prayer as seen through the writings of Heschel and Hassidic masters, and last week we studied these words of the Maggid of Mezeritch:

"... As the breath leaves you, it ascends to God and then it returns to you from above.
Thus that part of God which is within you is reunited with its source."

So, added the rabbi, sometimes it's good to just stop and breathe, and remind ourselves that we're constantly being recharged with (in the author's words) "that breath of heaven that is always flowing into you from above." We exhale and send the air in our lungs to God, who gives it right back. I remembered this as I chanted on Shabbat, when I placed my yad on the first word and took a deep breath. Please add a little more confidence to the mix when You return it, I thought.

I was too focused on trying to pronounce strange words for the names of jewels I could barely even recognize in English to notice if my prayer had been answered (but perhaps my concentration proved that it was). The section concluded with a description of the "Urim v'tummim," mysterious words on the high priest's breastplate meaning, maybe, "Light and perfection," although there are many other possible translations and mystical explanations. Coincidentally—or not—I had to rush out of services get to my college choir's 150th anniversary celebration, held on an enormous stage in front of a massive pipe organ crowned, at the very top, with the Yale seal emblazoned with those very words. I've written here before about the deep influence on my life of the Yale Glee Club, and especially its conductor. One of my first blog posts, almost exactly six years ago, was about my first time back on the campus in a decade. Back then, as yesterday, the place was alive with ghosts of my youth, of my mother, and of loss, joy, love.

(To be continued.)