So much of this month, I've felt supremely out of step with 60 Days' compassionate challenges, disinclined to strive to reconnect with the part of G-d within me. And no more so than one day last week when the focus of the day's reflection was "inner holiness." As the text explained, "The challenge is to recognize the holy part of ourselves--which resides deep on the inside--and to allow it to shine on the outside" (38).
|"Hurricane"** by Winslow Homer: Category 1?|
I understood that I could have begun seeking my inner holiness while those on the news watched the bumpers of the cars in front of them in the northbound lanes of Florida's Route 1 or waited endlessly on phone lines to learn how likely they were to be deported and when. I also knew my bearing television witness wasn't at all helping them. Still, I kept my attention on them because to have to turned it toward my inner holiness at that moment would have felt like turning my back on them.
You do not have to have to be good,
though doing good would help.
And while parched repentance
is not required of you,
imagining the woes of those who chose desert over death,
who trudge spent across this battered planet,
might compel you to act.
I could tell you about my despair--
but dwarfed as it must be
by that of the sea-ravaged, the expelled,
the undocumented, the death-threatened,
toward what end?
Meanwhile, the world
goes on, precariously.
Meanwhile, the sun and
veils of rain
spreading across the
meadows and the
the coral reefs and the
are moving also across
the shaded caverns and
Meanwhile, somewhere, observed or unobserved,
in the V formation that always
brings the whole flock home,
the wild geese are making their journey,
embodying the right order of things
lost often in a world where nature yields to human wills.
Whoever you are, whatever you wonder,
the world cries out to you,
strident some days as wild geese,
reminding you of what's broken and lost,
rekindling your sense of kinship and common destiny.
Claiming you as its own,
it embraces you,
and asks you to do good
so it may always hold you fast.
The day after I wrote the first draft of the poem, I went back to 60 Days and my stiff-necked spiritual preparation. References to Psalm 27, the psalm most associated with this penitential season and read daily by many, sent me back various English translations of it by Reform rabbis and poets. I found the language to describe my fractured, distracted state in Rabbi Yael Levy's version of it:
There is so much to lead me astray.My challenge is not to let the world's abundant "menacing threats" be all that I see and all that I believe is important. Menacing threats have always been, and it's important to perceive them and fight against them. But they--and suffering--are not all there is, though they must be attended to. With this insight, I think I began my return to return, all the while grappling with what my response poem should say.
Don't let me give in to all that torments me,
the lies, the illusions, the menacing threats.
I must have faith that I can see through all of this
I can see the good, the blessings, the ways of life.
Cultivate hope in the Infinite Presence.
Let your heart be strong and filled with courage.
Sitting in my dining room amidst the detritus of revision on Friday afternoon, I suddenly remembered that I'd written a poem about wild geese years ago--when I lived in Cambridge and habitually walked around Fresh Pond. I found it in a thick folder of poems I've been accumulating for years.
|from the Fresh Pond Golf Course Web Site*****|
That sun and moon both
claimed places in the
A vee of geese
Boldly announced its
Across pond and then
And must have roused the
Whose bedroom windows
The idle greens and fairways.
Overhead I saw them:
An airborne choir of shofars
Proclaiming in strident counterpoint
The Day of Judgment
Or the end of summer
Or the dawn of the fourth day.
It was good.
Now these were the wild geese that were announcing everyone's "place/ in the family of things; their "harsh" cries were inviting, rousing, "exciting." The poem, which I know I wrote before 2000, before 60 Days, seems so innocent right now. But it's good to return to it and be reminded of my capacity to "see the good, the blessings, the ways of life." Innocence mustn't be a condition for recognizing and cherishing wonderful moments; if anything, we need them most when our knowledge and experience incline us to despair. That said, the me that seized that moment years ago and turned it into a poem feels like another self this September.
My resistance to "return" is slightly mediated right now. There's some blue sky amidst the clouds. But this softening may be all the spiritual progress I'll make this season. I will try to reach toward my inner light in the days ahead, though I suspect it will stay largely hidden from me this year. And I will try to cultivate hope by by seizing this moment of spiritual softening and by watching and listening for blessings, such as wild geese. About you, I am most hopeful. May you be inscribed for a sweet new year.
* Jacobson, S. (2008). 60 days: A spiritual guide to the high holidays. New York: Kiyum Press.
** On Tumblr: http://68.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lqjsnwVC7U1qe0into1_500.jpg
*** I have nothing against holiness or G-d, even though I've struggled to approach Him during this month.
**** As grateful as I am to Mary Oliver, I am also tremendously grateful to my fellow South Shore Scribes, who urged me not to give up on my poem and coached, challenged, and advised me as I wrestled with it. They are a wonderfully enthusiastic and helpful group of fellow writers.