Kindling our hearts in prayer

This Shabbat we read about the lighting of the menorah in the Tabernacle, an obligation that we all have to bring light into our homes, here's a quick meditation inspired by that and an anonymous 13th Century text, see Daniel Matt 's The Essential Kabbalah, p. 119 for the source text:

When we pray on our own we aim for unity with all,
we kindle the fire on the altar of our hearts.
By concentrating our thoughts, we unify our feelings,
our principles, our hopes, our dreams,
until they are drawn to the source of the infinitely sublime flame.
Here lies the secret of unifying which we perform in prayer,
raising up our ideas, like an elevating offering, towards one source.
In praise and in thanks
we draw ourselves nearer to the spark that ignites all.

Day Thirty-Eight of the Omer

Tiferet in Yesod - balanced harmony and beauty in a solid foundation.

These two concepts are picture perfect, precisely honed, needle in a haystack, ideals. I am often intimidated by an ideal - can I really push for that thing that is so far out there, so beyond my capacity?

I recently read a beautiful Hasidic teaching that helps me with a lot of problems: the world is finely balanced between, on the one hand, creative deeds and thoughts, and on the other, destructive deeds and thoughts. Every positive thought and deed that we muster contributes to the leaning of the world toward greater creativity and repair.

The ideals of balance and wholeness are meant to be difficult to reach - they are ideals after all. In reaching for them we make a difference in ourselves and all of creation, because all of the quanta matter.

Day Thirty-Seven of the Omer

Gevurah in Yesod - rigor, discipline, and strength in a solid foundation.

Building anything lasting, starting with the ground up, requires discipline. This applies to relationships as well as construction projects.

I have actually managed to ride bicycles to school with my son twice this week - and what a joy. This didn't happen all at once.

The first time Jude and I went for a long bike ride it ended in his tears. That was more than two years ago. Since then I worked with Jude, when he asked, on his bike riding. I often ran miles along side his bike when he dropped the training wheels to help him to gain confidence, listening to his requests for help. Eventually, he became a confident and accomplished cyclist, and did so at his own pace.

Jude's capable cycling is his accomplishment, and I couldn't be prouder. I am grateful that I took the time to step back and be his assistant.

Sometimes rigor is self-control that needs to be used in order to participate in the building of a foundation that lasts.

Day Thirty-Six of the Omer

Chesed in Yesod - loving kindness in a solid foundation.

I like to hope that society will eventually recognize more fully that compassion is an essential element of civilization, and an expression of fairness as well - that is, establishing equal compassion to all peoples makes a society more fair.

Civil rights, marriage equality (which is a civil right), promotion of the full franchise (see the Daily Show's coverage of India) - these basic understandings of sharing space with our human companions and acknowledging their common humanity with our own make us civilized.

Compassion and kindness start a solid foundation so that it holds all who need to be a part of our project. Build sensibly, fairly, and include kindness.

Day Twenty-Nine of the Omer

Chesed in Hod - loving-kindness in grace.

We open up this week of the Omer focusing on humility, grace, and smallness. A week of remembering that the role of the pixel is both vital and beautiful in its importance and tininess.

How we interact with our environment may be an exercise in compassion. We are so small our impact seems negligible. Yet each of our infinitely tiny actions makes a difference, as we each contribute ripple effects that expand our smallness in all directions.

I work to be compassionate to the planet, to my neighbors, and to my family.

Every small action still counts.

Day Twenty-Eight of the Omer

Malchut in Netzach - ruling and being effective in eternity.

Long term effectiveness - how to put something in place that stands the test of time - I often worry so much I don't dip a toe into the water.

And shouldn't we worry? Someone once thought that eating fat made us fat, so eating low fat would make us skinny. And a person who sold sugar thought that was a great idea. Forty years later look at the experiment that has resulted in the American diet and our health.

We must be careful when we act with eternity in mind, and perhaps we should always act with eternity in mind. The long term effect of this action, and acting with a sense of the long term, these frameworks may be better starting points in any moment of decision and planning.

Act, be bold, and be thoughtful too!

Day Twenty-Seven of the Omer

Yesod in Netzach - a solid balanced foundation in the long view persistent.

Building something to last needs a solid beginning. We have been building to the moments that turn into lifetimes in this country when we make marriage possible for everyone.

I am so proud and honored to be part of multiple communities who put compassion and family first, and support and advocate for LGBT inclusion and same-sex marriage.

I am thrilled when I see an openly gay football player kiss his boyfriend in joy and celebration at being drafted into the NFL.

Take the time and effort to build something from the ground up so that it will become lasting. Aim for eternity, and start on the ground.

Day Twenty-Six of the Omer (Yesterday)

Hod in Netzach - the grace of the minute in eternal victory.

[A delayed reflection on Mother's Day]

Attention to details matters. Small things make a difference in the biggest of pictures.

Yesterday, according to Ginny, the mother of our children, I did pretty well at providing her a good Mother's Day. Everything was about the small things: providing tasty and celebratory food for the family throughout the day, and cleaning up the kitchen too. Giving Ginny time and space to enjoy the day, start and complete an art project, now hanging in our living room, and attending to the little things that Ginny thought would be good for us all.

Providing a good day works when it reflects our attempts to provide good days all the time. The little details count so much more when we work on them regularly.

Day Twenty-Five of the Omer

Netzach in Netzach - the everlasting in the long view.

On this day when I was so honored to celebrate Shabbat with the Teen Vocal Ensemble and the Teen Band of Temple Beth El, I am deeply touched by how easily our actions can ripple forward and backward in time.

One of the first students I met here, Caleb Seidler, gave a D'var Torah, a teaching of Torah, about the importance of caring for the earth. As I have been honored to be his teacher, so he as one of our youth assistant teachers has been an influential teacher of my son Jude.

Our actions, our stories, our attempts at wisdom, they strike the fabric of time and weave a tapestry so quickly beyond our own individual threads.

I am in awe of it all.

Day Twenty-Four of the Omer

Tiferet in Netzach - balanced harmony in eternity.

As the harmonization between rigor and compassion, I fully embrace the challenge of attempting to be a parent for the long term, and how much that beautiful balance must be a part of it.

To set a standard, enforce it, and then when broken, be compassionate to our children so that they can learn and grow from the experience. So that they will still turn to us and not fear us too much. So that they can engage with the world and its rules as adventurers and not be oppressed by the weight of it all.

This is a challenge!

Day Twenty-Three of the Omer

Gevurah in Netzach - power and rigor in the creation of the long term.

We can easily imagine how creating something that lasts will require strength. The question is how to best apply that strength?

Strength in the long view needs to be consistent and flexible - when we plan past the five-year plan we need to tap into a different understanding of rigor, since we must be able to sustain it.

Find the strength that feels like a sequoia when thinking about eternity.

Day Twenty-Two of the Omer

[Applies to yesterday, from Tuesday night through Wednesday, May 6 - 7 - sorry for the delay!]

Chesed in Netzach - kindness and compassion in the ego everlasting.

My spiritual path often leads me into pendulum swings between devotion to self-care and selflessness. This week of the Omer asks us to explore Netzach, the sense of the eternal as personal, the notion that, with a little bit of ego, we can see the world as created entirely for ourselves.

With that message in one pocket, Jewish sages also remind us to keep the idea that we are nothing but dust and ashes in the other.

So I want to approach my self with compassion. If the things I care about are going to last, I need to treat them - ideas, emotions, people, my very self internally and externally - with kindness. Being kind to ourselves does not mean being selfish, it means that we need to see the bigger picture of our needs, both immediate and in the long term.

Day Twenty-One of the Omer

Malchut in Tiferet - sovereignty, where ideas meet reality, in the concept of beauty and balance.

Thinking leads to doing, and doing often undoes our thinking. Seldom do the best of our plans survive implementation, and so there is great humility in putting something out there and seeing what happens next.

Let us not fear reality-testing our ideas, let us put them forward boldly, and accept their alteration when they leave our heads and hearts and connect with others.

Something truly beautiful happens when we release the concept to be transformed by conversations that take place beyond the place of genesis.

Day Twenty of the Omer

Yesod in Tiferet - a solid foundation in the balance of compassion and rigor.

High ideals and values - caring and justice, self and community - can often dominate my thinking when at some point I must entertain how the thing actually applies - where is the solid footing of my grand plan?

As a person who spends much time deliberating, turning those deliberations into something that can be concretely implemented often comes as a wake-up call.

So, aim high and think deeply, and then embrace the need to have a foundation, a connection to the ground on which the plan will happen, we hope.

Day Nineteen of the Omer

Hod in Tiferet - grace and smallness in balance and harmony.

Composing thousands of seemingly irrelevant tiny details into a harmonious and beautiful whole - this is the stuff of artists and facilitators of all sorts.

Finding that one small thing, that one shard of our being, or someone else's essential contribution, that may contribute to a balanced outcome, there we discover a vital smallness in something beautiful.

Overcome the noise and the distractions and notice that detail that makes the difference. I try to thank the source of the idea or innovation once I've found it too.

Day Eighteen of the Omer

Netzach in Tiferet - eternity and victory, even ego, in balanced harmony.

I usually default to selflessness when thinking about achieving balance. Call it a corrective to the notion that I have been less caring about others in the past.

Still, self-care, self-protection, and even an appropriate degree of self-interest help balance any evaluation, when we want our part to be successful too.

Include reasonable self-concern when aiming for long term success.

Day Seventeen of the Omer

[From earlier in the day.]

Tiferet in Tiferet - beauty, balance, and harmony, in itself.

Tiferet also implies the harmonizing of love and structure, Chesed and Gevurah.

Every mixture needs to be balanced - to find that harmony we have to have the idea of it in mind, a goal, a hope.

We make progress when we aim high - start with a balanced vision.

Day Sixteen of the Omer

Gevurah in Tiferet - strength and discipline in beauty.

This seems like an easily supported cultural pairing. The world today easily acknowledges the power, discipline, and strength, that support the core of publicly accepted people and objects of beauty.

In forging a life that aims at harmonious balance though, I often imagine myself using gentler qualities than strength. I think of my psyche as something that I am often too hard on, and therefore need to handle more carefully.

Accomplishing a beautiful and balanced result may take strength and discipline judiciously applied over a long time. Let us remember that the finest works are often crafted over decades, and not in mere minutes.

Day Fifteen of the Omer

Chesed in Tiferet - Compassion in harmoniously balanced beauty.

Our Omer Counting asks us to begin each of our value reflections with compassion and caring. Start with that, and then we have a chance of things working out.

Tiferet, like any representation of beauty, may be susceptible to being over-simplified. When we look at beauty starting with compassion, perhaps a vital aspect will be to kindly inject complexity.

"It's complicated" can be a way of implying something is beautiful in a way that can't be explained. We can offer complexity as a sign that we care, that we understand that the difficulties on the surface may be getting in the way of seeing the harmony within.

Kindness and complexity contribute to a deep sense of beauty.

Day Fourteen of the Omer

Malchut in Gevurah - sovereignty, mastering the now, in power, strength, and discipline.

Getting something done with firmness and strength requires a realistic assessment of the needs for force.

In the moment, we often find ourselves rising to the occasion and thinking that taking the bull by the horns, moving something by force of will, will be effective. Our instinct is often to meet things head on.

So, being present and being thoughtful about the use of strength, is the task we face in the now. Mastery may mean a deep breath before a reaction. Effective agency, reacting in the present, requires careful and thoughtful application of our personal power.

Let us gain rule over our discipline.