I like to do all my laundry before I pack for a trip. I like to have all the dishes done before I start cooking. I like things to be ready when I’m about to start something new, like a cake or a year. When I wrote songs, I used to say I needed to be clear in my head so I could hear the new song come through. I haven’t written a lot of music lately, no great surprise!
The calendar says it’s time for a New Year. It’s time for retrospection, soul-searching, turning and turning again. The word of the week is “teshuva”, which can be translated so many ways. It comes from the root word for “turn”. It’s often translated as repentence, but it’s more like re-turning. What else is repentance but re-calibrating oneself? And so, for the last month now, Jewish blogs and sites have been filled with inspiring and thoughtful pearls of wisdom and guidance, so I can begin this new year with renewed hope and joy.
Frankly, this year it’s hard to muster it all up. As some of you know, I began this blog after losing my job, one I loved, and here I am to my own surprise and dismay, a year later, still in a job search. I didn’t expect this. It’s been really hard, and everything you hear about people struggling with this stage (please God make it just a stage!!) of life is true. How can I start something new when things are still so unsettled? And for those of you more poetic people who want to reassure me, saying “unsettled” is the perfect soil for new growth…um , you’re probably right, but I’m tired of proving it for you.
One bright spot, however, has been this blog. The weekly deadline to look at the Torah portion, to squeeze out some insights that make sense to thoughtful people from all sorts of backgrounds, has provided me some structure, and as many of you know, I really like structure. Some weeks are easier than others. Some portions are easier than others. But either way, the text opened its paper door and gently insisted I sit down for a chat.
This year, I’m working the Holidays; honored to be leading several different sacred communities in prayer and music. I’m happy for the opportunities, and enjoy stretching newer kinds of musical and prayer muscles, finding another way to serve the Jewish community . But it’s also unsettling, turning the Holidays into gig-after-gig scheduling, instead of deep, quiet, calming moments.
I’ll have lots of family around this year, which makes me very happy. My Haifa-dwelling sister will be here, as will one of her sons, all my kids, people who started out as “strays” who now are home here with us, assorted girl/boy friends, and many are staying here. All of this joyous disorder makes for even fewer chances to grab some quiet, calming moments.
So what to do? With all the cooking and cleaning and rehearsing and anxiety, what if I’m just not in the mood to start a New Year, with kavanah (intention)? Must I rely on keva (structure) and hope the feelings come through?
Actually, yes. The blessing of tradition is it gives you a framework to work with, at a time when your emotions have to catch up. So I will sing and hear the melodies that speak straight to my soul. I will converse with Sarah as she struggles with her family, and makes distressing choices. I will visit Abraham as he tries to understand where his limits are; Hannah will teach me again that children are one long letting-go, and Jonah will remind me that you can’t run so far away from yourself.
Until it’s time for the Creation story, Jewish Gems will be taking a break….unless, of course, a profound thought and the time to write about it both show up! For now, I wish you a sweet and healthy, happy and prosperous Year. May you be inscribed for a good life.