Rabbinic spirituality

Talking about People

 Three times in the last week I’ve had the occasion to speak about people. During a wedding, I described the relationship between the couple: what made them special as a couple, and unique as individuals. During a funeral, I gave a eulogy, describing the life of the deceased and what gave meaning to his life. During a bar mitzvah, I described the special gifts of the young men, focusing on how those gifts may serve them and others in the future. In each case, at least one person came up afterwards and informed me that I’d gotten that description just perfect.

When someone tells me I’ve gotten that right, it feels great. I work hard to try to find the heart of the people I’m working with, and sometimes I’m not sure how well I’m succeeding. I see what I think is the important parts, but do others see them as important? Is it even a side of them that they show to people other than the rabbi? Almost always the answer is, “yes,” but I am nervous enough about it that I find it wonderful to be told I got it right.

What I love most about the process is the ability to reflect  back at people a vision of their loved ones. This is a vision which they recognize, but which highlights people’s best, and hopefully, most central qualities. I help all involved see the person or people I’m describing in a way that is both true and meaningful. I’ve captured the essence of the person, and put it into a context which makes that essence good and important. When I get it right, it is a powerful experience for all involved, especially including me.

What I’ve realized in the last week is that all three of these lifecycle events, wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, are  fundamentally about love. Wedding is obviously about love of the couple for each other, but it is also about the love of those gathered for the couple. And that is the part of love that is present in all the events. A funeral is largely about the love of the survivors for the deceased (and of the deceased for the survivors). A bar mitzvah is about a family’s love for the young adult. Love tends to be the central aspect of lifecycle events, and part of why they are so much fun, so rewarding and so stressful.

On another topic entirely: Daylight Savings.
I feel like I’m really getting the first morning of daylight savings time experience. I got up this morning at 7 and it was still dark. A beautiful drive down to Salem. Pretty much clear skies, with an occasionally stunning view of Mount Hood in the distance. Very nice sunrise. As I got closer to Salem, there was some scattered low fog (really more like a ground hugging mist), until I was in Salem, and then hit some true fog. A very pretty morning.

I’m getting ready for a full day, teaching Sunday school, teaching adult Hebrew, meeting with some folks about a wedding. I definitely feel like there’s a little less pressure on my schedule now that the Bar Mitzvah is done.


Pictures of Spring

As previously promised, pictures of spring:


This is a daffodil. I’m rather fond of it, and there are a number coming up right now. Daffodils are pretty, and I’m pleased by that.


Above, you will note forsythia. As previously mentioned, forsythia are exuberant in color, which I find distinctly lovely at this time of year. Go forsythia.


Our camellias are pink, which would not have been my first choice, but at this point, I’ll take flowers in almost any color.

As you can (hopefully) tell by my captions, I remain tired and a bit on the punchy side. But it will get better.


Walking Through Peace

I just spent about an hour and half wandering through the Japanese Garden in Portland. It’s a spectacular garden no matter what time of year you visit. In the summer it is verdant and green, with bright colors of flowers bursting out. In the fall the palette tends towards reds and oranges. The spring is a lighter green color, with the pastels of the spring flowers. The winter is when the garden is at its least colorful. Today there were a variety of greens, from the boughs of cedars and firs, the forest green of camellias, the sage green of most of the mosses. There were a few pale pink flowers bursting off what might have been dwarf cherry trees, and some camellia flowers.

What I love about the Japanese Gardens is the way in which they encourage you to stop and contemplate what you are seeing. The goal is not to walk through quickly, but to stop and see as much as you can in what is there. To look at the patterns in the rock gardens, to see how the moss curves around the rocks, and how the rocks are placed amid the grasses. To appreciate how sparsely the bamboo is growing, and admire the work which must be required to keep the bamboo from taking over the entire area. To appreciate the twisted branches of the trees, which have been carefully trimmed and trained into a specific form.

The Japanese Garden is designed to encourage a sort of observation and mindfulness which is too often absent from our lives. We do not take the time in everyday life to notice the feel of different surfaces under our shoes…the transition from a slab of stone to gravel to packed dirt. The garden encourages you to notice these transitions, to be aware of how each feels differently as you plant your feet upon it.

The Japanese Garden is a highly artificial natural environment. It is constructed oh so carefully by humans to create an experience, but is build entirely out of natural growing features, as well as stone and water. It is a place of contemplation and peace, and among my favorite places in Portland.


Morning Drive

Driving down to Salem for religious school this morning, there was frost on the ground. Driving down I-5, through the valley, the flat fields are covered in the white of frost, like a lace cover. The sky is a pinkish grey, the fields a white-ish brown. Wisps of fog touch the top of the evergreens, clinging to them, stretching across the road. A moment of quiet and beauty as I move down the road at 65 mile per hour. I turn off the audio book I was listening to and watch the world move past me.

Just wanted to share a moment from the day.