Leaders Don’t Lead Alone

I’m not ready.

Taking a walk today, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of unpreparedness for the Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, and yes all of my music is in order, yes I have prepared everything I’m going to say, yes the choir and musicians have been rehearsed, and yes our Torah chanter is amazing (she really is!).   The “me” that is the hardworking, organizing, “CEO” of Cool Shul is definitely ready, but what about the me that is a wife, mother, daughter, friend, and spiritual leader?  Is she ready?  Am I as prepared inside as I am on the outside?  The answer is no.

Who am I to think I could or should lead others?  Who am I, so full of flaws and stress and worries, to think I have any business telling others how to process their own? Here I am, full of doubts and fears as it relates to personal and career matters, the earth’s wellness, and (of course!) national and international affairs.   I don’t have any answers, much less all of them!  I’m as confused as the next guy (ok, gal).  So, what profound thing am I supposed to say at the Holy Days that hasn’t already been said about Charlottesville or the hurricanes or the government or the world, when here I stand without any prescriptions for remedies?  Who the (bleep!) do I think I am to lead anyone? 

Maybe I’m weak.

Or… maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

We know what it’s like when leaders forget that their roles are to serve the people and not vice-versa.  We have all experienced occasions on which people in powerful positions, be they teachers, clergy, bosses, or (gulp!) politicians, are no longer humbled by their opportunities to lead and make decisions to benefit themselves more than others (even if they can’t see it).  I suppose it’s healthier to be nervous about my ability to lead than overconfident.  So, maybe I’m perfectly hesitant, right where I should be.

At the Holy Days, the Cantor chants Hineni, a text in which we spiritual leaders admit that we are not strong enough to take on the responsibilities of the community.  We admit that we are afraid in the face of our leadership.  We cry out loud that we are here, but that we are humbled before the task at hand.  I suppose that is just where I am.  And that’s okay.  I have always thought that Rabbis (or any other spiritual leaders for that matter) aren’t supposed to be expected to (or act as if) they have all the answers.  We are simply humans with positive and less positive traits.  We search our tradition for our own answers, but we truly can only share with our communities where we are in our own learning. We don’t have all the answers (and if we say we do, run!).  So, Hineni, here I am, humbled before the task to lead my community through these days, but ready to share what I have discovered.  Nothing more.  But also nothing less.

These Holy Days, I will be honored by each and every presence before me who invites me into their spiritual realms.  But I will also ask you to lead too. Every educator knows that students often teach as much as they learn.  I promise to try to lift my community up and share a thing or two, but I hope you will also do the same for me and the person sitting next to you.  Let’s all teach and share.  Great leaders don’t lead alone, and I can’t wait to hear about your journeys.

Join me, either in person or online these Holy Days.  We will be in Temescal Canyon, inspired by the trees peeking through the windows of Cheadle/Woodland Hall.

Reserve a place at our Holy Days Here. http://www.coolshul.org/event/highholydays

Become my “friend” on Facebook so you can see our live stream here. https://www.facebook.com/diane.o.rose.9

A special thank you to my friend who delivers meals for Meals on Wheels with me every week and who inspired this blog.  Today she led me. 🙂GREAT_LEADERS

“Harvester” (one of Diane’s sermons)

Blessings and Prayers…

Oh boy! There is nothing more exciting to a group of Jews than a sermon about blessings and prayers.   🙂

But I really do want us during our Holy Days together to think about opening ourselves up to the structures of Blessings and Prayers.  It’s difficult, I know.  I find it difficult too.  We say a bunch of words and kind of wait for something emotional to happen, and it just doesn’t.  But, honestly, isn’t it naive to think that we live in a kind of Harry Potter world where we can simply say a few words and expect some kind of spiritual magic to happen to us?  Like anything else, spiritual connection takes practice and a willingness to be a full participant in the activity… just like painting, writing, or math, even becoming the first string Quarterback for the LA Rams (lookin’ at you Goff). 

Of course, over the Holy Days we get lots and lots of practice saying blessings and prayers.  But the openness to the experience is what I suspect we may continue to need to work on. And, believe me, I speak to myself as much (if not more) than I speak to you.   Finding a connection to Blessings and Prayers can truly be a frustrating task.

So, why do we think prayer is so difficult?  It is because we feel pressure to believe in something or not believe in something?  Maybe, so I’m going to invite you to live in the unknown, to embrace the ambiguous.  Connecting to a blessing or a prayer does not actually require belief in anything as we will see.  So, if you feel like you aren’t ready to commit to a belief structure of any sort, don’t!  But also don’t assume that blessings and prayers are beyond your reach, because they aren’t.

Perhaps part of our hang-ups is the ancient language, the prayer formula, we use in Judaism: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam,  Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the Universe…  The Masculine forms of the words Blessed, You, and of course, King make God male.  That can give some of us pause.  So, maybe we switch it to the feminine?  Baruchah At Shechina, Eloheinu Malkat ha-olam?  Sure, that’s kind of nice.  And now God is in the feminine.  But then we have excluded half of the population again, and we have lost the connection we feel by uttering the same formula that has been used since Talmudic times.  Perhaps it isn’t even the gender of God but this image of God as royalty ruling over us.  Many of us don’t relate to that image.  But, literal understanding of these words is not necessary or even encouraged to connect to prayer.  Our ancient authors likened God to the most important human form they could come up with, not because it was to be taken literally.  So, let’s move beyond the formula and know they did the best they could.

Maybe we just reject the words Blessing and Prayer on their own.  Maybe they call up too many uncomfortable memories from negative experiences in a synagogue or a church or with some insensitive clergy.  Maybe those words make us feel old or from another time.  Plus we are back to the start of this conversation about belief.  After all, if we’re not sure what we believe in, who the heck are we praying to?? 

We all struggle to varying degrees at different phases of our lives to get beyond all of these words and find a way to own them in authentic ways.  And there is no way I can solve this issue for all of us during these Holy Days.  But I do want to at least attempt to open up our minds a little bit, beyond word formulas and hang-ups, and I’ll start by showing you a photograph…

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This is a photograph taken by the photographer Erik Castro, of a worker right after he finished his day in Sonoma County picking grapes at a winery, now set to return to his home in Mexico.  This is one of many photos of Sonoma County grape-pickers taken by Castro and shown in his exhibition called “Harvester.”

I came upon this series of photos in the LA Times when it was reported that Governor Jerry Brown passed legislation that would gradually, by the year 2022, require farmworkers to receive overtime after an 8 hour day rather than after a 10 hour one, or after 40 total hours per week.

But what does this all have to do with prayer and blessings?  Well, I figured, in an attempt to practice opening ourselves to prayer, we could start with one of the most well known and widely used blessings, the blessing over wine.  Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p-ree hagafen.  Blessed are You, Adonai, Our God, Sovereign of the Universe, creator of fruit of the vine.  Easy enough to say.  Harder to find a true spiritual connection to it.   But when we say that blessing, we are blessing ALL that went into the cups in our hands.  We are blessing the earth, the sky, the sun, the wind and the rain.  We are blessing the soil, the seeds, and the many generations of seeds that came before.  We are blessing the owners of the land and all that went into their being alive and able to own and cultivate that land.  We bless the machinery, the drip lines, the tractor, the baskets, the stakes in the ground, and all that went into creating those supplies.

And, of course, we are blessing the hands that picked those grapes as well as the eyes and hearts and souls that belong to those hands.  We bless their parents and grandparents who sacrificed for them, and we bless the spouses and children who miss them while they are away from home. 

THIS is what a blessing is all about.  THIS is what prayer is all about.  It’s stopping time for just long enough to connect to an understanding that we will never, ever be able to appreciate enough every one, every thing, every accident, every happenstance that led to that single moment…. be it a moment of nourishment or drink or lighting candles or wearing a tallit or praying to the Unknowable.  We are losing ourselves in gratitude and finding humility in this Great Dance.  We are Blessing God as the source of all that got us to this time… so your God can be a king or a queen… or an energy, or light, or nature, or love, or space, or luck, or a dance… God is however you define the Source of that experience.

So, I’m going to invite you to view many images of those workers who head north from Mexico to Sonoma County to pick grapes so that the bottles of wine we bless may exist.  While you look at each image, hear the blessing over the wine ringing in your ears.

May these faces find better working conditions with this new legislation, and may we think of  them the next time the words Baruch Atah Adonai emerge from our lips.  Let’s practice feeling how deeply a blessing can go.

View Erik Castro’s collection “Harvester” here.

Join Cool Shul for Yom Kippur by going to our High Holy Day page.

It is Only a Door

At Cool Shul’s Evening service for Rosh Hashanah, we imagined ourselves standing in front of a closed door.  We imagined that on the other side of that door was something or someone that would change our lives forever.  For the children, maybe they imagined a newly painted bedroom, or a new friend.  Maybe they saw a new baby brother or saw themselves getting ready to walk into their first day of school.  For the adults, perhaps they pictured the door to a new career or a new home or a long lost friend.

During these Holy Days, we have a door right in front of us, and we have to choose whether or not to walk through.  If we enter, we are going to have to take a good, hard look at ourselves.  We are going to ask ourselves to move forward with at least one little baby step toward our best selves.  We are going to search for the parts of our lives we may have lost along our ways.

But we have to walk through the door for anything to change, and it’s a little frightening to do so.  It is way easier to turn and run and leave it closed just as it is.

The poet, Adrienne Rich said, “Either you will go through this door or you will not go through.  If you go through, there is always the risk of remembering your name… The door itself makes no promises.  It is only a door.”

During Rosh Hashanah, my new community and I cracked that door open, peeked inside, and began brainstorming what first actions we could all take.  We shared the many ways we know we can improve ourselves, our relationships, and the world.  We made a commitment to at least start that process by Yom Kippur, and when we gather again next week we are going to share what we have accomplished so far.

If you weren’t with us for Rosh Hashanah (even if you aren’t Jewish!), I invite you also to close your eyes for a moment and imagine a door before you.  The door is closed tight, and you have to make the decision to reach out and turn that knob for it to open.  You can turn away and choose to keep the door closed, or you can face this fearful moment, hear the click of the latch, and face your true self.  And if you so choose, share with me what you discover.

I hope those of you without spiritual homes will join us for Yom Kippur as we continue along this spiritually renewing path.  Holding a mirror up to oneself is terrifying alone, but it’s easier together. Our services are short and sweet, in beautiful Temescal Canyon, family friendly, and we even have childcare.  Tickets are purchased by donation, and there is a place on the site to purchase tickets at our suggested donation price and also a place to name your own price at the bottom.

Sign up here: https://coolshulhihotx.eventbrite.com

Have a sweet and happy new year,
Cantor Diane

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Returning to Healthy Relationships

Right now, I have an old friend who is really hurting… and there is nothing I can do about it.

Well, that’s not exactly true.  I could do something about it, but swooping in to “save the day” would mean re-entering into a relationship that isn’t healthy for me. Ever have one of those?  Sometimes we can care deeply about someone but also know that we have a dynamic that brings one or both of us to a sunken place. Such is the case here, and as much as I want to put on my superhero cape, I know that for my well-being, I need to keep my distance.

Why is it so tempting to jump back into unbalanced relationships?  What is it that keeps us crawling back for more?  We know we would be better off without certain people, yet we just can’t stop ourselves from being drawn back in.

I have often heard it explained that this attraction comes from missing our own dramas. The stresses we feel and the struggles we endure feed our visions of our basic identities.  We don’t know who we are without the pain, and as relieved as we are when we find ourselves pain free, we also don’t know how to live without it.   After all, if I’m not the person in that hostile relationship or living in that abusive environment, who am I?  The distress helps us feel alive.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about my old friend as I prepare for the High Holy Days because a major theme of the these days is “returning”.  Teshuva is often described as “repentance,” but it actually means “to return,” specifically (in a traditional sense) returning home to God.   In exploring these themes of regret and “coming home,” I find myself attracted again to that uncomfortable friendship. There is much to be sorry for in my behavior, and I hope my friend feels the same. That’s the repentance piece. And, in a way, being in the embrace of this relationship fills an identity gap and makes me feel like I’m “home,” maybe just not an ideal one. So is Teshuva asking me to return to this friend in order to try and fix both of our damaged souls?  Is that what I need to do in order to get closer to Truth?

I don’t think so.

I believe the idea of Teshuva means quite the opposite.  “Coming home to God” is arriving in a place, maybe for the first time, that encourages inner peace. How do we find our way home?  I think when we can hush the chatter in our minds and the rapid beating of our hearts for a moment, most of us can hear at least a whisper toward the road less travelled that leads us away from dysfunction. As much as we would like to change those people (or even help them), we usually can’t and can only truly change ourselves. Teshuva is not about flying back into the eye of a storm, no matter how tempting, but about learning from our past patterns and not falling into the same traps we slipped into so many times before.  It’s about saying, “Stop!” to ourselves, and not to anyone else.  It’s about “coming home” to an emotionally healthy place even if we’ve never been “home” before.  It’s about learning to feel alive without the pain.

I know, that in the long run, my friend will truly not be better off if I swoop in like a superhero and try to make the problems go away.  My friend has to make it through a difficult time, and as much as I care, those burdens are not mine to bare.  I have to be careful and restrain my instinct to “return,” because if I do, when I realize I’m participating in a draining drama again, I will have no one to blame but myself.

For these Holy Days, my personal exploration is going to be about my inclination to jump into situations that overwhelm me.  My whole life, I have somehow stumbled into being in over my head, and I continually lose sight of the real prize… a healthy me.  It may sound selfish, but if I’m not healthy in body, mind, and spirit, what use am I to my family, my friends, or the people I serve?  This is teshuva.

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If you are searching like I am, and don’t have a spiritual home for the Holy Days, I welcome you to join us as we walk through a “returning” together.  For information about and tickets for Cool Shul’s High Holy Day services, click here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cool-shul-kehillah-sababah-high-holy-days-services-tickets-18103234261

 

This image came from the blog: https://karmawaves.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/blessings-roll-call-check-in-on-the-baal-teshuva-contemplation/

Teshuva

Yom Kippur/Forgiveness and the Major Scale

L’Shana Tovah everyone!!

Thought I would share the “mini-sermon” I gave at our Kol Nidre service.  Enjoy!

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I was taking a walk with my music in shuffle mode. I usually listen on shuffle because often, something I would have never chosen, pops up and inspires me.

Last week, I took a walk and a choral piece called “Solfeggio”, by Arvo Part, filled my headphones. This piece is nothing more than a major scale sung on “do re mi” in a long crescendo. That’s it. But each voice part sustains its note while the next emerges. Sometimes it’s the note right next to it, sometimes it’s the same pitch an octave away. The result isn’t simple the way a piece using the major scale usually is. It’s incredibly dissonant.

As the piece continues, the notes are held longer, the crescendo grows and grows, the dissonances make the space, the ears, the whole body vibrate as magnificent crunches and clusters wash over the listener. It is an unbelievable work of art.

I conducted this piece once with an adult community choir. After the concert, a woman in the audience told me I had “no business doing that atonal music.” I smiled at her and said, “But it’s a major scale.”

Of course I knew what she meant. The major scale is so obvious. So lovely. So easy. Yet, it can be complicated, dissonant, a little uncomfortable, even (as I think it was for that lady) threatening.

Just like saying “I’m sorry.”

Here we are on the eve of the day dedicated to “I’m sorry’s”. So simple, so beautiful, and yet a little uncomfortable… Maybe even downright scary.

When we started our process of self examination at Selichot, we read in the prayer book the variety of sins we needed to consider, and it was painful. Hearing and speaking them made me want to escape. For the sins I know I have committed, it felt way easier to run away than to face the “I’m sorry’s” that I owe. At the same time, I also felt a different pain because I believe some of those sins were perpetrated against me, and I fear no “I’m sorry” is ever coming my way. And even if it did, can we forgive all things?

But guess what? Yom Kippur is not only about saying I’m sorry. It is also about forgiveness… Not God’s forgiveness. Our forgiveness.

In the book “To Be a Jew” by Hayim Halevy Donin, he wrote in his chapter about the Holy Days:

“Where attempts to pacify take place, the grieved party must feel it incumbent upon himself to extend forgiveness with a full heart. If he stubbornly persists in refusing to be pacified, he is regarded as cruel.”

Repentance is a two way street. There is an action and a necessary reaction.

It is said that we need to treat all people as if they are the Messiah. We consider this notion easily when we see someone in need. But I often think, that if such a test was to be sent, the Messiah would come in the form of a person I can’t stand. A person who hurts me. A person who creates stress in me. How would I handle the conflict If that person was the Messiah?

Let’s all think about the people in our lives with whom we have unfinished emotional business. Let’s Include those we have wronged and those who have wronged us… very often they are one in the same, aren’t they? Let’s even close our eyes, empty our thoughts, and really see them in our mind’s eyes. It can be stressful to invite them into our space, but let’s be brave and try. And let’s not forget to include ourselves, because I bet all of us had moments when we were harsh and unforgiving to ourselves.

Now, let’s send them an apology, right here and now… if for nothing else, simply for the fact that tension exists. Let’s experiment with sending them forgiveness too, no matter what the sin, and open our minds to accepting those people, faults and all. Let’s shake their hands. Let’s agree to disagree. Let’s understand them for who they are and be honest with ourselves about who we are. Let’s say to them, right here, right now, out loud: “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.” Maybe one of them is the Messiah.

Now, in reality, there is probably no Messiah in our midst, and the apologies we are waiting for may never come. But in some ways, it doesn’t matter. If we release ourselves from the anguish of holding on to old hurts, then we are free of them no matter what is said or not said. And now that we are a little less burdened, maybe we are also a little less afraid to say our face to face “I’m sorry’s,” the ones we owe to the world, to ourselves and to each other.

Yom Kippur is a difficult day without comforts or nourishment. But let’s not get so stuck in the discomfort that we miss that it is, in fact, a beautiful day. What a gift to be together, supporting one another as we face our errors but also look forward to a life renewed. That choral piece wouldn’t have been a work of art if it was only simple. The discomfort is what makes it hauntingly, stunningly beautiful.

May our discomforts in the day ahead lead to our lives being works of art.

Ameyn.

Rosh Hashanah/Do I have to believe in something?

I was sitting on the bima Rosh Hashanah morning, with my white robe on, warmed up, instruments set, prayer book in front of me, microphone on, and… I was just not “feelin’ it.”  I was exhausted from the service the night before.  My voice felt like there was a film covering it, and a similar film was inhibiting my brain from full function.  How was I going to go where I mentally, emotionally, spiritually and musically had to go in order to serve this moment as it needed to be served for the community and myself?  I wasn’t sure, but it was 9:30 am, so we began.

As the prayer service started, I sang and smiled and kept an open mind.  Then I stood up to sing Ahavah Rabah, which means “abundant love,” and when I looked down at those words, they leaped off the page.  I’ve sung this many times before, but this time I felt a rush of abundant love flow through me.  The sensation was energetic, buoyant, all-encompassing.  It was as if God jumped inside of me to say, “Don’t worry, girl.  I’m here now.  You’re good to go.”  For the next three hours, I prayed, deeply and completely while I sang.

So, let’s talk about belief.  Do I really believe that the abundant love of God reached inside of me and helped me connect to the liturgy and my body so that I and my community would have a wonderful cantorial experience?  Nah, not really.  But it sure felt good, so does it matter?  Something important happened, I just don’t know what.  Maybe I was simply able to empty my mind.  Maybe I played a “trick” on myself to help me go where I needed to go.  Maybe, for that moment, I “believed.”

I think we all worry too much about whether or not we “believe” in something.  To me, belief is not black and white.  Belief isn’t a light bulb that is either on or off.  Belief fades in at certain times of our lives and fades out at others. True believers have moments of doubt and complete non-believers have moments when life encourages them to believe in something.  It’s normal and natural to be somewhere on this sliding scale.  Belief is personal, ever-evolving, ineffable.  I can’t answer whether or not I believe in something easily, can you?  In fact, when someone once asked me (with more than a little skepticism in her tone) what I believe in, I told her that I believe in “possibility.”  That was as good as I could do.

If we wait to believe in something before we make an effort at a spiritual endeavor, we may wait forever.  Sometimes we have to put ourselves in spiritual situations, with open hearts and minds, and see what emerges.  You don’t have to believe in God to say a blessing, you don’t have to believe in God to acknowledge Shabbat, and you don’t have to believe in God to participate in traditions.  Say that blessing and know that, if nothing else, it encourages us to be mindfully grateful for the food, the drink, the holiday, the moment before us.  Take that “separate day” as a Shabbat to rest your mind, body,and soul, and if nothing else, you’ll be rested!  Eat the matzah, and if nothing else, celebrate that you are free.  No God required.  But if you find a little belief sneaks in, enjoy it, envelop yourself in it, and don’t judge yourself when it flies away as quickly as it came.

Whether or not you are Jewish or are attending any High Holy Day services, a Happy New Year, Shana Tovah, to everyone.  Every day is a good day to start over.

Diane

P.S. I know my first posting was about Shabbat, and I promise to continue with that theme, but with the High Holy Days being here, I needed to take a side trip.  We’ll get back to the main road in October.  🙂