October 8, 2009

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 4:26 pm by Megan

From the first day of the month of Elul through Hoshana Raba (coming this weekend to a Jewish community near you!), we add Psalm 27 to the liturgy. I figured out over the summer that before bed is my best time for prayer, so I’ve been saying that psalm before falling asleep for the last month and a half. After Saturday, i think I’m going to miss it.

The most famous (or, at least, most frequently-sung) snippet of this psalm begins אחת שאלתי- I have asked one thing.
“one thing have I asked of GOD one goal do I pursue: to dwell in the ETERNAL’s house throughout my days,
to know the bliss of THE SUBLIME, to visit in God’s temple.” (translation by Joel Rosenberg)

It’s a lovely snippet, with many beautiful melodies written for it, and in years past I have walked around singing it over and over, pondering what it means to dwell in the house of God.

This year, however, I’ve been struck by the juxtaposition of another set of verses:
“For my father and mother have abandoned me,
But THE LIVING ONE shall take me in.

Teach me your way, WISE ONE, and guide me in a just path as I meet my foes.”

What isn’t immediately obvious in the translation is that the Hebrew word for teach me – הורני – is closely related to the modern Hebrew word for parents – הורים.

One way of reading those verses is “my own parents will leave me, but God will take over their role.” What on Earth does that mean?

It is true that, unless we and they are very, very unlucky, our parents will most likely predecease us. We will have to learn, eventually, how to function in the world without their particular protection and love and, more generally, without the generational buffer, the comfort of knowing that there are people in the world older than we are, with more knowledge and experience and wisdom. Some day, those elders will be us.

And if we are the elders, if we are those with wisdom and experience and knowledge (a terrifying thought, at least some days), who do we turn to for advice? For direction? For comfort?

The psalm tells us that we should turn to God.

In my theology and in my experience, God, most of the time,is not a Person with whom we can talk. Experiences of the Divine are there in moments of connection with other people, in service (in all the multiple layered meanings of that word), in the things we do that bring us outside of ourselves and our egos.

So when (may it be many, many years from now) I am faced with the loss of those I love most in the generation that raised me, I hope I will be able to turn outward rather than in, and find comfort and guidance in community, in connection, in all of the moments and experiences that I call God.



  1. I just had the chance to translate that psalm, for my psalms tutorial, and was really struck by the הורים / הורני resonance. (That’s part of what makes the psalms such great poetry, I think.)

    It’s interesting to me to hear you say that in your experience/theology, God is not a person to whom we can talk. In my Torah study session yesterday morning with the local rabbinic chevre, one of my colleagues (a musmach of your seminary!) was talking about the importance — per Buber — of not just talking about God, but talking to God. What might it change in us if we tried to cultivate that?

    But what I’m hearing you say is that the I/Thou relationship is central for you — you find it in encounters with the human Others behind and within whom we find the ultimate Other.

    • Megan said,

      I am not at all surprised that you picked up on the one sentence I am most ambivalent about in this post. I do, in my own private prayer practice, occasionally talk to God. Those conversations are in tension with my belief in God as process/Universe/that-which-is-beyond-human-understanding. I’m generally okay with that.

      I think that cultivating a practice of talking to God, of opening one’s heart in prayer, is a useful and important thing. I just worry about the dangers of a) talking to God so much that we forget to talk to other people and b) mistaking the voice of our own ego for the voice of God. I guess this is why I prefer to look for God in human/this-worldly Others – those Others are generally less likely to tell us what we think we want to hear.

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