If last week’s siege of the U.S. Capitol building underscored anything, it’s that America, like us all, exists in fluidity, spiral, and cycle.
America speaks her own ambiguities and complexities. And we are to listen. We are to listen to her urging. We are to be about the questions while too many are merely about the answers.
As we stand in the days between two presidents, America’s fertility is palpable. Am I alone in the holy act of howling, seeking, and being? I sense a 21st Century consciousness, a spiritual yearning unlike ever before as this land wrestles with itself. And we feel the ache in our collective hip like Yaakov; we are eager to take on a new name like Israel; we too have the chance to twist ourselves into a new nation at daybreak.
Our Whitman-esque multitudinous arises in this somewhat liminal song of ourselves, and it is as refreshing as a new leaf of grass. For in that titular tiny blade saluting from the soil, we hear possibility. But first we hear the ugliness of the ages — the Camp Auschwitz crew, the filthy remnants of white supremacy, the rage that monsters about from years of idolatry, the most base of the base unleashed in torrent.
What happened on January 6, 2021, was the opposite of poetry.
I imagine Whitman turning his bearded face as their boots attempted to stomp his single leaf of grass, his flag of hope and freedom and peace and equality. But every one of us watched and listened. Make no mistake — we heard the cacophony of hate’s song that day. But we sing a different song no matter how parched our throats may be from not just four years but hundreds of years of injustice in this country.
Our song marks the birth of a paradigm shift, and we are all the midwifes. Our lyrics tell of the outrageous beauty in democracy’s potential, in the opportunity we have in the coming days to dig into this fertile soil and create, restructure, build, tear down, and build again to the rhythm of a new American anthem. One that cracks open the seeds of hate, stares inside, and knowing what it will grow to be, replaces it with seeds of the olive tree, the sycamore, and the strong oak whose branches heave love.
But the brutality of life, you say. What about that? No paradigm shift toward love can stop the the cosmic suffering, you argue.
And I say yes, and I say so howl through it. As I have done, and do, and will do. Howl through the contractions of your days because life’s majestic expansion, America’s majestic expansion, is its rebirth.
But I urge that we all howl in order to seek, ultimately to seek Hashem. And seek in order to be. To exist as marpeh lashon, etz chayim of Proverbs 15. And we do that by finding space, listening, and breathing into the liminality of the day in order to do the necessary, difficult, and holy work of creation, the creation of a people we want to become, far from last week’s hideous culmination of who we have been.
But creation, the real stuff of creation, is a study in rebellion, a topic not so unfamiliar as we continue to fight this global pandemic. Rebellion is quite simply a lifting of our chins — chin up the saying goes. Think of the great stories of chin-lifters over the centuries — the Jews in Egyptian captivity looked up toward Hashem, up toward their blood-smeared door frames. Those who suffered and died in the Shoah, those who suffered and survived through the Shoah are reason enough for us all to raise our chins as we stare down the barrel of insurrection, hatred, and violence.
Chin up! What a battle cry for us today. What a concept for the Israelites, for the Am Yisrael, that the Jewish people still exist — what more glorious act of rebellion could there be? Perhaps the glorious defiance of my savior Jesus Christ in His resurrection? For what is more viscerally rebellious than lifting one’s chin in love, in an eternal holy act of reconciliation?
I keep re-reading a poem called “What to Tell the Children” from Rachel Kann’s recent collection titled How to Bless the New Moon from Ben Yehuda Press.
The very Jewish approach to learning undergirds this poem with a wisdom that exhales the ages. We must “Tell them…/ Teach them…/ Remind them…” that they are the voices of change. Her call to action in this piece is a coming full circle not unlike the cycle of the moon. It returns to the child. True rebellion is of the young for they still see themselves as “useful,” “beautiful,” and as the embodiments of “truth.” Kann instructs us how to speak to our children during these (and all) unsettling times, but I suspect she is really instructing each of us how to whisper to our own remarkably fertile selves in this time of American liminality.
So join me in a tall glass of Paradigm Shift with a twist of Baruch HaShem and thank God.