The Only Three Words You Need

Every year I go to Rosh Hashanah services with expansive hope, born out by experience, that some wisdom and truth from our tradition will land softly on my heart and I will take it with me through the next year as comfort and north star.

Reading earlier posts from this time of year, I marvel at how much has remained constant, though so much has changed. In this post from seven years ago, Christopher and I wanted to greet the new year at the ocean, while our kids refused to budge. The same was true yesterday, but now our boys are plenty old enough for us to wave goodbye without grandparents materializing at our front door to babysit, as they did years ago. In fact, so much time has passed that the rabbi’s sermon this year about ethical driving (practicing “patience, gratitude, and forgiveness” behind the wheel) arrived at the perfect moment for our 15-year-old firstborn’s ears.

For me, the wisdom and truth I longed for this year came in a brief comment by our rabbi. She mentioned that the author Anne Lamott has written there are only three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. This became my simple and complete prayer. I stood with my eyes closed and silently repeated these words instead of the pages of prayers in my hands. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

There it was, instantly. A physical transformation, a steady flow of peace. Thank you thank you thank you thank you — for this loving, brilliant man standing by my side; for the blossoming young man next to him; for the kind, curious boy at home nursing a cold while watching (inappropriate) cartoons. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And for the challenges I have to face, Help me help me help me help me.

I do love December 31st, how we light up the darkest night sky with twinkly lights and candles and fireworks. And I love our Jewish New Year’s Eve in Autumn, when there’s still enough light to see the world by, to embrace it and thank it for its beauty, its blue sky above brown California mountain ridges, its temperate Pacific waves tumbling toward me as I gather up my burdens and transfer them to a handful of bread crumbs or shells and let them fly into the ocean.

For all of this, the gratitude and the challenges, the beauty of these people and this earth, the final prayer…Wow.

Sunset 1

The (Great Big Parenting) Book

As some of you know, I’ve become something of a Torah study geek of late. Weirder still – my sister is now hooked, too.

It’s something I never ever never pictured myself doing. I thought it was for people who, you know, believed that Torah is the word of God, and that we’re supposed to do things because the Torah said so, unquestioning. Not me. Never me. I am a Reconstructionist Jew who sees divinity in the miracles of the universe — like the tides, sunsets, and the way my brain is telling my fingers how to move so I can express my ideas to you. I can get a little spiritual, but don’t begin to tell me that God wrote us a story or that, come Yom Kippur, he is taking names.

So how did I become a Torah Study groupie?

Read all about it in this week’s Jewish Journal, available in print for you traditionalists, too.



What is God? Not a stick of cheese.

I asked Aaron about what they did in Religious School yesterday, the first day.

“We talked about what God is and isn’t,” he told me. Wow, they start with the big stuff. I felt proud of us Jews, starting off with a bang.

“So what did you say?” I asked, hoping he’d be in the mood to tell me.

“Well,” he said, thinking back to yesterday afternoon, an eternity ago. “I said, ‘God is not fat. And he is 12 feet tall.’ I can’t remember what else.” As I stood there trying not to laugh, and wondering what I’d say to that, he asked me the other big question. “Do you believe in God mom?”

Our first disagreement about God was going to have to do with his height? Or the fact that I don’t think God has any height to speak of, unless we’re talking about the size of the universe perhaps. How to describe the abstract notion that God isn’t a body of any kind at all? Especially when the stories this time of year have to do with a guy taking notes in a book about your behavior.

“I believe in God,” I said. Let’s start with a positive before I start throwing out my caveats. “But not a god that looks like a person. I think God is . . . well, you know that little voice in your head that tells you what’s right and wrong? That’s what I think God is. And also, how roses are so beautiful but they’re also so smart to have those sharp thorns to keep the snails off? I think that’s God, too.”

He was quiet, thinking about all this. Then he offered, “Jessie said, ‘God is not a stick of cheese. He thought some more. “Or a piece of a pumpkin.”

Hmm. Hard to argue with that. Unless we’re talking pumpkin pie, because I’ve had some awfully good pie . . .