I wish . . . 


I wish I could bring others with me to wander in quiet contemplation through the open field of tall grass that grows over the once barren landscape of my soul.   For there – where I can be intimately close to individual seed-headed stems while watching the breeze create unified waves of grass that ripple across the field as far as the eye can see – I find it easier to grasp that each human simultaneously is always both an individual and a microscopic part of a much greater Unity…

“Rest in Prayer”


The sun hears the fields talking about effort
and the sun smiles,
and whispers to me,

“Why don’t the fields just rest, for I am willing to do
to help them

Rest, my dears, in

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380).


may our shabbat prayers bring us rest and peace, jen

The Force… awakens?



Darth Vader’s chestplate with Hebrew inscription

It’s finally here!! The newest Star Wars movie, Episode VII, opens this weekend, and an article in yesterday’s paper assured readers that this is the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi!!!

Yes… I AM as excited as my children!!

What’s not to love about following the adventures of characters who can tap into The Force that flows through the Universe and who choose to use their ability to increase the odds that Good will triumph over Evil??

But . . . I’m not sure what to make of the movie’s name — “The Force Awakens” — because it just doesn’t fit with my understanding of The Force.

In my mind, The Force is what creates and animates our entire universe. It is the Unity that is the Eternal my Gd and the Gd of my father Abraham. The Force is the One that was, is, and forever will be. It flows. It binds. It connects everything together in an infinite web of existence.

As such, The Force doesn’t ever pause. It doesn’t hesitate. And it most surely can’t stop . . . or we (and everything else in the known universe) would, in an instant, cease to exist. So The Force simply cannot take a nap from which it would need to “awaken.”

No, The Force is always there . . . waiting . . .

It is us — we mere mortals, made of dust and ashes, yet slightly holier than the angels –who must awaken to The Presence and its energy. Despite living in a culture that encourages us to be arrogant about what we can accomplish “alone,” we must find the strength to submit to a Power much greater than ourselves.

Only then, through the lens of The Unity, can we see the real battles that must be fought and the work that truly must be done.

May The Force be with you!!

Shabbat shalom, jen



ps. I took the photo of Darth Vader’s chestplate a few years ago when my family went to see a traveling Star Wars exhibit at a local museum.  Although I’ve never seen proof, I once read on the Internet that the Hebrew inscription one one costume’s chestplate said “there will be no peace until he turns”  . . . which could be read as a reference both to turning from the Dark Side and to the Jewish concept of “making teshuvah” (turning or returning to Gd)…

Shamash and the shamash


A Chanukah menorah, or Chanukiah, holds nine candles — eight candles that mark the eight nights of Chanukah, and the ninth is the “shamash” or “helper.” Each night, we light the shamash first and then we use it to light the night’s other candles. On a traditional Chanukiah, the shamash’s position is higher than the other candles. For example, in the Chanukiah pictured above, which we lit last Thursday, the shamash is in the middle position above the Star of David.
One evening last week, as we prepared to light Chanukah candles, my six-year-old son, Evan, said, “This morning as I ate breakfast, I decided the shamash is my Gd.”

The rest of us looked at one another quizzically, and then I calmly asked, “What do you mean by that, buddy?”

Evan replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “Well, it’s bigger, and it lights up everything else, like Gd does inside us.”

Astonished by his insight, we all quickly told Evan that he was right, that Gd really is the spark inside people, and that his observation that the shamash was like Gd was a beautiful analogy.

Then, today, as I was consulting the Internet to make sure I had the proper spelling of shamash so that I could share this story, I found this information in the online Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Shamash, (Akkadian), Sumerian Utu, in Mesopotamian religion, the god of the sun . . . . Shamash, as the solar deity, exercised the power of light over darkness and evil.


. . . which means Evan brought us full-circle, back to the beginning:

The ancient Middle-Eastern Sun-god Shamash most probably gave us the Hebrew word “shemesh” for sun…

The same set of three hebrew letters was used to name the “shamash” candle that helps us kindle light…

The shamash is like Gd, who kindles all light, including the light that shines from our souls…

I may be missing a couple of steps in the circle, but that’s okay because, really, the point is just that this is another example of the infinite web of meaning that connects the past to the future, various cultures to one another, and each of us to the Eternal my Gd!

with blessings, jen

“December Prayer”



As I walked outside this morning to head to work, the blue sky and sunrise that I expected had been replaced by thick fog. The fog felt heavy and it muffled the sounds of busy city life that I knew had to be happening within earshot.

The quiet reminded me of a song, December Prayer, written and performed by Broadway star Idina Menzel.  These are the lyrics of the chorus:

Hear the song within a silence,
See the beauty when there’s nothing there,
Sing a song within a silence
That hope and love are everywhere,
And when the quiet night is falling
Watch an angel dancing in the air
To the song, the song within the silence
a December Prayer, a December Prayer.

The song is really beautiful, and I invite you to take a listen:

Shabbat shalom, jen

Finding Ultimate Meaning


All of us are meaning-seekers. We approach every painting, novel, film, symphony, or ballet unconsciously hoping it will move us one step further on the journey toward answering the question ‘Why am I here?’  People living in the postmodern world, however, are faced with an excruciating dilemma. Their hearts long to find ultimate meaning, while at the same time their critical minds do not believe it exists.  We are homesick, but have no home.

Excerpt From: Ian Morgan Cron. “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale.” Zondervan, 2013. iBooks.

A couple of weeks ago, Eva –The Aspirational Agnostic who can be found at theaspirationalagnostic.com — recommended “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale.”  It’s author, Cron, describes the book as a “delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching.”  At the heart of the fiction is a mega-church minister who lands in spiritual crisis when life circumstances cause him to doubt his faith in the Gd about whom he preaches but with whom he has no personal connection.  The nonfiction is what readers learn about Saint Francis of Assisi (and his ministry and “brand” of Christianity) as the mega-church minister goes on a pilgrimage to find Francis, Jesus, Gd, and himself.

Once I started the book, I had trouble putting it down because, as a seeker, I could relate to many of the minister’s struggles with faith and religion. I couldn’t wait to see where his Journey took him, what he would experience and learn, and what I might learn in the process!

There are many themes from the book that I may write more about in the future as I ponder what it might mean to live a more “Franciscan Judaism.”  But the theme that keeps popping into my mind most frequently is the idea expressed in the quote above . . . that modern humans “long to find ultimate meaning” but are unable to allow ourselves to believe that “meaning” could exist.

Not too surprisingly, I keep thinking about that theme because struggling with whether and how to believe in Gd and ‘find meaning’ is a big part of my story…my Torah…my Journey…

You see, some twenty years ago, during graduate school, I broke the news to my parents that I am gay, and my parents, well… they did exactly what you would expect socially-conservative Christians in a rural area of a “Red State” to have done in the early 1990s — they freaked out!

First there was denial. Then there was anger… and bargaining… and depression. Somewhere in the midst of their anger and bargaining, we ended up in the office of a Christian counselor who in no uncertain terms told me that my “decision to be gay was a ‘disease’ tearing apart” my family, that Gd did not approve of my decision to engage in sin, and that I would go to Hell unless I changed.

My response was to do exactly what any rational 24 year old (who wasn’t ready to commit suicide) would have done when handed that load of religious guilt and shame — I said “f*ck you” to Gd!!   If Gd couldn’t love me as Gd had created me, then I didn’t much care to believe in the existence of any such Gd.

For more than a decade, I angrily refused to believe Gd could exist — and I gathered as much scientific “proof” as possible along the way — because denying Gd’s existence seemed ‘easier’ than confronting the religious guilt and shame that were eating away at my soul.

During those years of ‘exile’, I converted to Judaism because I wanted to raise my children within a religious belief system and Judaism spoke to my tattered soul without requiring me to affirm a belief in Gd.  At the same time, while I couldn’t bear to read them, I was amassing a large library of books about Kabbalah and Hasidism — branches of Judaism that encourage having an intensely personal relationship with a loving, ever-present Gd.

But then, five years ago, my Granny died, and I “hit bottom,” because she was the last “parent” who had accepted and loved me unconditionally.  Not only was she my last loving parent, her house had been the last place I could go “home.”   Suddenly, the spiritual disconnect that I’d been masking with adamant atheism for all those years turned into a full-blown existential crisis.  I felt completely “untethered” from all of life.

Nine months later, a Rabbi noticed my pain, listened to my story, and suggested reading materials that helped me start to forgive Gd, my parents, and myself.  I cried nearly every day (for longer than I want to admit) as I worked through all the years of anger, grief, shame, and pain.

At some point during my healing process, I expressed that I wanted to pray like I had as a child, to talk to Gd like Gd was the parent that I had always wished I had had (like the prayers of the Hasidim in all those books that I had collected and finally begun reading), but that my mind kept getting in the way, distracting me with rational scientific arguments about how Gd didn’t and couldn’t exist.

The Rabbi looked at me and said, without any hint of sarcasm or condescension — “It’s okay to turn off your scientific brain and pray with your heart.”

And that simple statement . . . that granting of permission to ignore all the scientific arguments against believing in Gd that were bouncing around in my critical brain . . . allowed me to begin disregarding my brain and opening my heart to pray.  Over time, I’ve been able to trade my need to be logically consistent for a deeper relationship with Gd.

Now, after years of exile and homesickness, I’m finally Home . . . believing in a Gd who is more complex and contradictory than even the greatest human mind could ever comprehend, but who nevertheless loves me — exactly as I was created!! — with infinite and eternal unconditional Love.

Somehow, amidst the pain and tears and prayers, I found the ultimate meaning for which my heart longed…

Baruch Hashem!