Liturgy for a different Tisha b’Av

The newest revision of my Tisha b’Av ritual is now available for download here: Tisha b’Av 5773

About this liturgy:

As a contemporary Jewish feminist and peace activist, I could not pray for the restoration of the Temple and the world view connected to it, but I could honor the vast sense of loss that the tradition of Tisha b’Av held. I’d felt that same loss in writings by Jews exiled from European homelands, and in writings by Palestinians driven into exile in the Nakba at the time of the creation of the Jewish state of Israel. As I tried to create a service for Jewish activists that would both resonate with our own cultural sense of loss AND give voice to our desire to honor the experience of our Palestinians allies, friends, and co-activists, I focused on this shared reality of exile as the theme of the service. As a poet myself, I constructed this service by looking for a mix of poems by Jewish, Arab, and Palestinian writers—a mix that would defy time, location and distance.

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“that shock of recognition” – more on poetry as liturgy

Saturday was the 5th anniversary of Fringes, the feminist havurah I co-lead. We use contemporary poetry as the words we pray, which works so beautifully. I’ve learned a lot about how to choose poems that work as liturgy, such as using poems with more direct syntax, or ones that more visual imagery and less literary references.

Last week, as I was creating the liturgy for our service, I read an amazing essay by Sarah Maguire, mainly about translating, called “‘Singing About the Dark Times’: Poetry and Conflict.” In addition to the astounding (and true) observation that “translating poetry is the opposite of war,” she had some clearly described insights into how poetry works in general, which helped me understand more about how and why poetry functions as liturgy for my group. Two sections on this, from the end of her essay:

A poem needs to be taken up and examined very carefully, many times, from a variety of perspectives. Its foregrounding of its music, its strange, self-conscious devices — like rhyme, rhythm and complex verse forms – draw attention to itself, separate it from quotidian language. As Plato said, reduce a poem to plain prose and it’s gone. Paraphrase its metaphors, sum up its ‘content’, and the magic vanishes as swiftly as a magician whose hat is missing its rabbit. Metaphor – which, as you know, in Greek means ‘to transfer, to carry, to bear’ – is the defining methodology of poetry. Using metaphor, the poet can bring together elements which, in ordinary life, are kept apart, juxtaposing incidents and details from radically different discourses and facets of life, ignoring the logic of metonymical progression, of one damned thing after another, which is the logic of separation.

The key to powerful lyric poetry, of course, is its intimacy: the way it allows us to apprehend and experience the most elusive, the most ephemeral of subjective experiences. That shock of recognition when something we know about, intimately, but have never been able to name, suddenly appears before us in charged and potent language. A good poem draws us back, again and again, in an attempt to tease out its power, to discover how something made only of words can exist, simultaneously, on so many planes at once. Can make connections between things hitherto we thought had lived in disparate realms.

On a June Morning, I Would Head for Your Scent

This is the third themed liturgical weaving I’ve done, taking lines from many different poets and using them to create a new piece designed to be read aloud as part of the morning prayer service in the Feminist, non-Zionist havurah I co-lead. Done right, poetry makes damn fine prayer, and this way of reading with single voices and group response is, honestly, something I learned from the Episcopalians and wow does it work in a group.

On a June Morning, I Would Head for Your Scent

a mosaic with words from Genesis, Basho, Mary Oliver, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Susan Windle, Ben Johnson, Li-Young Lee, Antonio Machado, Joan Larkin, Jane Hirshfield, Carl Sandburg, Sharon Olds, John Ciardi, Anne Marie Macari, Carol Burbank, and inspiration from Robert Bly and Alicia Ostriker
woven by Elliott batTzedek

ALL:
On a June morning,
any June morning

READER:
On a June morning,
any June morning,
moving about in my garden
in a breezy time of day,
I keep watch for You,
I follow silver slug lines,
sniffing for Your trail,
I call out “Where are You?”

READER
And a bee
staggers out
of the peony.

READER:
There is a dark hum among the roses,
a murmuring of innumerable bees,
and to the murmur of bees—
a witchcraft—I yield
to my desire for You.

ALL:
On a June morning,
any June morning

READER:
If I were a bee and You
a flower,
I would head for Your scent,
oh my beloved,
I would land on Your petals
held wide apart,
flinging myself down wildly,
tumbling to the bottom of Your cup.
There such sustenance,
You feeding me because only I
can ripen all this fertile exuberance,
food for those not yet born.

READER:
Would You let me go, pantaloons heavy
with gold and sunlight?
Or would You close Your petals,
dissolving me slowly
into Your heart?

ALL:
On a June morning,
any June morning

READER:
And if You were the bee,
would You come to me,
fill Your small body
from this place, my source,
and moan in happiness?

READER:
We are alike, You and I,
each created as the image of the other.
We fly from blossom to sweet
impossible blossom,
bartering pollen for nectar,
making honey from the roses,
honey from the rosemary, honey from the clover,
honey from the peach blossoms,
honey from the red and willing bee balm.

READER:
What honey would You make
from me?

READER:
What honey could I make of You?

ALL:
Can we make honey from our failures?
Honey from our bitterness,
honey from the bare fields
of our hearts?

READER:
Rough, this world is,
yet our soft tongues cut it open,
and the sanity of honey pours out between,
where meaning lives,

READER:
where honey, that gold soup
made of sex and light,
flows shining proof enough of the need
of each of ten thousand flights.

READER:
Every June morning
I pause to listen
for what I live to hear.
I watch the bees go honey-hunting with yellow blur of wings,
and, delirious with desire
I dance directions to my heart.

ALL:
I know that You will come-
it is Your duty
to find things to love
to bind Yourself to this world.