by Catherine Share, congregant
This past Sunday, 23 Tishrei, Simchat Torah, I completed my second cycle of a daily meditation on Psalm 27 that I had started on 1 Elul. My first cycle was in 5780 (last year) and I mentioned in a previous blog post how challenging that first round was for me. With my very elementary Hebrew skills, the twice-daily reading of Psalm 27 was a real struggle. There were many days I missed the reading and writing so the whole period took much longer than the proscribed fifty-two days.
This year was very different. Everything has changed. Of course the main reason is COVID-19. With the lockdown, I wasn’t running off to the gym at the crack of dawn. My living room has become the gym and it is there no matter what time I choose to exercise. Second, my Hebrew sight-reading is much improved; the task of reading the psalm was less onerous. But I think the greatest reason has been my conversion, my study in preparation for my Bat Mitzvah on November 21, and finally a desire to be more mindful of the Eternal’s daily presence in my life.
Daily reading of Psalm 27 brought me to a spiritual place I eagerly sought each morning after reciting the Modah Ani (morning prayer). Girded with coffee, in my kippah, and usually still in my pajamas, I would stand next to my dresser and recite the blessing: Baruch atah Adonai shenatan li l’hodot, ul’haleil, v’laasok b’divrei T’hilim. To engage with the sacred psalms meant giving myself over to a place, not dissimilar to walking a labyrinth, where each word is full of meaning. The mediation, the writing, the reflection seemed to pour out of me each day.
When I completed the cycle last year, I was relieved. But this year, as I approached the end, I knew that I would miss the discipline. The daily rhythm of the reading, the meditation provided by Rabbi Debra Robbins in Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27 and our own Gabbai Committee, gave me hope in this time of COVID-19 and political divisiveness. I also came to understand the benefit of repetition. While the text may be the same, we come to it from a different place. Each morning I arrived carrying the thoughts, concerns, and sometimes burdens from the day before. I would say, “One thing I ask of the Infinite, one thing I seek, To dwell in the Presence all the days of my life, To awaken to the beauty of each moment as I pass through this world. “ (Psalm 27:4, translated by Rabbi Yael Levy). Each day the words were new and were ready to be embraced.
It takes a lot of repetition to develop a spiritual practice. We try and try again. Rabbi Robbins says that reading Psalm 27 is a way to build spiritual muscles and habits we need in the days and months ahead. My muscles are now stronger because of this practice and I am grateful. Chazak, V’yaameitz, LIbecha. Be strong, be courageous, use your heart.