D’vrei Torah Listening

At our first gathering Jonathan gave us an arrow of intention for the week: Listen. But–to what? For what? The Sh’ma, the cryptic Jewish piece of advice that begins with the word, LISTEN! gave me a hint. Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad. Listen, Israel, God, our God, is ONE. Maybe I came here to listen for the One who is made audible in a group such as this, to hear the melody threaded between disparate note. So I listened to the room that first night, and all I heard was cacophany. My heart longed for familiarity, but I knew Jonathan was right. If I listened deeply enough, I might find God.

So I first listened to myself and my embarassment as I announced my identity to 140 strangers, declaring my religion, politics, and sexual preference. And afterwards I heard gratitude and friendship in voices that told me they appreciated my candor. A walk in the woods the next morning gave me birdsong and sweet silence. In our quest to understand who we are, I heard a speech delivered in clipped British intonation from a young rabbi raised in Houston obviously struggling to find her own identity. As we turned to each other, searching for words to bridge the differences of nationality, language, faith, and generation, sometimes I heard pain and misunderstanding–how could there not be? And often the miracle of generosity appeared in the voice of one to another when someone took the trouble to talk to me in my only language, English, even though it was a strain for them to do so. When Ute Stamm told the the history of the house, through her rich and full words I heard gratitude and wonder for such a place. Laughter, singing, Benedictine chanting, and prayer in many languages harmonized and intensified the symphony.

On Shabbos we come in pieces, fragmented, just as we arrived at strangers to each other here. Absorbed in the busyness of our lives, we separate from each other, and we hope the Sabbath will bring us together again. We begin it with the lighting of at least two candles, still and separate. That represents mind and heart not listening to each other, me standing separate from you. By nightfall tomorrow night, when we light the havdalah candle, four wicks braided together, that is what we hope we will feel like then, all intertwined and ready to burn bright, make fires, and create.

The Shabbat helps us to get whole, to sense the oneness of things. It is a day where we rest from work, competition, anger, even new ideas. It is a day to be, not to do, a day to listen, to respond. The heart is shy. It opens to gently coaxing of whispered words, to patient silence. We have come here to share the openining of the heart. A few short days ago you were strangers to me and now I have new friends. We have built bridges with our words to each other, with the light in our eyes.

On the seventh day we greet each other saying, “Shabbat Shalom!” Shabbat means both rest and the number seven. Seven reminds us that creation took seven days and that to create the world anew every day, we take time to stop, to rest and say, “Yes! It is good! I’m here!” Our week here has felt like Shabbat, which is a taste of the world to come. Shalom means peace, of course, and it also means wholeness. I am more whole this Shabbat than when I came to Bendorf. We have worked to hear and touch each other and we have paused to say, “What a blessing this is, God! Thank you!”