I was waylaid by liturgy today. There I was, traipsing along feeling free on the high road, unencumbered by the ancient words I read, translating them into my life today, taking liberties with the meaning to support what I have come to believe.
Usually I lean heavily into the Haftarah each Shabbat, tracing it back to the Torah portion or just striking out into new territory depending on how it hits me. Well, this time, I finished the Haftarah, learning about another deliverance from Egypt in Jeremiah 46 to mirror the one in Exodus 13 where the Torah portion ends this way: “for with a strong hand, Hashem delivered us from Egypt.”
The sun had gone down and the beautiful deep blue light was still lingering in the sky. Time for Havdalah (the end of Shabbat). I put off writing this to say the traditional blessings, drink a tiny glass of wine, sniff the Besamim (fragrant herbs), and hold my fingernails to the light of the candle to watch the dance of firelight. This liturgy is dear to me, loath as I am to follow blind rituals. It blesses me every week with its message of peace, strength, and deliverance.
And there it was, even more obvious a connection to the Exodus message than the Haftarah itself this week:
“Heeneh El Yeshuatee Evtach Velo Efchad” (Behold! God is my salvation, I shall trust and not fear)
It seems that time rolls out like a carpet once in awhile, where my tiny life is invited into the royal hall to discover its unending connections to the Eternal One. Just this morning, I read Psalm 149:
“Let them praise his name with dancing, make melody to him with tambourine and lyre; for Adonai takes delight in his people, he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the faithful exult gloriously, let them sing for joy on their beds.”
How can we expect to trust and not fear, who are crowded together on this planet, facing certain death at some unpredictable time in the future, grasping for some shred of security, hoping for some reassurance of our worth, and aching to be loved for who we are?
It is impossible without God, even though we might have some good days when the sun shines, the revenues pour in, all are astounded at our talents, and we are surrounded with adoring loved ones. Can’t be counted on, can’t be trusted.
How can I sing for joy on my bed when I’m in pain, depressed, or worried? Here’s another connection with what I read from George MacDonald today:
“Oh Life, why dost thou close me up in death?
Oh Health, why make me inhabit heaviness?
I ask, yet know: the sum of this distress,
Pang-haunted body, sore-dismayed mind,
Is but the egg that rounds the winged faith;
When that its path into the air shall find,
My heart shall follow, high above cold, rain, and wind.”
—George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
Where can all this hope and faith come from? God, unchanging, ever seeking to deliver us from these traps and prisons, has an answer that we can trust.
The Havdalah liturgy ends with:
“Bimherah Yavo Eleynu Eem Mashiach Ben David.” (May he quickly come to us with Messiah, son of David.)
I’m not Christian. I’m not Jewish. I’m neither and both. I won’t argue with anyone about who the Messiah is, when he came or when he is coming, because to me, that is like two ants arguing about the history and character of the sun. I would rather be the ant who wakes up with the sunrise, singing with joy on her bed.