Mourning, Mortality, Psalm 39, and Tish B’Av

Preparing for Tish B’Av tonight, as a non-Jew I have never done the fasting this sombre holy day requires. I know I have a lot to learn about all the reasons for us to remember this day with great mourning and prayer for not only Israel but for all of us, for God’s mercy to protect us from tragedies like this. Here is a great summary of the tragic events throughout history on the 9th of Av:

So, this year my heart calls me to fast and commit myself to mourning the terrible destruction and countless precious lives lost. I feel it like a tide pull in my DNA that there is much more to mourn that I have avoided for too long—our cruelty, judgmentalism, and intolerance toward others, even to those we love the most. I don’t have to look far to see this in action, which is precisely why I always avoid too much self-inspection and keep myself as busy as possible doing good deeds and congratulating myself for my excellent motives. Hah!

This will be a Psalm 39 day, and one we need to live through in order to even hope to become more generous, kind, patient, steady, and faithful people. Perhaps it has a lot to do with our view of our own and our loved ones’ mortality. If we can find a way to stop spending so much of our spiritual and psychological energy on protecting our lives, the lights might go on, and the shift in thinking we crave could take place.

“My heart grew hot within me, in my contemplations a fire blazed; then I spoke out audibly: ‘Let me know, O Hashem, my end, and the measure of my days, what it is; may I know when I will cease.’ . . . all is but total futility—all human existence.” (Psalm 39: 4-6)

It’s no accident that the Haftarah for this week’s Torah portion of D’Varim is Isaiah 1:1-27. Despite all the dire warnings, it ends with a call to repent and return to God to be made whole again. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? That’s because it is, when you take the fear of death out of the equation.

As always, my daily reading of George MacDonald’s poetry slates today’s reading with this cry for help:

Lord, let my soul o’erburdened then feel thee
Thrilling through all its brain’s stupidity.
If I must slumber, heedless of ill harms,
Let it not be but in my Father’s arms;
Outside the shelter of his garment’s fold
All is a waste, a terror-haunted wold.
Lord, keep me. ‘Tis thy child that cries. Behold.
(George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul, July 25 reading)

Add a PS to all of this—the wonderful Prayer for Resurrection in the liturgy of daily Jewish prayers:

“As long as the soul is in me, I thank You,
Hashem, my God and the God of my forefathers, the Master of all Deeds,
The Master of all souls.
Blessed are You, Hashem,
Who restores souls to dead bodies.”

As Pippin would say, “Well, that isn’t so bad.”

And we can agree with Gandalf, “No. No, it isn’t.”Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 9.30.54 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-25 at 9.31.07 PM

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