It was time to head home to Colorado and I turned on my GPS, hit the home button, and steered onto the highway. I love love love to drive. I can throw anything into my car (and I do pretty much empty out my closet, bathroom and kitchen when I drive anywhere), get up when I want to, stop when I want to, eat when I get hungry, not worry about lost luggage or cancelled flights, and I have tons of leg room.

After spending the night halfway home, I prepared to turn onto the last highway leading into Colorado, so I reached up and shut off my GPS. Not much chance I could lost when I only had one single highway to follow all the way home, right?

Have I met myself?

Around 6PM, I looked up to see a sign welcoming me to Nebraska.

Nebraska? What the??

I glanced at my gas gauge. Oops. Really, Meri, with all the driving you do, wouldn't you think you'd check the gas instead of waiting for the red light to come on? I had also just driven into a snow storm. Quickly I turned my GPS back on to get me to the nearest hotel, although once I saw it, I was pretty certain I'd be safer sleeping in a bear's den.

I didn't have a choice, though, so I let myself into the room, dumped my suitcases, and went to call Bob. No cell phone service. And the room didn't come with a landline. Bundling up, I stuck my head through the window where the hotel owner sat and asked if I could use his phone to call my husband. Bob answered after the first ring and said, "Nebraska? What the?"

A bath. That would help. I turned on the faucet. No hot water. Actually, no water at all.

Food. Traipsing back to the closet-like office, I asked the owner where I could get a bite to eat.

"If you don't want to drive far, there's a place to get a sandwich right next door," he said. "Otherwise, you'll have to drive aways."

The little grill looked like a place where I might be someone's next meal, so I checked my gas gauge. It registered 40 miles and I decided to take my chances. I hopped into the car to see if the other restaurant option was any better. Turns out it was a gas station on the other side of the hotel office (okay, technically that was farther) that sold packaged sandwiches.

I can't find my way out of a parking lot and I had turned off my GPS. What was I thinking?

I do that sometimes with my internal GPS. I start listening to everyone else's voices and lose touch with my own. I end up in some unsafe places, feeling dry and unrefreshed, and my emotional gas tank shows up near empty. Rather than a calm, relaxing drive, I've just headed straight into a blizzard. I'm blinded to my destination, and suddenly have no idea where I'm going.

Time to turn that GPS back on, because deep down, I know my own path better than anyone else knows it. There's that spark of the Divine within, and when I tune in, it's going to take me on an exciting journey. Just like my physical GPS, I may not know exactly where the next turn is, but I know it's taking me to right address.

Step by step.

Turn by turn.

I'm headed in the right direction.

Getting there,



Light in Your Eyes


Light in Your Eyes

When a cousin became ill with a serious disease, I spent some time with him, and was surprised when he suggested going out to eat, then a movie, then a hike through the mountains! We talked for hours, reminiscing about the huge family get-togethers (our mothers had been siblings in a family of 19) and how we children, dozens and dozens of us, picked wild blackberries, discovered an old family graveyard, and dared one another to walk alone into the woods.

Towards the end of the day as I prepared to leave, my cousin and I embraced and I noticed that his eyes seemed to emanate light. I touched his face and said, "I think your illness has to be gone. I wish you could see the brightness in your eyes."

The next day we learned the illness wasn't only gone, it was worse.

I was truly baffled and struggled with this seeming paradox for months. And then it hit me. The light I saw bubbled up from his soul, not from his body. He had been pulling every imaginable good thing from his life on a daily basis, immersed himself in his family and friends, and - on the days he could manage - relished his favorite foods, a short walk, or moments sitting by a mountain stream. Every day had become a tremendous gift for him.

In a pastoral counseling class I took while in rabbinic school, we talked endlessly about healing. I came to understand that while we hope for a cure when someone we love is suffering from physical illness, we pray for and offer something that is always available: healing.

Healing takes place during the illness. Healing comes when we're flat on our backs, and yet we use those moments to feel the love surrounding us, to forgive those who have hurt us, and to embrace majestic moments that life offers all of us. Healing occurs when we savor a peaceful moment by a brook, laugh with a child, or get wrapped up in some sweet memory.

Each day, even as we wrestle with emotional or physical illness, we can embrace healing.

Loving what I see in your eyes,




Pray to Pray

Some years back I learned about a Jewish practice called hitbodedut, a practice that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov encouraged all of his followers to engage in. Before we open our siddur, our prayer book, we should open our hearts to God, he said. Pray spontaneously. Get rid of all the baggage so that we can deeply connect to God in the beautiful, ancient prayers that bind us as religious Jews. In modern Judaism, some Jews simply sit quietly in meditation, breathing, clearing their mind. Others may find a mantra or a chant a way to clear our minds for authentic prayer. These, also, are practices of hitbodedut.

I finally began this practice a few months ago and it's had a profound effect on my prayer life.

A couple of days ago, before I opened my siddur, put on my tallis (prayer shawl), or picked up my guitar, I stood at the window and offered up my "blah" feeling to God. I didn't feel like praying and I didn't feel like praying to feel like praying. (Whew!). As I stood there thinking about skipping right into my work day, though, I happened to glance down at one of my dogs. He was lying on my feet staring up at me. Was he feeling a little of my sadness? I smiled, sat down, and took him in my arms, and he relaxed into my caresses. When I stood back up, I looked out and felt a sense of amazement at the serenity and breathtaking beauty of the forest I live in. My husband was out of town and I had some time for solitude. I realized it had been several days since I'd heard a single human-made sound. Deer strolled through my yard.

Suddenly tears poured down my face and my feelings of apathy dissipated. Ah, God, this is how You work. I don't serve a Divine Being who is at my beck and call. I serve a Divine Being who flows through everything and "invites" me to get into that flow. With that in mind, I put on my tallis, opened my siddur, and cradled my guitar, ready to pray with the deepest kavvanah (intention). Ready to connect with the Divine One at the core of my being.

A few days earlier during this meditation time, I suddenly realized I was having difficulty connecting to God because I'd developed an obsessive, stinky attitude about the house I lived in. The first time Bob and I had walked into this home, we fell instantly in love. "Oh, look at that view and that one! These decks! Wow! Here's where your study will be, where you'll be surrounded by massive windows and enshrouded by the forest. A bathtub with a window looking out onto the forest. You can't even see a single house from here - the seclusion! It's so quiet - have you heard a car or a human sound since we've been here?!!"

Well, that attitude lasted a few weeks. Then we began to notice other things: no running water on the fourth floor, a broken window in the basement, no garage door, wires hanging out of walls, ugly white walls, broken shades.... We began to send our list of complaints to the landlady and when she didn't respond, we hired an attorney. Nothing wrong with that because most of our complaints were serious issues.

I noticed, however, that we became so obsessed with everything that was wrong with the house, that we stopped noticing everything that was right. If we invited anyone up, we preempted the visit by apologizing for how ugly the house was, that it had been built 50 years ago and never been updated, that the few additions were rigged and poorly done. If the house came up in any conversation, we wondered aloud how anyone had lived here.

The other day, though, when a friend of mine visited, I realized she had a vastly different opinion of my home. There she stood, just like I had the first time I walked through the front door, looking around with a sense of wonder. The view mesmerized her and she seemed to think the house had a bit of a cool funk to it. Her apartment, she said, was small and shabby and she was paying nearly half the rent that I paid. I was surrounded by forest and mountains. She didn't even have a view.

The next morning, during my pre-prayer prayer, I suddenly saw my house through her eyes. How fortunate I am, I said out loud to God, that I have this huge home with lots of comfy spots, gorgeous views, decks on every level, seclusion, warmth, room for my dogs to run and play.. and yes, a little funk. I'm tired of complaining. I'm ready to open my heart to gratitude.

And that's what I did.

And the music in my heart ascended.

In gratitude,




Eros, Da'at, Hebrew Tantra

In the margins of the book I'm reading, I just wrote "WHAT?"

Marc Gafni, in the Mystery of Love, one of the most absorbing books I've ever read, made the statement that when we love deeply, "ego boundaries dissolve, self is expanded to include other, and the true intimacy of shared identity is achieved."

Okay so far.

Then he wrote, This "beloved could be a man or a woman, a child, a community, a vocation, location, animal, or cause."

That's when I screeched to a halt and put a couple of question marks in the margin of the book. An animal can be part of my identity ? A location? 

Within seconds, though, I followed my marginal scribbles with this sentence, "OMG, I kind of get myself now."

Because I'm able to love and connect deeply, I form dynamic bonds that seem a bit odd at first. No, wait, they seem odd all the time. For example, how can the mountains actually seem part of my identity? I understand that I'm a writer, rather than someone who writes. I understand that I've already formed an identity as a rabbi, before I've even received smicha (ordination). But I'm at one with my dogs? I share an identity with Damsi and Tinus? Really?

Oddly enough, I had just been looking back through a journal from a decade ago in which I first felt I could no longer leave the mountains when I came here to write and enjoy spiritual retreats, because it felt like I was leaving my soul behind. I wrote that because my husband didn't want to move here, I'd have to figure out a way to split my time between the place where different parts of my soul lived. Over the years, I'd written literally hundreds of pages about how alive I felt as I hiked the Rockies, of how I sobbed when I set out on my first hike, overwhelmed by the throbbing beauty, and of how I'd cry much of my drive home, taking weeks to recover and resume my routine.

I always felt a little crazy for this.

But Gafni believes, correctly, that everything we love becomes a part of our soul. My pets that have died don't simply live on in my memory, they helped create something of who I am, becoming part of my soul. I had a relationship with them, I loved them, made sacrifices for them, took care of them. I do that with the dogs I care for now, also. The deer in the forest that makes up my back yard, and the elk, during their rutting season, when I spend hours sitting in the forest just listening and watching, these creatures have all created this space of wonder and awe in me. IN me. They are part of me. I am a different person because of my encounters with these animals.

The beauty and serenity and solitude I find in the mountains isn't simply me loving nature; it's nature affecting who I am as a person. The groups of friends and communities of which I've been part - I haven't moved on; I've taken them with me in this astonishing manner by letting them penetrate and expand who I am as a human being. Gafni's statement even helped me understand that when I've formed vivid emotional attachments to men outside of my marriage, a reality I've always felt profoundly guilty for, that it's truly okay. They, too, have affected my life and shaped my very soul. They, too, have helped create me.

Gafni refers to eros as "Hebrew tantra", but I refer to it as da'at, the noun that defies translation, but alludes to the most profound, mysterious intimacy known to humans. When two humans yada (verb form) each other, they aren't merely having sex, they are intertwined in every way imaginable. That's why casual sexual encounters have always left me, eventually, feeling empty and unfulfilled. There was nothing erotic about them. It was sex.

Eros isn't  sexual, says, Gafni, although it can be expressed sexually. Eros is the desire that springs us into life when we encounter anything that's authentically beautiful and with which we form intense bonds that eventually shape who we're becoming. Long before I read Gafni's book, I had written an article published in the now defunct magazine Mars Hill Review, in which I discussed this same topic. While they were open-minded enough to let me make my case for the holiness of Eros, when I attempted to weave it into other articles, editors consistently changed the word "eros" to "connection" or "desire" or one of a dozen words to avoid what they saw as a "loaded" word. I was always disappointed but amenable.

Now I'm not. Rather than let someone tame my vocabulary and personality, my hope is to take a quality that's been misunderstood, mislabeled and suppressed and feel and live it to the fullest.

As part of my rabbinical studies, I was required to attend four weeks at a program called DLTI, The Davvenen Leadership Training Institute, in which we, as students, created and led services with other students. After one maariv (evening) service, in which we incorporated a song I'd written about nightfall, in which I'd used the word "ravished" (one of my very favorite words) to describe how I feel about evening and darkness, one of my co-leaders slipped me a note. "I adore your loving, creative and deeply erotic nature," she wrote.

Oh thank you my friend!!

To exude all three of these attributes is something to which I aspire.

I'm ready to walk passionately into this coming week.





Some months back I let Bob read my very first diary, written when I was nine. He quickly found his favorite page, memorized it, and now recites it to me regularly.

Dear diary,” I had written,” let me tell you a little about myself. I'm tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes and a lot of boys like me.” I followed that by listing all the boys I liked and rating them. Alongside each name I had written “love” or “like a lot” or “kind of like” or “not sure”. I'd have to go back and look (or ask Bob), but I think I might have rated them on a star or heart system.

Let me tell you about myself,” Bob said to me the other night.

I was NINE,” I replied.

Lots of boys like me,” he repeated.

As I think back on what it was like to have wild crushes in my childhood, I wonder about some of the ways we find “love” as adults, and I suspect that:

First.....a good dose of infatuation, childlike playfulness and romantic preoccupation is needed.

Second....all of of the above categories of “romance,” now apply to the one person we're sharing our life with, and

Third.....we're losing spontaneous connections. 

Number one. It doesn't take many months into a relationship for romantic preoccupation to dissipate. We quickly begin to take the other person for granted and we fill our lives with everything BUT the other person. To counter this, Bob and I have a lengthy lunch together followed by a hike nearly every day. On Shabbat, some evenings and part of Sunday, we carve out time for each other.

Infatuation could also be seen as respect. I'm appalled by the tone of voice I sometimes use with Bob when I would rarely use it with anyone else. I also need to learn to respect his decisions. Before we married he took over management of my healthcare marketing business so that I could return to my writing and concentrate on my rabbinical studies, and while he still needs my assistance and training, he needs it less and less – yet I'm often reluctant to trust him with authentic management. Because of these things, I try to listen more intently to how I sound when I talk, and to allow him to learn my business, to some degree, through his own trial and error.

Playfulness. In the past few months, Bob and I have slid down hills on inner tubes, skied, had a snowball fight, laughed until our stomachs hurt, sang and danced, played games where I cheated my butt off, and concocted a few new meals which we cooked together. It's a challenge when we're in the same house working together all day every day, and it's beyond tempting to talk about business over meals, as well as during the evening, but we've been successful at moving through one portal into another (symbolized by standing together at one of our mezzuzot after work), and we create time and ways to have fun.

Number two. A successful relationship involves accepting that our feelings will fluctuate. When Bob works up the courage to try something new, or when he literally falls off of some chair laughing, I really, really like him. When he puts lotion on my back and tickles my arm, I like him. Okay, that's in the really, really like category, too. When I have to tell Bob something six times, I kind of like him, which I classify as not locking him out of the house for a week. When we've been tense with each other, though, I have trouble getting through the day because I always love him.

Number three. Internet dating can and does work, but be careful. Before I met Bob, I married a man who fit my list of everything I was looking for. We met and there was chemistry, but I never loved him. After I divorced him, I decided to stay off the internet and go to parties and get-togethers and not worry about meeting anyone, but within a few months, I'd met Bob. He didn't have a lot of what I had once listed (that piece of paper having been ripped to shreds), but we knew right away we were right for each other. A few crucial relational components can be vastly more important than a page full of smaller ones.

I can't speak for everyone, but for me, internet dating has it all backwards. Finding a perfect mate isn't accomplished by making a list of all the things you're looking for in a person. It at least begins with one similar to the one I made in my childhood diary. Do I really like him? Sort of like him? “Love” him? Then I'd see what we have in common, what our goals in life consist of, and if we have what it takes to make a marriage.

Dear diary, I kind of like the old way of finding love.





Spiritual Lessons Learned from my Hikes

Since I literally drive around in parking lots several times before finding my way out, my family has always been worried about how frequently I hike in the mountains and elsewhere. Once, I was hiking in a state park with unfamiliar trails, so I chose the easiest one: one that wove around in an almost perfect circle with one way in and one way out, three-quarters of a mile long, and no connecting trails. No way I could get lost.

After nearly three hours, however, I realized I had probably walked by the exit 40 times. I was lost on a circle trail in which a person simply cannot get lost - except for me.

Since I lived in Texas at the time, my first plan of action was to sit down and wait for armadillos to attack and eat me. After a good cry filled with terror and despair, however, I got up and walked the circular trail again much more slowly, looking for the path out, and I found it.

Loving to hike as I do, I frequently think about how the paths I take seem similar to the spiritual paths I walk in life. Here are some of the lessons I've learned:

Lesson #1: Blissfully unaware, I sometimes follow a path that leads me nowhere. I become spiritually unconscious. Plowing through my days, I fail to apprehend the many moments of beauty and wonder offered to me. I'm wound up and running on automatic: Robo-Meri. My prayers circulate inside me and never ascend.

When I finally realize I'm not getting anywhere, I despair. Poor me. I'm such a screw-up. I stop trying for awhile. What's the use? A spiritual leader? Sure, follow me around the circle where I'm bound to get you lost. Whine, whine.

Then I stop and take one of those deep, cleansing breaths we're told to take all the time within my rabbinical program, ALEPH, Alliance for Jewish Renewal. I spot my way out of the endless cycle. I head towards a different path.


One mountain hike I took years ago looked relatively easy from the bottom of the mountain. In fact, it was easy at the beginning. Winding gently upwards, I walked quickly and took pride in the fact that a trail marked “moderate to difficult” was so easy for me. I was 40 with the agility and energy of a 20-year-old.

Then I turned a corner and saw that the trail curved sharply upwards, narrowed, became rockier and less stable. I was 40 with the agility and energy, now, of a 60-year-old. People walked quickly around me and I thought about shoving them off the side of the mountain. After less than two hours, I stopped and decided to head back. I couldn't make it to the peak.

Lesson #2: Spirituality isn't one big leap. It's a bunch of slow steps. If I don't try and rush ahead of where I'm supposed to be at the moment, I'll better be able to manage and maneuver through what lies ahead. I have to be okay with people who are ahead of me, and I have to remember, also, that I'm not at the end of the line. Some people never even head to the trail, some look at it and never start the journey, and some tire out even more quickly than do I.

Also, if I look too far ahead, I'm going to be discouraged and will never attempt the journey. If I look behind me, I'll see how far I've come and will be encouraged. It's also okay if I don't reach the peak. It's mostly about the journey and that I set out on it, that I made progress. Lots of beauty and challenges and successes and growth accumulated within me along that path.



When I'm hiking, I tend to pass the parking lots where all the cars sit, and find a path that no one else is walking. Usually I need the quiet and the solitude – and the adventure. In the nature center where I used to walk in Texas, the path to the pond was the most popular. The idea of hiking to a pond appealed to a lot of people and the first half of the hike was beautiful.

After that, I knew that the path opened up to a treeless field where the summer sun blazed down on you. Rattlesnakes hid in the tall grass alongside the narrow path and I knew two people who had been bitten. In addition, the trail sloped down, making the way to the pond extremely easy, but it was the only one-way trail in the preserve, making the way back up excruciating.

Lesson #3: I've been enticed by “spiritual” paths, both large and small, that fascinated me because of the apparent beauty. As I became deeply entrenched, though, the spirituality seemed to mostly a veneer. Once, on a literal, spiritually-oriented trip to a country in Asia, I came bounding up the stairs of the hotel and announced I was packed and ready to go. One of the leaders took me aside and told me harshly that I was behaving pridefully, bragging that I was packed when others were still putting clothes in their suitcases. Another leader in this group had had an extramarital affair so he could birth, through another woman, a son. Many people in this group told me he shouldn't be criticized, and that God had led him down this path.

In retrospect, I still find aspects of that spiritual path, which was once a huge part of my life, lovely. New doors in my life opened. I had more transcendent experiences than I've ever had, and they were ones that had a lasting, positive effect on my life. My heart burst open to the Divine in ways that seemed surreal, and this opening I know was authentic and propelled me forward in my connection to God. 

On the other hand, I had to be careful and aware because snakes definitely existed on that path, as they undoubtedly do on every path, and I could have been fatally bitten had I not been watching out. And yes, the climb out was a bit brutal.


Here is why my family and friends are terrified and think I'm crazy for hiking by myself: once I was hiking an unfamiliar and secluded trail in the Rockies when the trail suddenly seemed to wind through massive boulders. It appeared someone had forged a trail in between the boulders so off I went. About halfway up, the trail suddenly bolted to the right, out of the rocks and onto a beautiful overlook. Off I went. As the path became narrower and narrower, I suddenly realized it wasn't a trail at all. It was a ledge, now too narrow for me to turn around and walk back. 

So yes, of course I went through my routine: crying, imaging someone finding my skeleton glued to the ledge months later, being dragged away by a mountain lion, falling to my death in slow motion. Then I pulled myself together and slowly inched my way back to the rocks, walking backwards, not looking down. When I made it to the boulders, I didn't see any path there, either, so I slid on my butt back down until I found the real trail.

Lesson #4: Others have carved out spiritual paths that help keep us safe. They show us where the dangers lie, in what ways we can become lost during the journey, and why – even when we want to be alone – it's usually good to be in community.

Walking a path that others have walked doesn't mean my path isn't individual. What I see along the way is entirely different. I can veer off the path if I'm careful and watchful and still remain safe. What I bring to the path with all of my senses, reflections, pace, observance, feelings – everything about my individual walk – differs from everyone who has walked what seems to be the same path. It isn't the same one, though. Each footprint creates something vibrantly new.

On my way back to my car that day, I spread out my jacket on the ground, several yards off the trail, on a rock that looked out over a breathtaking vista. As soon as I sat down, though, I became nervous. I couldn't see the trail. Yes, it was only about 10 yards way, but could I be sure that when I got ready to leave, I'd walk in the right direction? I walked back to the trail to make sure it was still where I remembered it to be. Then I went back again and put my backpack about three yards from the trail, and a book another three yards, creating my own trail back to the “real” trail.

 As I hike, I have always and will always stop to journal, to read, to take in the vistas, to rest, to veer off the path, to climb, to inspect glistening stones, to hold my breath when I glimpse a deer, elk, moose (a bear twice!) in the distance, to do my own thing. I always keep the well-worn path in sight, however, because the people who have walked it before me know the way. They are my teachers, my spiritual guides, and they're teaching me the song of the peaks of Judaism, created by each of us as we walk a path that is both shared and individual.

V'al rabbanan,




Coping with Grief

For a Christian, when a loved one dies, grief feels a little softened by belief in an afterlife and what that afterlife entails. Not so easy for us Jews. Many don't believe in an afterlife at all, and for those who do, no elaborate description of some "place" where our loved ones "go" exists. What can we do, then, psychologically, ritually, and communally?

First, don't underestimate the power of the initial Jewish rituals of death.

When my mother passed way, I found a great deal of comfort in Jewish rituals. Because my mom wasn't Jewish, I missed out on the beautiful ritual of having her body lovingly washed by the community, accompanied by blessings, along with the comfort of someone sitting with her until the funeral. After her Christian funeral, however, the Jewish community joined me at her gravesite to say kaddish, talk about what her life had meant to me, and place three shovels of dirt upon her casket. In ancient times, people buried their own family members and regarded this as the last loving act bestowed upon them. Having a community with whom to share these rituals eased a bit of the crushing grief when my mother died.

Today, some Jews don't follow traditional burial rituals, and some live in communities or attend shuls where no chevra kadisha society performs Jewish burial rites.

Others lack even a strong Jewish community. A friend of mine suggested that people in these situations wear a piece of jewelry that belonged to the parent, or keep the black piece of cloth pinned to your clothing for as long as you feel it's needed. At one rabbinical study week I attended, our name tags included a particular colored dot for various reasons, black indicating we were in a period of mourning. Choosing to wear this indicated that others were free to offer condolences and give the grieving person a chance to talk when they wanted to. Gather the courage to talk about your pain, your memories, and how you're coping or failing to cope. Look for ways to build community when none is apparent.

Modern humans evolved 50,000 years ago and anthropologists have found signs that religious rituals were practiced thousands of years before that. It doesn't matter if you simply believe that all of these individual cultures invented God or an afterlife mythology as a way to deal with death. The reality is this: we need some kind of religious ritual. It seems ingrained in the vast majority of us. In addition to the above rituals, you might light a candle each day and set a journal beside it for yourself and others to record some loving memory of the person for whom you're grieving.

Second, connect with your loved one in your imagination if you don't believe in an afterlife, or in spirit, if you do believe. When my dad passed away, even though he was 88 and had only been ill for three months, I was shocked to find that I dreamed - for at least two years - only of his illness. In one dream I found him on a park bench, emaciated, curled in a fetal position, close to death. I cradled him in my arms and carried him home. How could I have known him as a healthy vibrant man for my 40+ years, then dream only of his illness? Of course, I knew that my subconscious was struggling to deal with his death and in time, my nightmares disappeared, replaced by an occasional dream of happy times with him.

I also struggled with haunting thoughts during the day. When a thought of my dad popped into my mind, a vision of him crying and in pain almost always accompanied it. I countered those thoughts with conscious ones of happy memories. I did the same with my mom, even though my relationship with her had been rocky for most of my life. Digging through my keepsake boxes and my memories, sacrifices they had made for me readily appeared. For some reason I had kept a raggedy robe Mom had made for me when I was a teenager and could find nothing long enough to fit my 5'10 scrawny frame. From there, I recalled a candle she had spent months making when I collected them; the candle she made weighed about 60 pounds, dripped with every shade of color imaginable, and sat on a decorative white stool. I never had to ask her if I could bring friends over for the night, and she never set a limit on the number that could stay with us. Although we struggled financially, she kept the kitchen stocked with enough food to satisfy a boxcar of teenagers and our home was always open to everyone.

What are your memories of your parents? Even if thoughts of their deaths fill your mind and weigh you down with grief, counter them consciously with thoughts of the beauty of their lives. Whether you believe their souls live on or not, feel the energy of the presence they've left in your home and life. Visit places where you shared happy moments with them.

Third, visit their graves or, if you're unable to do that, find a secluded spot that you can return to repeatedly. There, allow your grief to spill over. If you believe in God, pour out your heart with whatever emotion springs to the surface. If you don't believe in God, pour out your heart with whatever emotion springs to the surface. During the months that followed my parents' death, I visited their graves as often as possible (we no longer lived in the same state), and I usually visited alone, during a time of day when it was least likely for others to be at the cemetery. They had been buried on the highest spot of the cemetery, surrounded by trees and the countryside. It was a beautiful burial site. Somehow, being there brought me a great deal of comfort. Some believe that spiritual energy resides at the graves of good people. I found that to be true.

Fourth, find a place to say kaddish. If you don't have a community, please contact me and let me know if you're interested in a virtual community. Kaddish has long been a source of comfort for Jews. Naming a person out loud, bringing their memory to life, reciting a prayer that Jews have used for several hundred years brings healing. Some simply find the tradition comforting. Others believe it elevates the soul of the deceased. Whatever your belief, though, it's a positive, uplifting expression of joy and gratitude for your loved one's life.

Fifth, realize you do not know whether the soul of your loved one lives on. People who claim to know that an afterlife exists are deluded. So are people who claim to know it does not. No one has been there and returned to let us know. Be open. Know that you do not know. Many Jews think of themselves as too intellectual to contemplate life-after-death, or they think it's a Christian concept. Judaism's belief in an afterlife, however, goes back at least to the time when Saul called up Samuel from the dead. While Judaism may not have any detailed idea of an afterlife, this myth leaves us with the idea that it's a "place" of shalom - wholeness and rest. Jewish mystics have also left us with a wealth of contemplative philosophic texts on the afterlife, some of them no less "intellectual" than pagan philosophers who posited emanation and return to the "One".

Death is surreal and while Judaism sets various stages of grief recovery, accompanied by set periods of time for grieving, in reality, there is no set time for when grief ends, and there is no single answer to recovery. Obviously, if you're unable to function, seek professional counseling. Otherwise, ease back into normalcy at your own pace. Read comforting prayers. Talk to people who have hearts full of compassion and who are capable of deep listening. Recall your loved one's life, even as you grieve his or her death, and know that they will always live on in your memory.

Yitgadal v'yitkadash....




Creation of Shining Paths

Shirley Abbott, in the

Bookmaker's Daughter

, tells about the mythology of Native Australians. The primordial wanderers, she writes, the ones who created the universe, shaped themselves from clay during "Dreaming Time," and made "shining paths across the continent, singing these paths into existence as they went."

"Unless they chose to walk in a certain direction," she continues, "the path could never exist."

Do you know your path? Do you know that you exist because you have a unique blend of talents, gifts and passions that carve out a


- a path - that no one else can create? It's both simple and agonizingly difficult to see and


- to intimately know your path. First, really

be with

the Divine every day. Second, begin to move in the direction for which your heart cries. Third, monitor carefully your inner and outward journey because the key to finding your path is to know, to the best of your ability,

who you are


I moved to Boulder, Colorado several months ago but each time someone has welcomed me, I explain to them that my soul has always been here, it just took time for my body to catch up. Physically, I live near the top of a mountain surrounded by forest and snowy peaks. Spiritually, these particular mountains have always been the place where I connect most deeply with God. I've called other places home, but the energy of the forest in which I wake each morning is part of my soul in a way I cannot explain.

One name of God is


- the Place. How can God be known as "the place" when God doesn't dwell anywhere? In an anonymous article on a Jewish website, I read this: "If you think about the meaning of a place, you'll know that it is more than a geographical location. It's a space which is capable of containing something else." All of creation is but an extension of


, and to a lesser degree, I feel the same intertwining in my relationship to these mountains.

Here is an easier example: I didn't become a Jew. I discovered that I had been one all along and I eventually made it "official". So it's been with writing (I'm a writer, not someone who writes), setting out to become a rabbi (it has already become enmeshed with my identity), and having worked with the elderly for three decades (a piece of me seems to be missing when I'm not beside them).

I've watched as many of my friends have jumped from path to path, never settling. For them, it's a journey, and they pick up tidbits of spiritual wisdom from many religions and spiritual traditions, but they have failed to choose a steady path of their own. Perhaps this has worked for some of them, but for most, I see them reaching a time in their lives when they feel unsettled and without direction or anchor. 

Obviously, change can and should happen or we become stagnant, and borrowing from other traditions is spiritually healthy. That isn't what I'm talking about. The problem lies in jumping around so much that you're incapable of going deeply into

echad haMakom

: one Divine Place. Saadya Gaon, a rabbi and philosopher who lived and wrote in the first century CE, wrote that one of the greatest hindrances in finding wisdom is seeing some flaw in your spiritual path and, instead of wrestling with it, flippantly abandoning that path and moving to another and then another and then another,

ad infinitum


Recently I had a dream in which I rode a bicycle on a path and came speeding up behind two men who chatted together as they casually rode side by side. I careened around them in frustration and cut in front of them, remaining on the path, even though a vast field, the easy route, stretched to my left. As I pulled back onto the path, I immediately encountered a massive pillar of solid concrete and I nudged my bike into it, willing the wall to move or crumble, until I finally rode around it, still careful to remain on the path.

As Bob and I discussed the dream, it became apparent that my very identity lies wrapped in the path I'm traveling, and that while I encounter frustrating obstacles, I know I must remain on the path, battering down the obstacles or finding ways to go around them while avoiding the easier route (the vast field) that would cast me floundering around for my identity and purpose.

Carve your path, sweet friend.

Sing it into existence

. Make it shine.

Shabbat Shalom,




What We'll Remember

Some years back Joe, my husband at the time, and I decided to take two of our young grandchildren to Disneyworld. Usually they came to visit us in Texas, but that year, we wanted to do something special for them. As we sat with his family chatting about our plans, Joe's mother suddenly said, "Why would you take the kids on vacation at their age? They're so young they'll never remember it. You should wait until they're older."

I found that a little odd, saving special events for children only when they're old enough to remember, but I find it immensely strange that so many adults think that children will have specific memories of much of anything we do for them.

For different reasons, though, the vacation turned out to be a bit of a disaster. Joe and I had purchased a three-day pass to Disneyworld, as well as tickets to a couple of other parks we assumed the kids would love. Each morning we'd wake them up with excited voices, but they wanted to swim and run up and down the elevator and buy something out of the vending machine every half hour just to watch the candy fall down. "Gabe, do you know how few children get to go to Disneyworld?" I asked him, exasperated.

"I'm sorry, Grandma," he said, "but I sure wish Disneyworld was in in Texas."

I got it. My parents took us on vacation at least once a year, usually to the beach in Florida, sometimes to the mountains in Tennessee, and I remember about three things: a museum, a cave with Disney characters, and an alligator farm where my cousin decided to pet a "cute" baby alligator which promptly bit her. What I do remember is arriving at the hotel, running to the balcony to see if we could see the ocean (we always could), running up and down the stairs, building sand castles, sleeping late, and begging my dad to take me to buy candy.

Do I have memories? Oh, yeah. I remember that come summer, we would be going on vacation somewhere. I remember Dad gently lifting me out of bed onto the makeshift bed in the backseat of the car, where I'd promptly wake up and begin to ask if we were there yet. I remember stopping dozens of times to buy snacks and souvenirs and snoop around little towns... I distinctly remember we were never in a rush, that we played all kinds of travel games, and that my parents would stop early enough so we could swim for hours before we fell exhausted into bed, anxious to set off again the next morning for our destination. I remember when I was nine, stopping in Memphis to play bingo and Mom winning enough money for Dad to take me to see the Beatles that night, during their last U.S. tour.

It doesn't matter to me that I remember few specifics about our vacations. It matters that I remember that they were always fun, relaxed times with my family, and that the vacation wasn't just about the destination - it was about the journey, one that my parents always made into an adventure. I remember that I had an extraordinarily loving family who always created exciting things to do together. It became part of a memory of a happy childhood. That's the memory that counts.

I don't know if the children who were part of my life for several precious years will remember much, or even if they'll remember me at all, but I hope that when they grow up, they'll remember that part of their happy childhood was spent at a home in Texas where they jumped off a waterfall into a swimming pool, told spooky stories in a dark room, lit Shabbat candles and asked jillions of questions - or that they just remember that once upon a time in a dark, scary forest that was known for man-eating creatures, they felt the joy of my love.

Hoping to leave someone with a sweet memory today,





Some years back, at the Jewish Learning Fest in the Dallas area, my Conservative rabbi joined with a Reform and Orthodox rabbi in a discussion about halakhah - our fluid guide for religious practices.  I'll never forget the Reform rabbi's assessment of Conservative Judaism: "We come to the same conclusions about virtually everything," he said, "but you spend months or years trying to figure out a way for the Hebrew to catch up to your beliefs, while we in Reform just say, 'here's what we believe and we're going for it' ".

I sat there wondering why I was Conservative. Long before the Reform rabbi made this statement, his words had occurred to me, also. Responses given to me by Conservative Jews weren't satisfying. I had been a part of fundamentalist Christianity where it seemed someone was always twisting scripture to make it say what they already believed. Now here I was a part of a Jewish denomination that seemingly did the same thing.

Enter a much more in-depth discussion at OHALAH - the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal which I recently attended. During one important session, one of our most esteemed scholars and rabbis, Daniel Siegel, asked - and then answered - the question I posed years ago: "Why bother with halakhic conversation? Why not just say this is what we're going to do and then do it?"

Why bother?

Because conversation is crucial to our identity as a People, he said. If we don't look back at what our ancestors concluded about our sacred texts, then we have cut ourselves off from them. Regardless of whether we come to a different conclusion, despite our discomfort over the norms of their time period - sexism, isolation from the broader spectrum of humanity, a myriad of beliefs that our culture can no longer accept - we can and must be in dialogue with those who have committed their lives to study of our sacred texts. It is the process , and not the conclusion that binds us together as Jews, says Reb Daniel.

"What would Moses think?" asked one Orthodox friend of mine, responding to a "liberal" comment I made. Well, I don't know - maybe if he lived in our modern time, he might have applauded our efforts to take past halakhic decisions seriously, while struggling with new ways to interpret sacred texts. Our goal, says Reb Daniel, is to be "backwards compatible and forward looking".

In our classes, study groups, conferences and even in informal gatherings related to our rabbinical program, we're constantly instructed to truly listen when another person speaks - without any kind of comment. The person speaks without interruption and when they're finished speaking, they say, debarti (I have spoken). The rest of us respond with the word shamati (I have listened). Note: listened. Not just "heard".

As a future rabbi, this is my commitment. To listen. To try and understand another's point of view. To be in dialogue with those who have gone before me, who are on the path alongside me, and who are coming up behind me.