Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why Ask God?

I’ve learned something about the relationship between God and me recently.  It’s that I really need to remember to ask for what I want.  It’s not up to me to decide if I need it.  God will handle that part.  If I don’t need it, God will, by His “no,” let me know. 

It is among my responsibilities in this relationship to ask. 

I think there are two reasons. First, when I ask God for something, I reconnect; also, by asking, I signal that I know Who’s God and Who isn’t. And that I know I’m the “isn’t.”

The second reason to ask God for Her help is that, when I do that, I acknowledge both that I cannot manage on my own, and that I don’t have to.
My faith is so everyday that I sometimes forget it means that I’m never alone.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

About Time

It's past "about time" I got back to writing blog posts.  There are two reasons I've been remiss about posting.  The first is that I have not developed a readership. And people who do read the blog do not post comments, because currently only people who have some Google account can add a comment. A major reason I began blogging was to start a dialogue about religious viewpoints: no comments, no dialogue. What's more, it seems that no one can read my blog unless they get to it through a post by me on Facebook. (How I wish Google had a phone number for "customer care.") The second is more personal: I am spending so much time revising my manuscript on my own religious journey that any other writing uses up energy which might go toward that.

What, then, brings me here today? I made a pact with another member of the Write Group who said she also had not been blogging for a while. We said we'd each write at least one post before January 15th.  She beat me to it, yesterday. So: congratulations, Nancy.

In the summer, I joined a Write Group ...group...on memoir writing. I was not altogether positive when I walked into the first session.  But I have learned something every session about my own work, and comments by me on other members' work have it seems been useful. Yesterday, I attended for the first time an essay/short story-writing session by another sub-group of the Write Group.  New people to me, mostly.  Good writing to listen to.  Some genuinely sound criticism of what I brought to read.  Another check mark in favor of the Write Group. Joining the Write Group is a decision I'm very glad to have made.

Going to the sessions does take time away from writing.  But, then, so do three-quarters of the things I do every day.  And <i>they<i> don't help me become a better writer.  For I am becoming that, although I am tempted to say "better still" because I've been a good writer for some time.  But the sense that time is running out, accompanied by feedback I get in Write Group sessions, multiplied by my love affair with the delete button when I revise--all combine to improve my writing.

I figured that buddying up might impel me to get blogging.  We'll see. One post does not an ongoing blog make. 


Friday, November 1, 2013


I was just reading a review, six months old, of a book called Einstein’s Jewish Science. The reviewer suggests that Einstein’s theories reflected a Talmudic bent. In the way one thing depends on another in Einstein's view of the universe, so in the Talmud things operate in relation to each other. The example of a Talmudic discussion given is “The shalt not steal.” Immediately, I was reminded of an experience I had one winter, early on in my religious journey. I had gone into a church in my neighborhood–not the one I thought of as my church, but one in fact closer to my house. The sanctuary was empty except for the dramatic presence of a huge crucifix that overhung the altar and at least seemed to reach into the area over the pews. I did what I had come there to do. I prayed. And left. Except that on my way out, I saw a wallet on the floor and picked it up. The wallet had no ID inside. It did have seven "crisp" hundred dollar bills, and two twenties. Now this was back when $740 was not pocket change. Certainly not to me, who had been unemployed for some months. I went next door to the rectory to turn over the wallet, assuming that someone would inquire about it; but the priest wanted no part of the situation. Not knowing what to do next, I stood there. Finally, he suggested the police station. I went there. There were three policemen behind the desk. I gave them the wallet, filled out a form. One of the policemen said that, if no one claimed the wallet and its contents in thirty days, the money would be mine. As I walked away, I happened to glance back and saw all three policemen in quiet conversation. My intuition buzzed for attention: without a calculator, they were trying to divide 740 by three. I wasn't good at arithmetic either. I smiled to myself, not disappointed in them or in me.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Remembered, As She Was

In the prayerbook we use at my synagogue during festivals, there is a meditation preceding Yizkor that I am convinced was planted by a mind-reader or seer or maybe the god of memoir writers. As I rewrite sections of my memoir now, I find myself focused mainly on two things. The one which is most on my mind got a useful boost from this meditation. I guote: "May my memories of the dead be tender and true, undiminished by time; let me recall them, and love them, as they were." As they were. As they were. In what I thought was the final draft of the memoir my mother, whom I loved to the point where words fail, was not present as she really was. I think how much I loved her may have made me place a scrim between her and the reader, so that only what I wanted readers to see showed through on the page. My mother WAS brilliant, she WAS clever, she WAS brave, she DID love me unconditionally. But she also WAS a very complicated woman, living a complicated life she didn't do everything she might have to make less complicated. In my current rewrite, I am bent on having the woman in my memoir be fuller, as tough and pained and difficult and needy as my mother was in life. That is the woman she deserves to be in my pages. The woman I loved with a love stronger than the love I have ever given to anyone else. Yet the mother I wish had done some things differently. That mother is whom I now try to remember at Yizkor. And in my memoir. Zelya Zam Stein: as she was.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What my Memoir is, Finally, About.

I ask questions. If I’m awake, I ask questions. Sometimes I think I confuse asking questions with breathing. Few of my questions are rhetorical. I want answers. To be clear, when I ask questions, it isn’t THE answer I’m looking for--not right off. Multiple, various answers are what I want from friends and acquaintances, or other people who are likely to know more about the subject at hand than I. I am happy for every answer. Give me three or five–a dozen. More! I will put them inside this safe place in my head. There, I will hold each one up against the question, looking for a likely match--the match that will fit tightly in the square hole of my question. Though most answers don't fit, I do not hurry, unwilling to risk eliminating a fine match just because it doesn't slide into place at once. Because that is almost never how it happens. Even an answer with huge potential will need to be shaved and smoothed down and polished before it's a perfect fit. That work is the part of the process for which I am--enthusiastically--responsible. For, to tell you the whole truth, after a lifetime of asking questions and collecting answers, I've become something of a craftsman at doing the fine-tuning, the work which turns the best of them into answers I can live with contentedly. And I do. Still, very occasionally, a question of mine will have no possible source for an answer other than my own mind. Or soul. Take a question that came to me about the title of this book. For as long as I have thought about writing a book about my spiritual journey, long before it led me to where I am now, long even before my story had a form–it had a name. At the top of the first page of a journal that became my first draft, I typed "Run with Patience." It was a phrase from Hebrews that seemed to me a perfect description of an imperative, on the journey on which I unexpectedly found myself: not to rush ahead at the headlong pace I did most things. I might think of the journey as a race–in the Bible it’s called that–but it was not against time. If my race, my journey, was against ANYTHING, it was against EVERYTHING that made or would make me want to stop. Perhaps at what seemed like a dead end. Or when the road directly ahead looked risky to take, even dangerous. Or, more than once, when I was --simply--exhausted to my marrow. It took me a very long time to realize that a genuine spiritual journey is not only not a sprint, not even a marathon, but that there is no finish line. The journey never ends. (I don’t even know–of course I don't!–that it ends with death. Why would it?) Another insight followed quickly for a change: I didn’t get to set the pace, God sets the pace. And not once. Slows me down, hurries me along, makes me stop to breathe deeply a few–or a few thousand–times. Along the way, I have been presented with many choices, but,I see now, never have I been my journey’s scheduler. I had to accept that, I finally understood, or drop out of the race altogether. As I was unwilling to do the latter, I had to do the former. And I did eventually understand that it might be good that I was not, and would never be, in charge of the clock. So, in the end, Run with Patience declared itself to be a good title, an honest title. But was my hard-learned surrender to God as timekeeper what my journey, and therefore my book, was about? It was only when I reached the end of my manuscript that I had my answer–or, more likely, was willing to accept that, although I had become very fond of "Run with Patience," it reflected only how I wended my way spiritually, not what I learned along the way. The main lesson of my journey was deeper, but also quite obvious once I was willing to see it. My story was, and is, about how God is. Here–and everywhere else. Him and Her–yet One. A mystery–and always available. In our midst–and lonely. Those are some descriptions of lessons I’ve learned on my journey. But all of them are gathered in this one: God belongs to no one. He is my God–and everyone else’s. Belonging to no one, He is the God of all: the God of “us,” and also the God of “them.” If God belongs to no one, but, rather, to everyone, i have learned, She is "nobody's God." And it does--truly--follow that all of us, on our many and different paths, however narrow or wide they happen to be, need to share Him. So my book’s name is now "Nobody’s God." You may as well know that I’m smiling. Because I have just realized something. Call it today's lesson: God, Who gave me faith, also gave me the title of this book.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Revising by Me, Revising by God

Finally, there's something God and I have in common: awareness that revising is a tricky business. It needs to be done carefully, because once done (in writing, once published) that's it. Well, unless you are famous enough to make changes in a new edition--a league in which league most writers, including obviously me, are not in. God, unlike most writers, could continue making changes indefinitely if He and She chose, but instead seemingly determined early on that we should take that over. In some circles that's referred to as "continuing creation"--although it often seems to involve more obliteration than creation. (Consider that, after the flood, God revised the injunction against eating animals to reflect only how they are killed for our consumption. Obviously, it would be healthier for chickens if we didn't put them on the menu--but is it not conceivable that we might also be healthier without the Colonel's tubs or home-grilled breasts--or even--imagine!--chicken soup?) If we are now pretty much in charge of revising the world, that may not have been the wisest decision. Maybe the "re-start" button of the flood was more traumatic for God than we know. Also, there are some believers who restrain the impulse to make a change until they have talked to God about it, and then listened for more than a few seconds for that 'still small voice" which occasionally whispers advice. Lately, I have been revising small sections of my memoir. I've been doing it as part of my participation in the memoir writing group which meets bi-weekly at the Montclair Library under the auspices of the Write Group. I happen to enjoy the process of revising--I know, I know, many writers, especially folks new to writing, will think this weird. But the fact is, in the heat of writing a first draft of anything, the writer's focus has to be on "getting it down." Word order, phrase order, sentence order, paragraph order--none is something to stop and dwell on. But after you have the initial draft, making all those choices--and many more--is what revising is about. And it's an exhilarating process. At least for me. A good deal of my time spent revising is devoted to making sure I have chosen the most accurate word to communicate a physical thing, an emotion, a response. I say "word" because a basic tenet of my writing philosophy is that the more words a writer uses to describe anything, the weaker the description becomes. There is an obvious difference between revising a manuscript and reconsidering an aspect of creation. The most our revising will affect is one writer's attempt to create the best manuscript of which he or she is capable. Any revising God does is. . .a miracle?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Dream and the Reality

For a long time what I wanted was a life with hospital corners. Neat, tight, above all looking like a bed should. I think all I meant was that I wanted a family. On both ends: I wanted my birth family to have lasted, and I wanted to have a traditional family "of my own." I got neither wish. My birth family was gone by the time I was halfway through college. My mother died the summer between my sophomore and junior years--midsummer exactly, July 30th. I was eighteen. I loved her a lot. I was a very good daughter to her very good mother. When she died, we had no leftover quarrels to regret, no loose ends of any kind to get tied in knots over. The only problem was I was left--and that feeling hung around for decades. It still crops up sometimes, in one form or another. I do occasionally feel I am living a leftover life. I think she felt that way, my mother, after my father died. She once mentioned that she never got her period again, after he died. Not that she was still young enough to get pregnant, but still. . . Several times, I fell in love, but realized--in time!--that I loved the man's family more than I loved him. It was occasionally hard, but I walked away. By the time I met Daniel, the man I married, I had stopped thinking I would ever have a traditional family. And that's a good thing. Because I was so unhappy in my marriage to this brilliant, decent man that I knew I dare not bear his child because then how would I ever leave? (By my six-month anniversary, I knew that, hard as I was trying to stay in my marriage, chances were I would someday surrender to the reality that if I did not leave Daniel, the most intelligent man I ever met, a man who was a superb teacher and even vacuumed occasionally, if I stayed on,it would one day be too long and I would die from erasure. The disease that you get if you keep needing to delete yet another inch of your self if you are to get through one more day. So I didn't have children. (I do wish someone had taken the trouble to point out that if you don't have children, it's a sure thing that you will not have grandchildren. I long for those grandchildren I will not have.) The result is that I have not had a family of either kind for a long time, and I will not ever have a life with hospital corners. Does that mean I am alone? Yes. And no. Because God is. Here.