Monday, May 28, 2007

Siddur Kol Hevel, part 2

Rachel sent a link to this, which Catherine Madsen (author of the essential, fascinating book on liturgy, The Bones Reassemble) drafted some years ago:
Our father, our king, we resent fathers and kings.
Our mother, our teacher, we resist mothers and teachers.
Our eclipse, our no-one, renew us for a good year.
Our figment, our construct, hear us, pity us, and spare us.
Our guess, our denial, seal us in the book of pardon.
Our hope, our dismay, speed our liberation.
Our doubt, our division, temper us to your need.
Avinu malkeinu, for your sake if not for ours.
Our limit, our secret, remember us 'til we live.

Our rock, our redeemer, give us endurance in pain.
Our place, our midst, root us in the cracks of your being.
Our breath, our life, evade all our theologies.
Our midwife, our surgeon, bring out of us what is in us.
Our infant, our patient, demand from us 'til we provide.
Our lover, our consoler, lie down beside us in loneliness.
Our enemy, our catastrophe, goad us to act justly.
Our mugger, our rapist, shatter our lives with your claims.
Our maker, our destroyer, build us again from the ground up, carefully.
That's more specifically liturgical than I had in mind for SKH (Siddur Kol Hevel), Rachel, although I'm very grateful! I'd been thinking of things like Blake's "All deities reside in the human breast" or scraps of verse, like Cohen's "I draw aside the curtain. You mock us with the beauty of your world" (from Book of Mercy). And I must say, much as I admire the first two lines here, I deeply dislike the penultimate one. Not to sound like Job's wife, but if you're going to call God a mugger and rapist, why not call him "Our Hitler, our Stalin," or "Our sondercommando" and be done with it?

This, on the other hand, also by Madsen, helped give me the title for my project:
For liturgy, God is always a moving target: we pray to him and get equivocal answers, or none; we ask to see his glory and are shown only his back. Any assertion we make of God's grace and mercy is at once undercut by the contingency of our daily experience. Any assumption we make of God's indifference or hostility is eclipsed by the appearance of mercy and grace in our lives. The declaration from the burning bush, ehyeh asher ehyeh ("I will be what I will be"), is a promise and a threat in equal measure, and hints at the simultaneous presence and absence of God at the other end of our prayers. Yet whether God is present or absent is not a final or even an answerable question, only a sort of spiritual brain-teaser by which our minds stay alert. With or without God, what is unequivocably present is the human other in need.
"Kol Hevel" is, after all, a pun: "all is vanity," but also "The Voice of Abel," which is to say, of your brother's blood, of "the human other in need."

But keep them coming, everyone! Show me what you're working with, as the (utterly inappropriate) song says.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Anything from Leonard Cohen's "Book of Mercy," especially number 50!