I bought my first book of poetry when I was in college. I was searching for my place in the universe and in a threshold moment of becoming. Poetry became important in my own healing process, as I figured out what I needed to leave behind and what I would take with me into adulthood.
Today, I am even more drawn to poetry. The more that I know, the more I realize that I don’t know. Somehow poetry speaks to that place – the spaces in between, the nuances and subtleties of the deepest emotions and theology. When I read poetry by Mary Oliver, she helps me remember to notice and appreciate the sublime movements of nature. The poet David Whyte’s poems became like friends when I navigated a momentous shift in my career journey.
As Pádraig Ó Tuama said in a recent podcast of Poetry Unbound, he would read poetry before work at his intense job because it helped “return me to myself.”
Professor Daniel Matt, the great Zohar scholar once told me that in order to understand Jewish mysticism, you should read the text like poetry. That insight opened up an entire world.
Poetry allows for endless interpretation, and like biblical texts, the meanings change as you change. You don’t “agree-disagree” with poems, because you know that the words are an expression of individuality.
Another time I reach for poetry is when I am feeling broken-hearted, in need of healing, or am looking to create a healing experience for others.
Perhaps this is why over the last bunch of years, I have been so deeply drawn to poetry in my life and work more than ever before.
There is so much pain and brokenness in our collective world. There is much that makes no sense — grief over the massive numbers who have died of covid, the urgent climate catastrophe, the global refugee crisis, mass shootings everywhere in spaces once thought to be safe, and the threat to our democratic way of life.
As my dear teacher and colleague, Rabbi Nancy Flam says, “it’s hard to be a human.” Yes.
Poetry may not fix the world, but it can absolutely be a balm for the soul.
When my friend Rabbi Pamela Wax published her new book, Walking the Labyrinth, I knew I wanted to share her work with everyone. When Rabbi Wax’s brother took his own life, she wrote poetry as part of her healing process. Her poems express a deep understanding of human emotions that are as beautiful as they are profound.
Rabbi Wax writes:
Poetry has been used throughout the millennia to respond to loss and tragedy. The poet’s purpose is to transform her/his own heartbreak and loss into art. In turn, that poetry serves to comfort readers as they journey through their own grief and suffering.
I invite you to join us in a very special (free) virtual conversation with Rabbi Wax and me:
Rabbi Wax will share some of her own poetry—both poetry that addresses the loss of loved ones and the healing process, but also poetry that addresses injustice and eco-grief.
We will discuss poetry as a spiritual practice for healing and wholeness.
Wednesday, June 15
5:00 pm PST // 8:00 pm EST
I hope you will join us for this conversation.