No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of the conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s own culture but within oneself. If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts the responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction because if all contradictions were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of a leaning into the light.
Barry Lopez, 1945 – 2020
quote source: First Light Meditation
There is a small green island
where one white cow lives alone, a meadow of an island.
The cow grazes till nightfull, full and fat,
but during the night she panics
and grows thin as a single hair.
What shall I eat tomorrow? There is nothing left.
By dawn the grass has grown up again, waist-high.
The cow starts eating and by dark
the meadow is clipped short.
She is full of strength and energy, but she panics
in the dark as before and grows abnormally thin overnight.
The cow does this over and over,
and this is all she does.
She never thinks, This meadow has never failed
to grow back. Why should I be afraid every night
that it won’t. The cow is the bodily soul.
The island field is this world where that grows
lean with fear and fat with blessing, lean and fat.
White cow, don’t make yourself miserable
with what’s to come, or not to come.
Rumi, (Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī) 1207 — 1273
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final
― Rainer Maria Rilke. (1875—1926)
I’m in the thick of it: degreasers, cleansers, sponges, water, toothpicks. The intention of Passover cleaning is to rid the house of all chametz, chametz being the Hebrew word for leavened food. Over the years I have actually come to welcome what might seem obsessive or astoundingly bothersome to some. Pesach cleaning is intense. It is physically demanding. Every drawer must be taken out, scrubbed and cleaned. New drawer liners. Drawer hinges cleaned. Crevices tended to with toothpicks. Microwaves, dishwashers, ovens down to their racks and gaskets receive their due. Ditto the fridge. And don’t forget the counters. For some the ritual is a good wiping down. Others pour boiling water. I’ve heard of temporary countertops fitted and placed over year-round ones. As with any religion’s traditions and dictates, normal is what you do; obsessive is what others do that is more than you do; slacker is what others do that is less than you do.
But oh, the satisfaction of knowing you have done your level best. Grime that might (OK does) escape regular cleaning eleven months of the year, is sought out and banished (three cheers for Krud Kutter.) Some crazy meals are at hand as I try to use up the last bits of oatmeal, flour, pasta. The rest will be set aside and not used or even seen during Passover. Through an intermediary, most often the rabbi or the rabbi’s assigned representative, Jews can choose to sell their chametz. The seller receives an amount of money, really a down payment, with the balance to be paid at the end of Pesach if the buyer wants the sale to be finalized.
“OK, Debra,” you ask, “we get the Krud Cutter, the sponges and even the toothpicks. But what’s up with the cowboy boots? Are they chametz, too?” No, and here’s where the spirtual side of chametz cleaning comes in. With so much time devoted to it, cleaning out the chametz becomes a metaphor for reckoning with the ego—the puffed up yeasty parts of us that merit a bit of scouring as well.
I recently received my second vaccine. Heading to TJ’s a few days later, I felt like dressing up: jeans, a tucked-in shirt, and a belt. For the first time in a year, I pulled on my cowboy boots. I love my cowboy boots. I have two pair—low black ones and a tall pair of red ones. I love how I feel in them. Tall, rangy, powerful. In my boots, my body might be in Michigan, but my spirit is back in red rock country. Shoes are for walking; boots are for strutting.
By the time I’d completed my shopping and accepting a “great boots,” comment from the cashier, I was feeling pretty high on the horse. Heels hitting the pavement, I caught myself in the act of being too caught up with my self. It felt great to be out, to be doing something “normal.” Wearing my boots once again, I felt something I hadn’t felt for twelve months. Maybe it was simply exuberance. Maybe it was something less benign—a puffed up ego. Chametz.
My husband and I went somewhere later that day. My boots were still in the kitchen where I’d taken them off. I put on my sneakers. As we walked, I was conscious of being closer to the ground, connecting with earth instead of ego. I’m not giving away my boots. I look forward to wearing them again. And again and again. Next time, however, I’ll remember that like rising bread, the ego sometimes needs a bit of punching down.
Whether your tradition is spring cleaning, Passover cleaning, or Easter cleaning, get yourself some Krud Kutter and have at it! As for cowboy boots, I know a great place to get them if you have the urge.
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Leaven is out, but levity? Always welcome. Here are links to two videos that will get you laughing, or at least smiling, no matter what.
Vocabulary: mishkan (the Holy Ark that held the tablets); mitzvah (literally a commandment, usually understood to be a good deed);
dayenu (eponymous song meaning it would have been enough); chag sameach (happy holiday)
Our rabbi rocks!