Wonder! Why? – My Elul Exercise 5776

If you stop reading this because you are not a baseball fan, you might miss something special.

All-star pitcher tragically killed in a boating accident.

That same pitcher is not just loved as a baseball player, but as a Cuban refugee who risked life and limb to come to America.

This same pitcher was beloved by his teammates and his community for his joyful approach to all.

After canceling the game the day after he died, his teammates suited up the next day to begin the tumultuous task of playing a game in the shadow of such a loss.  

They all dressed in their uniforms, but with his name and his number on the backs of their jerseys.

His friend and teammate – who had not hit a home run all season – led off the game for his team.  He started the at-bat by imitating his dead friend’s batting stance.  He completed the at bat by hitting his first home run of the season … weeping as he rounded the bases.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, it was quite a moment.

Sometimes it seems that there are moments that come together in magical, mysterious and quite meaningful ways.  Chance?  Synchronicity?  Serendipity? Proof of … Something?

Who knows!?  Sometimes, the moments don’t need to be dissected or debunked.  Sometimes, the moment we start thinking, categorizing or explaining the moment — is the moment — we lose the moment.  Sometimes, we need to shut that part of ourselves off and let ourselves wonder.

As adults our ‘wonder’ muscles are often underused, atrophied and even forgotten.  The experience of wonder can be an important soul ‘fertilizer’.  This soul fertilizer expands and broadens our capacity to consider and reach.  This soul fertilizer extends our awareness of the universe to what may be beyond the limits of what we think we see, hear, feel and know.  

The upcoming days of Teshuvah provide us an opportunity to revitalize these wonder muscles.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it this way:  “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Humankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.


My Elul Exercise – 5776 – An Imam, A Pastor, (Lesbian) Bishop and A Rabbi Walk Into A Sacred Space

An imam, a pastor a (lesbian) bishop and a rabbi walked into a sacred space … 


It sounds like the beginning of joke, doesn’t it?  It isn’t a joke … but it makes me smile to think about it.  This past Sunday I was invited to be a part of Park Hill United Methodist Church’s 106th Anniversary service.  Not only were we celebrating that occasion, but preaching at the service was the Bishop Karen Oliveto.  Bishop Oliveto was recently elected as the first openly lesbian United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Western Jurisdictional Conference.  Oh, and by the way, the Methodist denomination officially bans  “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination.  And, it was the 15th anniversary of September 11th … Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali, Pastor Eric Smith and I led a prayer commemorating that anniversary.

The voices of intolerance and prejudice seem to dominate the world around us.  The actions of those who would speak these messages make us feel afraid, angry and insecure.  And yet, through the cacophony of that noise and in the shadow of those actions … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a (Lesbian) Bishop walked into a sacred space.  Our standing together did not quiet those voices (yet), nor did it (completely) prevent the possibility that the makers of such noise from perpetuating more violence.  And yet, in a country still fearful of muslims 15 years later … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a (Lesbian) Bishop walked into a sacred space.  And yet, still facing one of the many prejudices still buried deep within our American institutions … an Imam, a Pastor, a Rabbi and a Lesbian Bishop walked into a sacred space.

Rabbi Tarfon taught us in the 2nd century: You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it. (Avot 2:21)  The work of the world can seem overwhelming, as if we could never complete it.  Perhaps, it is supposed to feel that way … And yet, we just have to keep working.  

At this time year in which we are given to asses the work of change and growth we all have to do, we need to honest about the nature of the job AND not give up the work we need to do.  That job may be about how we treat ourselves, our loved ones … or people who just look, think and act so differently that we do.  No matter the job and how big it may feel … we still gotta do the work. 

The image of the four of us — the Imam, the Pastor, the Bishop and I — standing together and praying together in that sacred space makes me smile.  It prods me to remember that the most powerful thing we all can do when confronted with the scope and enormity of the tasks before us … are the small, simple acts of love, kindness and peace.

May this time you spend paying attention to your tasks of growth and change and the work required to realize them be rich and renewing.

My Elul Exercise – 5776 – Back At It, Again

Four years ago, in preparation for the New Year I engaged in what I called ‘My Elul Exercise.’   Elul is the last month of the Hebrew year.  It’s 29 days are a prelude, a walk-up, a pregame, a prologue (well, you get the idea) to the New Year and the Ten Days of Teshuvah that begin our year.  As part of my own ‘work’ – both personal and professional – I attempted to write something every day during Elul that focused upon the themes presented to us at this time of year.  And while I do not know if I have it in me to write something everyday this year, I find myself motivated to take the time and effort to reflect, write and share with you as we get ready for 5777.

So, what am I going to do and why?  Well, First let’s address the ‘Why?’ …

Elul (which began this past week ) is not some holiday-deprived month of the Hebrew calendar, but oh, so much more … It is an important time of preparation for the spiritual work we have the opportunity to do during the first ten days of the New Year.  The Marahal of Prague (the same sage of Golem fame) summed up Elul’s role well: “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into his soul and search his deeds, that he may make confession.”

Now the ‘What?’ …

During these days of Elul it is my intention to write something about this sacred process of reflection and renewal.  With great humility, I offer these writings to you in forms of blog posts.  For me, the process of writing regularly serves as a way of helping me to stay true a regular exerciss of reflection.  For you, I hope these musings on various ‘Elulian’ themes, may be of use as you endeavor to walk your own path of reflection and renewal this New Year.

I will post my thoughts through Twitter (@rabbimo or @micahdenver), Facebook and this blog.  As you come across these posts I hope that in some fashion my Elul Exercise will be a help to your own.

And, whatever that ‘exercise’ may look like for you, may you have a great workout this New Year.