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Making Laws for This Land

Created as the February 12, 2021 drash, or sermon, for Congregation Ner Shalom. The image refers both to the idea of a hungry mob, whether bibilical Hebrews newly emerged from slavery in Egypt or contemporary Americans, and the ancient Egyptian "feather of truth" against which each soul is weighed at death.

On the warm Sunday before the inauguration, my window was open and I heard someone outside singing. He was singing “America the Beautiful,” and I found myself crying with relief. I felt that a little door in my whole being had opened a crack.

I didn’t know this door was inside me, and I didn’t know it had apparently been closed, but it was as clear to me as the brightness that poured through that crack and brought immanent tears into my throat that for the past four years, I had closed off any feeling I had had for this country. Because it was dangerous to think about America – America the Beautiful -- under the cruel thumb of the dangerously wounded beast on the throne.

But now I am again thinking of this nation’s beauty, its promise, and the generosity of which she – we all – are capable.

Which brings me to the parsha (Torah portion) for this week: mishpatim: the laws. Like our forbears recently out of Egypt, now that it’s registered on us that we’re out of the narrow place, we need to pay careful attention to our laws and enforcing our laws so that we remain an open highway for all. We know that outlaws and robbers of democracy are lying in wait. What can we put in place to minimize the danger?

DH Lawrence wrote “Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves.” My generation had it easy. We’ve been lax. We almost fell into that dark pit but have managed to reach a plateau on which we have the space to plan.

How do we go forward as lawmakers? I asked for guidance, and the response led me to this:

This is not a time for standing idly by and wondering. The bystander will dry up and wither, and disappear, not needing any external force to mow him or her down. The lack of personal engagement now is tantamount to scooping out one’s own essence and throwing it away. It is an act that says, “Don’t count me because I m not here. I am a shadow of what could have been. I am no one and nothing.” and with that, a non-being.

So we must involve and engage. Have an opinion. Cry when we are moved, laugh to fill our souls. Wonder what the options are. Construct possibilities.

Wait if we must for the right word, but we must not put the pen down for lack of inspiration.

Watch with interest. Respond and notice where our responses are born in our body’s awareness.

We are the mirror of all possibility and when we move, all Being feels our movement and responds.

Dr. Martin Luther King, in his “Where do we go from here?” speech in 1967, advised that as we go forward with a plan to make the world better, to include the disenfranchised, to address the root of the problem of poverty, that we do so with fully honest love, lest even our most generous acts be mere fodder for our egos.

How do we find the deep, sustaining love that nourishes our souls and informs our actions with abiding truth? I asked again, and heard:

Weep with all your lifetimes’ worth of relief that:

it isn’t as bad as you thought it would be,

that it’s over

that you are forgiven

that you can still go home

that they are safe

that the endless night is finally giving way to dawn

that you will be able to pay your rent

that the terror is over, even if you need to add “for now”

that it wasn’t your fault

that its still there

that the fire spared your house

that the baby will live

that they didn’t succeed

that they did succeed

that he came home

that they are free.

We are burdened with all the worries of our uncertain lives, and we need to find a way through, not around, the obstacles to creating a society guided by justice and mercy. And it is not too much for us. And we can do it.

© Leiah Bowden 2021

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