Psalm 8: A Poetic Meditation

sharon-cohen-anisfeld

Ps. 8: A Poetic Meditation

For the leader, on the gittith. A Psalm of David.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name throughout the earth,
You who have covered the heavens with Your splendor! 

I am standing on top of a mountain
Before an expanse so vast that it frightens me.
Some people feel their spirits soar at the summit
I feel aware
of how far there is to fall.
It is not entirely pleasant
or unpleasant.
That is not really the point.
The point is how small I am
Which is to say how big You are.

I have never understood people who won’t admit that awe
is part fear.

I can bear to look out at the horizon
only briefly
Before I need to sit down
on a sun-drenched rock
eat a sandwich
smell you sweating next to me.
Maybe argue a little
or feel your head in my lap.
Either way.
Just to know we are on solid ground.

***

From the mouths of infants and sucklings
You have founded strength on account of Your foes, to put an end to enemy and avenger. 

Wait.
If we are going to
speak of my children
and Your enemies
in one breath
I must tell You:
Please don’t ask me to choose between my child and You.
I will always choose my child.

After more than two decades
(I know that is nothing to You)
I can still remember
holding each of them close
for a time
looking down
at the little fingers
on my breast
and the mouth born knowing
what to do.

I need to know what You mean.
I think I heard You say
There is strength
from the mouth of the suckling infant
that protects You
from Your enemies.

My heart is pounding.
Which is how I know
I have been told
a beautiful
or terrible
truth.

I ache for the children
for all of us
sucking, seeking comfort
carrying the burden of protecting You
whether we know it or not.

God help us.

***

When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and stars that You set in place

It’s time to look up again now.
Be quiet.

I understand.
The work of Your fingers
is everywhere.
Behold.

Once on a cool desert evening
I went running alone
and saw the moon hanging low and orange in the sky.
Behold.

Once on a warm summer night
I lay with my back on wet grass
and watched for shooting stars with a friend.
Behold.

I swear these things really happened.
Your moon. Your stars.
My life.

I know I am not the only witness.

***

What is man that You have been mindful of him, mortal man that You have taken note of him
that You have made him little less than divine and adorned him with glory and majesty; 

A teacher once told me
that to bend the knee
to feel small
is to know how blessed
we really are.

And I wept.

I was angry, if you must know.
You talk about feeling small, I thought.
No.
Feeling small is one thing I know more about than you.
If anything, it keeps me from knowing
How blessed I really am.

The next day
I went into the desert.
I stood on a hilltop
I felt very small
and I thought
oh I see
Here I am.

And I laughed.

I felt blessed, if you must know.
I thought about each of us
On our own hilltop
Foolishly imagining
ourselves
bigger or smaller
than anyone else.

Here we are.
All of us
Knees bent
Beloved
Little less than divine.

***

You have made him master over Your handiwork, laying the world at his feet,
sheep and oxen, all of them, and wild beasts, too;
the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, whatever travels the paths of the seas.

But!
I wanted to protest.
I have never felt master
Over any living thing.

Is that so
I heard You say.

Be careful of the power you pretend not to have.

***

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name throughout the earth!

A teacher once sent me into the forest
and said build an altar
with what you find there.
But first, he said
you must ask permission.
Ask permission of every leaf every flower every branch every stone

From every yes and every no
I made my offering to You.

Amen.


Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld became President of Hebrew College in 2018. She served previously as Dean of the College’s Rabbinical School from 2006-2017.