Psalm 90: Yearnings for Meaning
By Leah Carnow
I have a confession to make.
Since the pandemic began, I’ve played a lot of Settlers of Catan.
My partner and I, along with our two best friends in Boston, joined to become a “pod” early on in quarantine. Through the spring, we met once, twice, sometimes three times a week to cook dinner together, drink, and play Catan. Since games usually last one or two hours, and there were afternoons and evenings where we played more than one game in a row, we have now played dozens of games together.
For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that has passed, like a watch of the night.
The time that I have spent playing Catan is a blip, in both the scheme of my own life and in the life of the world. A thousand years of humanity is nothing, like a singular night that slips by into morning. I know this and yet, I experience each day trickling slowly into the next. Time drags slowly as I move from one Zoom meeting to another, but after stumbling into bed, I often wonder, where did the day go?
So we are consumed by Your anger, terror-struck by Your fury. You have set our iniquities before You, our hidden sins in the light of Your face.
When I feel consumed by indecision and by anxiety, by self-criticism, and by guilt, I often turn to scrolling on the internet. I read article after article in my hunger for science, news, and, more recently, anti-racism resources. I turn also to baking bread. I play with different combinations of heirloom strains of wheat and other grains and watch the finished loafs emerge from the oven. And I turn to Catan, challenging my friends and partner to intense, though lighthearted battles of strategy and luck.
My sins of sloth and avoidance shine brightly before the One who knows me. But what can I do? I find it hard to write, though I have always loved writing. I have struggled to pray lately, though I once relished my prayer practice. I have found it challenging to open my mat to practice yoga, even as I show up to guide others in practice. And the theaters and rehearsal spaces that I once called home sit empty, no longer a refuge for me.
Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart.
I yearn for wisdom.
When all the scrolling, baking, Catan-ing begins to feel like a waste of time, I realize that I am still nourishing my mind and soul. I realize that I am still learning.
I am learning and re-learning how to surrender. As I have unintentionally devoted myself to a regular practice of Catan, I have actually grown to be quite good, mostly, because I have learned to be willing to switch my strategy midway through the game. When the circumstances of the game change, I adjust. I am learning to surrender not only to the game, but also to the changing circumstances of my own life; I am learning to flexibly respond to what the world demands of me.
I am learning and re-learning how to listen deeply. I listen to my dough rising slowly on the counter, its bubbles whispering to me when it is ready. I listen to my friends and family on the phone, grieving the loss of loved ones and of dreams. I listen to the Black and allied voices who are crying out for equity, for justice, and for opportunity. I listen and my heart is stirred to action.
Satisfy us at daybreak with Your steadfast love that we may sing for joy all our days. Give us joy for as long as You have afflicted us, for the years we have suffered misfortune.
I yearn for joy.
On a cold February night this winter, I took myself out salsa dancing. It had been some time since I had gone out for a night of salsa, and it had been nearly ten years since I had gone alone. As soon as I arrived, I began to dance. The next three hours passed in a blur of joy. I joined with strangers to spin, sweat, and move in sweet rhythm together, hips against hips, hands showing hands the way. Occasionally I closed my eyes and let myself be led by movement, music, and trust. After exchanging names and sometimes stories, I moved onto the next partner, ready to feel the pulse of the next song and the next dance.
My memories of joy look so different from my current joys. Today I delight in a crackling loaf of bread, hot from the oven. I take pleasure in an article that makes me question what I thought I knew to be true. I cherish a hard-earned win at Catan (even when I’m not the one who wins). My joy is often more subdued, harder-earned, less blissful.
I yearn for meaning. I yearn to make the most of my time.
I yearn to use my hands, my voice, and my heart. I want to make worlds out of words. I want to dance wherever I am, to pray again, to sing again. I want to feel alive while I am yet alive.
To do so, I know I must create, for in creation, I am free. Let us all create, one by one, alone yet together.
We must create because the only thing there is to lose is time.
May the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us; let the work of our hands prosper, O prosper the work of our hands!
- What is the role of play in your spiritual life?
- How does Carnow understand the flow of time? How does she play with this image (a trickle or a torrent)?
- How do you deal with periods of avoidance in your life, even of cherished practices, in times of significant challenge?
Leah Carnow is a rabbinical student at Hebrew College. Originally from Los Angeles, Leah has lived in the Boston area for ten years, where she also teaches yoga and works as the Rabbinic Intern and Vocalist at Temple Sinai in Brookline. Prior to beginning rabbinical school, Leah worked in regional and fringe theater as an actor and director. During the summer of 2020, she has served as the rabbinic intern for the PsalmSeason project.