Happy are those who dwell in Your House. Continually, they praise You. Selah.
The Ashrei (“Happy”) is a heart|mind opener built into every traditional Jewish service. It’s an acrostic — each line starts with a sequential letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet, except for nun (no one is sure why).
Ashrei stands out at the beginning of the late afternoon service, which is where I had occasion to engage with it at the Davennen Leadership Training Institute, a four-week, two-year retreat on communal prayer leadership led by amazing teachers aligned with the Jewish Renewal movement.
One powerful tool in the DLTI kit is the practice of taking traditional liturgy and putting it into a kind of high-resolution spiritual x-ray scanner. You blast through the patriarchy and particularism and illuminate the universally accessible, redemptive minerals in the bones. Then you use this new understanding to wrap the whole thing back together with music, breath, and movement — in whatever language the now irradiated piece calls out for.
And so it was that I sat down with the Ashrei. I looked at it through the lens of non-dualism, which is how I look at pretty much everything in liturgy and scripture. This idea is of ancient, diffuse origins; I learned everything I think I know from Jay Michaelson’s Everything is God.
God does not exist, the thinking goes. God is existence itself. Ein od mil’vado, as Deuteronomy 4:35 tells us. Nothing exists separately from God.
So this is what happened. DLTIers learn to lead services collaboratively, and my co-leader helped me refine these lines and pick out a few to focus on, alternating with chant and breathing. If it moves you, I hope you’ll use it in your own practice.
א ALEPH. I raise my consciousness to You, my True North. Sovereign Reality of the Universe.
ב BET. At my stopping points, my comings and my goings, I will make a sacred space of moments when I felt You near me.
ג GIMEL. Grandeur of All Existence, Source of Mercy as big and wide as all the Universe, unmeasurable, unmistakable.
ד DALET I feel the chain of past and present flowing into You, that there will always be someone, somewhere who keeps the great and open knowledge.
ה HEH. I want to stop people in the streets. I want to buy them coffee and ask them — “You realize it’s all God, right? The sky and stars, the coffee and the cup, you and me, and everything and nothing and both and neither?”
ו VAV. Somewhere, somehow, they know already. Still, transcendent moments, planted deep and wide. A child is born, a sunset in the mountains. Oneness made transparent.
ז ZAYIN. We tell stories — we all have them — of when joy and mercy filled the air. We sing old hymns and spirituals and protest songs. We sing defiance in the face of injustice. It is all You.
ח HET. Source of Wonder, Source of Lovingkindness, Source of Patience deep as all Creation.
ט TET. Your goodness soaks deep the blueprint of life. Every heart pumps Your red, radiant compassion.
י YUD. We see it when we clear our minds, unfold to gratitude, align ourselves to You. How can we help but love You back?
כ KAF. And – look! – there it is. The shimmering light of all Reality. The one great, unending moment of clarity. It is all You.
ל LAMED. Take out billboards, megaphones! Do podcasts, YouTube videos! A hashtag, maybe! Anything it takes to get the word out!
מ MEM. All time and space. A multitude of mercy, Big Bangs of Blessings. Life and death. Creation and destruction. Over and over, and it all fits together. It is all You.
ס SAMECH. A cut repairs itself like magic. Flowers opens to the sun. We walk away from hurt we thought would flatten us for good.
ע AYIN. You are the hope that pulsates in our vision. And maybe, just maybe, it all makes sense. It is all You.
פ PEH. You are the great unfolding of the Universe. Contentment, balance, ebb and flow.
צ TZADI. When we are still and open, we understand. You coded righteousness and mercy right into our DNA.
ק QUF. We call You close. You are the called, the caller, and the truth inside the call itself.
ר RESH. Somewhere, in You, it all works out. Somewhere, in You, is balance.
שׁ SHIN. You are reward and punishment, the ebb and flow, the either, both and neither, all and nothing. Source and object, channel, vessel, and the outcome of it all.
ת TAV. The awareness of You, of Your eternity and immanence, Immensity of Love, fills my every cell.