Is This the Place? (Honoring Mary Oliver)

Mary Oliver, Devotions, 3

Why do people keep asking to see
God’s identity papers
When the darkness opening into morning
is more than enough?
Certainly any god might turn away in disgust.
Think of Sheba approaching
the kingdom of Solomon.
Do you think she had to ask,
“Is this the place?”

* * *

This Mary Oliver poem — forever pursuing the depths of my soul — itself uncovered my identity papers one cold, dark, winter morning amidst my daily prayers:

“Blessed are You, Master of the world, constant creator of light and darkness, provider of wholeness, fashioner of totality. “ ~The Siddur (Jewish Prayer Book)

These words I say every morning beg me to encounter the palpable and inescapable shades of life.

It matters not whether the sun has already emerged, or the stillness of night is still slowly dissipates.

It matters not if the world slumbers in darkness; rays of light piercing the pain.

Chanting them in my ancient Hebrew awakens my heart to all that is eternally beyond my control, in whichever place I find myself.

It’s not a theft of agency, but a recognition of fragility.

Of teetering stability.

Of undeserved predictability.

These words are God’s identity papers. My identity papers.

The place is our place. No need to ask, here.

About the Author
Rabbi Aaron Alexander is Co-Senior Rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. He previously served as Associate Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University.
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