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In this Place

My student Manny (name changed) spoke up from the back row. We were discussing mental health issues in a Biology course. “I have PTSD”, he quietly shared with us. “I’m a Marine, and I was in Afghanistan.”
PTSD: post traumatic stress disorder. Memories are strongly linked to emotion. From the zillion moments we experience each day, memory of those that impact our emotions serves to help us avoid danger and remember the pathways to paradise. But sometimes we’re overwhelmed and re-live memories too intense to handle.
A fearful journey my young student has undertaken. Can God be in those horrific places, in the darkness of terror?” The kid is going through a really rough time. It’s a hard question to answer. Another journey from ancient times:

Running from Beersheva to Haran, from a watered oasis to return to the place Grandfather left so long ago, Jacob lies down for the sun has gone, to dream a dream.  And Behold there is a ladder with its feet in the earth and it’s head in the heavens, and there are messengers/angels going up and going down. And God stood over Jacob and spoke to him! Promises. “I am with you” Jacob awoke. Truly God is in this place and I, i did not know.
Each place in time and space can be filled with God.
If we dream and let the dream inspire so that we become aware.
And we are ladders. Our feet rooted in this good earth. And there are angels of God in us – messages that originate in our rootedness and make their way to our loftiest hopes and ideals, if we let them.  We need to be rooted, and to be angels for one another, that we must dream and reach for the heavens….
And Jacob felt fear and awe when he awoke.
And my student, Manny felt fear, and is struggling to find the angels, and to know that God is with him. Though the universe hums with potential, and God’s presence can be in any place or time we allow divinity to enter,  maybe war and cruelty drive that away.
Jacob eventually returns from his exile to the promised land. He is with his own family now: to face his demons, to wrestle and to become humble. Broken, and limping, but he can return.  I wish Manny victory over the demons he wrestles with, to return, to make space for the divine in his life (and I wish we would stop making overwhelming situations into which we send our sons and daughters).

Music for this parashah: Noah Aronson’s This place: it’s stunning! or my own: Between  Archives: Between, Nov 2012


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