Feeling Our Way with Cantor Emma Lutz


Shabbat Shalom. As we have all been #SafeAtHome during COVID-19, the clergy of Stephen Wise Temple have been sharing a daily dose of wisdom. I found these teachings from Cantor Emma Lutz this week deeply moving and she allowed me to share them again here. Happy Mother’s Day Weekend!

The patient person shows much good sense, but the quick-tempered one displays folly at its height.

                                                                                              — Proverbs 14:29

Patience is a character trait that does not come easily to me. As a little sister, I always wanted to do everything my brother, Lee, was doing and never wanted to wait until I was old enough to age into his activities, classes, or outings. Lee was generous of spirit and let me tag along, but there were still times when I had to stay behind, and I struggled. Funny how things can change — I learned to practice patience over time, and my brother ended up marrying one of my best friends, so he’s the one tagging along with us now!

The Hebrew word for patience is savlanut from the root sevel, meaning suffering. Our tradition understands that waiting can be very painful. It is hard to tell a child that everything has a time and a place, and it is difficult for any of us to bear the weight of our emotions when we feel stuck in a situation. 

Practicing patience can be so very hard, but Proverbs reminds us that when we demonstrate patience for a meaningful purpose, we exhibit our best sense and can even improve our world. May we find the strength to push through this difficult time, knowing that our patience during this flattening of the curve is a demonstration of our best judgment and a commitment to making our world a healthier, safer place.

Cantor Emma Lutz

I have always found prayer difficult. So often it seems like a fruitless game of hide-and-seek where we seek and God hides…yet I cannot leave prayer alone for long. My need drives me to God. And I have a feeling that God has God’s own reasons for hiding, and that finally all my seeking will prove infinitely worthwhile. And I am not sure what I mean by “finding.” Some days my very seeking seems a kind of “finding.” And of course, if “finding” means the end of seeking, it were better to go on seeking.
— Anonymous

I fell in love with the words above decades ago when I read them week after week in the opening reflections of my childhood prayerbook, Gates of Prayer. I found great comfort and wisdom in the Jewish idea that our searching can be just as important as our final destination, that our questions are often just as valuable–if not more so–as our answers. 
Even with everything we are managing during these days at home, may we allow ourselves to make space for prayer, for self-care, for reflection, and of course, for seeking. 

— Cantor Emma Lutz

Grant me the ability to be alone; may it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grass, among all growing things. There may I be alone and enter into prayer to talk with the One to whom I belong. May I express there everything in my heart, and may all the foliage of the field – all grasses, trees, and plants – awake at my coming, to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer so that my prayer and speech are made whole through the life and spirit of all growing things, which are made as one by their transcendent Source. May I then pour out the words of my heart before Your Presence like water, God, and lift up my hands to You in worship, on my behalf, and that of my children.

— Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, late 18th century Hasidic rabbi

Rabbi Nachman beautifully expresses the connection between God, nature, and self. Sitting outside in our yard and enjoying the blooming of the spring roses (and seeing my baby daughter enjoy all of the vibrant colors and light for the first time) has brought me the most peace during these weeks at home. Safely enjoying the outdoors provides us an opportunity to breathe more deeply, to take a break from the bustle of our busy homes, and to enjoy God’s creation and our place in it.

Jewish composer Debbie Friedman beautifully captures Rabbi Nachman’s words and sets them to music in this composition —I hope it will bring you a few minutes of peace, comfort and reflection.

Listen to “You Are the One” from Debbie Friedman’s Renewal of Spirit

Cantor Emma Lutz

What is it to be a human being — so vulnerable, so fragile, and at the same time only slightly less than gods, strong and powerful, crowned with splendor? (Psalm 8:5-6)

As we stay safer at home, we are daily reminded of the frailties of our human bodies. And at the same time, we also witness the enormous capacity of human beings for great love, selflessness, and the power to create a better world. With another week at home ahead of us, how might we honor both our vulnerabilities and our vitalities as individuals, and how might we find strength in our connections to our community and to humanity as a whole?
There is a great teaching from Rabbi Simcha Bunum, a 19th century Hasidic rabbi: you must carry two notes in our pockets at all times. In one pocket, a note that reminds us that–like Abraham said–I am just a human being, made of dust and ashes. The other note, however, should say that the world was created just for me. We each are made of only dust and ashes, and yet, an individual life is as important as the existence of an entire universe. We have a small role to play in the history of humanity, and yet, we all have the power to influence the world for the better. 

— Cantor Emma Lutz


Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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