the jewish defibrillator

25 Sep

Sounds like a mystery novel – or perhaps, with less imagination, like an instruction manual for a medical device. And a kosher one at that.

But it’s actually another wee gift during yesterday’s chemo infusion from my friend Gina.

No, she didn’t give me a kosher defibrillator just in case my heart stops during these infusions. She gave me the picture given to her by one of her favorite rabbis (you have to remind me of his name, Gina!).

It’s all about the biblical custom of beating one’s chest when in great hardship or grief – other expressions of grief and lament – pulling out pieces of your hair and beard, tearing your garments, sitting on the ground, loud wailing while putting dust on your head. Let’s just say that funerals in that culture were definitely, well, different.

But it’s the chest pounding Gina shared about. The rabbi described it functioning as something of a defibrillator, the idea being that in tragedy and grief one enters into a realm of numbness and death, your heart literally slowing, stopping, as it were. Pounding on your chest is getting the blood flowing again, reclaiming life, embracing hope in the midst of hopelessness, life in the midst of that valley of death’s shadow.

I thought of the publican praying at the back of the Temple, mourning and beating his chest, “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner!” The true sinner’s prayer. I’ve never stopped praying it. How blessed we are to sense the numbness in us, the darkness, the frozen heart. How we all need a good chest pounding on a regular basis. Mostly we seem most interested in pounding on others’ chests while ignoring our own frozen souls which are in such desparate need of thawing – or worse, pounding on their heads, or Nehemiah-like, pulling out some of their hair and/or beard. As Kafka said of good books, we regularly need the effective “axe for the frozen sea within us.”

I pound my chest a lot these days. And it’s not just chemo and its shroud.

It’s a deepening awareness of my own perennial deadness.

The Arctic icefloe may be melting, but the further I go in this whole God-business, the more aware I become of the frozen sea expanding within.

So come, oh holy Jewish defibrillator!

Pound on this frozen font in me.


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Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Lamentations, Old Testament, Suffering


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