Category Archives: Prayerlooms

Debra Darvick reviews Robert J. Wicks’ book ‘Perspective’

Brother, courage comes and goes. Hold on for the next supply.
Thomas Merton

The first three years of my son’s life, I kept a daily journal.  Unbelievable, right? Through diapers and colic, first teeth and first words, I made time to record the wonder of our days.

Somewhere in those pages, sleep-starved and overwhelmed I wrote, “I just want to have perspective! I want to know that everything is going to turn out OK.”

Years later I found the journal and began rereading it. I couldn’t help but smile at the mother I was so long ago. Rereading that dramatic and universal cri de coeur, I realized what was impossible to grasp as a new mother: By its very definition, perspective requires time and distance from the very thing one strives so hard to see clearly.

I thought of that journal page when Robert J. Wicks’ book Perspective: The Calm Within the Storm came my way. Instead of time and distance, Wicks guides readers to perspective by “improv[ing] our sense of reality and acceptance of it.” The personal growth goals Wicks writes about are not new, but his approach is worth considering for those who strive for a healthy perspective.

Wicks structured this clear and useful book so that it is rich with bullet points, questionnaires for self-reflection, and carefully honed text bytes that can form the basis for a lifetime of step-by-step personal transformation. In addition to explication, educative text and recollections drawn from his own life and that of other seekers, philosophers, and authors, Wicks shares insights culled from the most up-to-date research in cognitive behavioral therapy and the psychology of optimism.

The chapter I found most intriguing focused on achieving perspective on one’s “personal darkness.” Recognizing that trauma is a part of life, Wicks invites readers to acknowledge trauma as a terrible experience and then recognize its potential as an opportunity for powerful growth and meaning. Reading this chapter, I was reminded of a quote by Thich Naht Hahn: No mud, no lotus.

The young perspective-seeking mother I was might have written that in her journal. And even though I long ceased writing about my children each day, as blessed as we have been, I sometimes still wish I could be assured that everything will turn out OK.

First page of the journal begun when Elliot was three months old. The apologia in red at the top of the page refers to a first three months of feeding and wiping…

Care to read more?

A NOTE from ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm …

  • ROBERT WICKS INTERVIEW—Related to Debra’s review, you also will enjoy our in-depth interview with Dr. Robert J. Wicks about his new book.
  • GET DEBRA’S BOOKReadTheSpirit Books produces important books covering interfaith and cross-cultural issues and is proud to publish Debra’s signature collection of real-life stories, This Jewish Life. In this wide-ranging collection of true stories, Debra carries readers through an entire year with dozens of men, women and young people who shape their lives around their shared Judaism. Whatever your faith, This Jewish Life is an adventure in meaningful living. Using Dr. Robert J. Wicks’s language: It’s a book with a valuable perspective on life.

It was Fifty-Years Ago Today…..

Basements are the modern-day equivalent to the genizah. Genizah, (Hebrew root g-n-z) originally referred to the act of putting away or hiding. The word eventually developed to refer to the actual place where things were deposited, which I think is a perfect example of synecdoche.  Genizahs are temporary holding places for Hebrew texts, prayer books, scrolls, anything containing God’s name until the time that they can be buried. Yes, we Jews bury our holy books. Amazing concept to treat a document as lovingly and respectfully as we do a loved one whose earthly purpose is no more.

Back to yesterday and the basement where I was tackling dust bunnies that had grown to Harvey-ian dust rabbit proportions. Decades-old tins of Kiwi shoe polish, metal skewers for shish kabobs, loose screws (so that’s where they all go when I am distracted!) I opened a cabinet door and fell down the rabbit hole of time: the cards we received when Elliot was born; photos; letters from and to my mother and other relatives; a caricature a college roommate did of me freshman year; a letter from my paternal grandmother to my mother after my parents divorced in which she referenced the weather, a boy I was dating, fabric she had

bought to make me a dress, commenting that she had so many slips of papers she would, “have to find a new hiding place for them, but then I’ll forget to look for them.” Makes me smile to realize I had done much the same thing: hidden away her letter, forgotten it, only to find it again.

The greatest finds were my schoolwork from third and fourth grade. Stacks and stacks of spelling tests, math tests, geography and science tests.  Cotton seeds are planted in late spring. The early Georgia Indians were buried in mounds I wrote in not too badly rendered script.  Each week’s exercises were stapled together and placed into a construction paper folder whose covers we decorated with the theme of the week. My father’s signature appears in the lower left hand corner. The coming week’s menu was vintage cafeteria: Pot roast on Monday, fried chicken for Wednesday. Of course fish sticks for Friday. I don’t know what “Pop Eye” salad* was, but loved the reference to Thursday’s dessert: “Red Tokay Grapes.”  Never had peach cobbler as good since.

The piece de resistance was an example of early Darvick fiction. Titled Kitty in the Garden, it was sweet and subversive. “This little kitten is looking for a mouse. He looked in the garden.  He looked in the house. He didn’t find a mouse. Kitty’s master told him to stay in the house. He went outside and found a mouse. He ate it.”                              

                         Signed: Debby Berkowitz, Jan. 6, 1964                                         





* On a whim I looked it up.  Sheesh. You can find anything on the internet. Including a school cafeteria recipe for Pop-Eye Salad. If only John Dunne had had access to Wikipedia. He would have known where to find the past years and who cleft the Devil’s foot.


Show and Tell is for Grownups, Too!

A week or so ago I had the pleasure of participating in a program at the Northville First United Methodist Church sponsored by the Read The Spirit team. As regular readers of this site know, David Crumm is my publisher and one of the creators of Read The Spirit online magazine, which is devoted to all matters of faith, religion, spirit and soulful kiruv (pronounced kee-roov, it is one of those untranslatable Hebrew words that means the act of bringing folks together.)

The evening was the last in a four-part study group the topic of which was shared American values. The book anchoring the group’s study is Dr. Wayne Baker’s United America, which will be released nationally on January 1. The somewhat cumbersome but totally descriptive subtitle—The Surprising Truth About American Values, American Identity, and the 10 Beliefs That a Large Majority of Americans Hold Dear—gives you a context for the weekly discussions.

The overall goal, through Wayne Baker’s ongoing work and his new book, is to engage in civil dialogue and exploration of the many shared values and perspectives that remain between and among us.

That’s true. Still. Despite the media’s color-war distillation of our citizens into red or blue camps. Despite Congress’ appalling lack of cohesive efforts for the greater good. Despite the myriad of issues that we allow to set us apart instead of acknowledging what unites us. As Wayne’s research at the University of Michigan has shown, we still have core values that vast majorities of us hold.

As part of the United America pre-publication roll out, the Northville group was involved in four evenings of workshop experiences that might accompany a “group read” of the new book. The evening that I visited the Northville series was given over to the kind of heartfelt sharing I haven’t experienced since I was in kindergarten.

Participants had been asked to bring a memento from home that reflected a value they held dear. One man brought in the patch that had been sewed to his father’s work uniform. His father was a postal worker, “at a time when being a postal worker was a true profession.” Holding the patch aloft, he recalled a man who never missed a day of work, who never complained, who embarked upon his 92-mile route in rural Minnesota through snow, blizzards and all the rest. He was a bit shy in his sharing this palm-sized embroidered badge, but I know I wasn’t alone in my admiration for this man, long-gone, but whose example to his son remains as shiny as the brass buttons on his gray wool uniform.

Someone else brought in coins from the 1850’s, and through them gave us a history lesson. There were no presidents on coins at the time, but instead images of Lady Liberty, the American bald eagle, a shield, laurel branches. There were no mottoes on coins until 1865, when the Civil War was winding down. The country was reeling from the self-inflicted devastation, and this is when the phrase In God We Trust made its first appearance—on a two-cent coin. “There is a shield on the coin’s flip side,” Mark said. “The North wanted to make a statement—that we trust in Providence. Not Presidents. Not other humans. It was a statement that Americans were united by a force outside of human representation.”

Others who stood before the group shared beloved items, including wartime love letters—and a beautiful prayer rug from Persia (today’s Iran). That rug, and others, had been been brought to America by the family patriarch, a Methodist missionary who got his young family out of harm’s way at a time when local Muslims were bent on cleaning house of all the country’s Christians. “This rug reminds me of love and respect,” said his great granddaughter. “And the courage to take action in the face of danger.”

One woman brought a 5-inch-thick binder containing the genealogical record of her Norwegian forebears dating all the way back to—are you ready? 1250. Her pride was tempered with a bit of anxiety over whom would one day receive this precious legacy.

Because that’s the whole point of it all—the sharing and the passing down of what we value. We may pass along the heirlooms and mementos that are dear but more importantly, we pass down what we hold dear: honor, perseverance, duty, love, kindness, concern for those less fortunate. The passing along of our values may be the most important show and tell of all—showing our loved ones, through our actions, precisely what we value. And telling them—with patches, rugs, letters and coins—where they came from and what we pray they take with them as they go forward.

And here’s a great essay about a grandfather’s transistor radio and the prominence it played during Hurricane Sandy last year.

Care to read more about Wayne’s work with values? Check out his department within Read The Spirit, called Our Values.

Prayerlooms: A family ring and a millennial purse

A few weeks back, I wrote a column about “prayerlooms,” a word I coined for the column to describe those mementos and dear-to-the-heart items that we tuck away for a future generation to enjoy. At the time I invited me readers to share their own, and I was overwhelmed with your responses. This month I am thrilled to share the stories behind two such prayerlooms.

Debbie Valencia sent this wonderful note from Northville, MI, where she lives with her husband, son and daughter (who is now traveling in India). Her prayerloom was from her grandmother Annie Laurie.

“I turned 16 in 1976 and my southern belle grandmother gave me her single solitaire diamond ring from her teen years. Later she passed on to me her spinster sister’s, the second set into an onyx. My fiance felt honored to use my two diamonds when creating my engagement ring. Some 25 years later, we designed a new ring. My great-aunt’s and grandmother’s stones now flank an emerald from my husband’s father’s Colombian homeland. The original bands were sold to the jeweler to offset costs. In addition to her ring, my grandmother’s prayerloom for me was her belief too that I would expand her love as I cherished the two small sister diamonds .What an honor to feel there are no better diamonds but these two for me!”

Judith Goodman, a friend from synagogue, wrote to me about a little purse she bought at the tail end of the 20th century, to celebrate the new millennia. In the course of our correspondence, she decided not only to put the purse away for her baby granddaughter, but has included a letter to her to open, maybe at the turn of the next century. Here’s her story:

“In late 1999, I bought this purse embroidered all over with “2000.” Found it at Lord & Taylor, made in China, not expensive. I used it a few times for holiday parties. When I bought it, I remember thinking that if I had a purse with “1900” on it from a great-grandmother I would think it was cool, and maybe in year 2100 one of my descendants will do the same.

“Now I have a granddaughter, Tessa Rose Goodman, born in July. When the year changes to 2100, she will be 87, but hopefully she and her children and grandchildren will still be partying!”

THANK YOU to all the readers who have sent me such stories—and, yes, I’ve saved some for future columns. So, if your story did not appear today, look for future columns on this theme. Please, tell friends by using either the blue-“f” Facebook links with this column, or the small envelope-shaped email icons. Add a Comment below. Let’s keep this cycle of stories going!