From Narrow Places: Liturgy, Poetry and Art of the Pandemic Era, edited by Rachel Barenblat. Bayit 2022. $18.
From Narrow Places: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art of the Pandemic Era collects poetry, liturgy, and art co-created by Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group — a pluralist group of rabbis, liturgists, and artists — during the first eighteen months of COVID-19. This creative collective brings together contributors from across and beyond the denominations, and our collaborative offerings have been prayed and shared widely.
When Bayit began, we knew we wanted to co-create new liturgy. As the story of Elijah reminds us, the Voice of revelation continues to sound. There’s always a need for new words and practices to uplift each moment. Our intention is never to be avant-garde for its own sake, but to harness the new in service of the continuing flow of spirit.
The COVID-19 pandemic heightened that intention. As we sheltered-in-place, everyone was scrambling to figure out how to “do Jewish” in this COVID era. The shape of Jewish life was shifting under our feet. It was clear that we needed both to mine new meaning from ancient texts, and to create new words and new forms for this unprecedented time.
The pandemic was new; being in tight places isn’t. “From the narrow place, I called to You; You answered me with Your expansiveness,” says the Psalmist. We cried out from the pandemic’s narrow place, hoping to access holy response in our expansiveness of liturgy, poetry, and art…
— from the introduction by R. Rachel Barenblat
This volume collects work by Trisha Arlin, R. Rachel Barenblat, Joanne Fink, R. Allie Fischman, R. Dara Lithwick, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja Keren Pilz PhD, Steve Silbert, R. Jennifer Singer, and Devon Spier.
Read on for advance praise for the manuscript.
From Narrow Places gives language and imagery to the Jewish spiritual creativity that is still holding us up through the pandemic. I pray that speedily in our days we will look back at this volume as a testimony to how Jews of one era weathered a crisis and emerged even stronger. For now, it chronicles how the richness of Jewish living, full and fluid, is holding us up in these challenging days. I will confess: each page unlocked doors to my unexamined disappointments, sorrows and even deep joys. Many tears, but good ones.
Rabbi Vanessa Ochs, PhD
Professor, Department of Religious Studies
University of Virginia
For too many, prayer is a vending machine experience and so unsurprisingly it no longer works. And then there are the poets and liturgists in this heart opening collection From Narrow Places who know prayer is a powerful way of consciously surrendering to the mystery and exquisite bittersweetness of Life. This collection of prayers will inspire and enchant you – the real job prayer is supposed to get done.
Rabbi Irwin Kula
Co-President of CLAL
The materials created by Bayit have helped me so much during this pandemic. My community has been elevated because of them. This work is a beautiful gift to all of us. Thank you, Bayit creators, for sharing your wisdom and talents.
Rabbi Sabine Meyer
Tree of Life Congregation
Read about all of Bayit’s publications: a volume for shiva and the mourner’s path, a contemplative Omer coloring book, Hasidic teachings, feminist Torah essays, and more!