Erik Larson, Rabbi Art Vernon and The Rev. William McBride 

Erik Larson, Rabbi Art Vernon and The Rev. William McBride  Credit: Anjani Sepersaud; Jeff Bachner; Laysha Lewis

Since 1996, the Academy of American Poets has been designating April as National Poetry Month to celebrate “poets’ integral role in our culture” and to remind readers “that poetry matters,” according to the organization’s website, poets.org. This week’s clergy join in the celebration by offering examples of their favorite poetic lines.

Erik Larson

Teacher, Global Harmony House (Brahma Kumaris), Great Neck  

The Brahma Kumaris do not have a scripture. However, we do listen to our daily morning discourses, or classes, in each of our meditation centers. These discourses were the original teachings of God through the instrument called Brahma Baba, the founder of our faith. The recorded teachings are called murli, the Hindi word for “flute.” It is the flute of knowledge that is played, which is like music to the soul. Although not spoken in any particular poetic structure or verse, murli are still poetic and full of wisdom, guidance, metaphor and deep feelings. The first murli poem is, “The soul has knowledge; Baba speaks to activate it.” The word “Baba” in this poem is the term we use for the Supreme Soul, God. Thus the first murli indicates the feelings and relationship of the mother and father, from God to soul. A select few examples of other murli include, “No one recognizes me/As I have/No image,” “Evil spirits/Fight among themselves/Move away” and “Whatever you are/You/Are mine.”

The Rev. William McBride

Religious director, Interfaith Community Religious Education Program, Brookville Multifaith Campus, Glen Head  

The choice of my favorite poem springs from one of my most frustrating adventures. One winter, my brother Tom and I were playing in the snow after a concert by Debbie Freidman, the Joan Baez of Jewish music. I had bought her album and had it safely tucked under my arm when I heard a cracking noise. The vinyl record had broken. The cheapskate in me vowed to memorize a song so that my purchase wasn’t a total waste. I chose a prayerful Passover poem, “Laugh at All My Dreams,” which invoked a spirit to “let the soul be given freedom” in the face of frustration. Reciting the poem repeatedly revives my belief in dreams and helps me envision a way to be free. I am currently practicing lines from this poem in the context of the play, “Oy Father,” which I co-authored with my spouse, Cantor Irene Failenbogen. As we look forward to performing our play this Passover at the Makor Center in Manhattan on April 27, the inspiring words continue to motivate me. I picture the performance space packed with people, including some of you, as I recite, “Laugh at all my dreams, My Dearest/Laugh and I repeat anew/That I still believe in people/And I still believe in you.”

Rabbi Art Vernon

Congregation Shaaray Shalom, West Hempstead  

My favorite spiritual poetry is found in the Book of Psalms, in particular Psalm 90. This was the only one of the psalms attributed to Moses! Our tradition teaches that this psalm was composed and recited when the Israelites, still in the wilderness, presented the completed portable sanctuary to Moses for review and approval. Psalm 90 is the blessing that Moses pronounced. The last verse is, “May the comfort of the Lord our God be upon us, and may the work of our hands be made firm for us, and may the work of our hands be permanent!” (Psalm 90:17) This sentiment applies universally to every project or undertaking of human beings and is often used as an invocation or benediction at public gatherings to recognize achievement. Another favorite is Psalm 100, a Psalm for Thanksgiving. My favorite verse is, “Worship the Lord happily, come before Him joyfully!” (Psalm 100:2) God wants you to be happy and live with joy!

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