Wednesday, December 02, 2009

And This Is How I Serve You

Michael J. Cusick: What does it mean, then, for you to worship?

Chaim Potok: To ask, to remember, to lament, to complain, to seek one's own self and that which is beyond the self. Prayer is the trajectory and the perspective, enabling you to locate your own sense of self in this trajectory. If you don't have a sense of where you are from, you don't know where you are at! And if you don't know where you are at, you have no sense of self. And if you have no sense of self, you are a very frightened human being.

Michael J. Cusick: For you, worship involves prayer and Jewish tradition. But is worship bigger than that? Is it part of your everyday living- your writing, for example?

Chaim Potok: Yes! Absolutely. Writing is an act of worship too. And learning. For some Jews, learning is more of an act of worship than worship itself. There is an issue in Jewish law as to whether or not you may interrupt someone for prayers when they are learning. Some rabbis say yes, some say no.

Michael J. Cusick: You said writing is an act of worship. You have also written that nothing is sacred to the writer save the act of writing. Is that a paradox?

Chaim Potok: Well, there is a difference between worship and sanctity. In worship you enter into a relationship with somebody or something. The worship is in the relationship. I don't think there is something objectively sacred about anything that I write, but the act of creating has an aura of sanctity to me. [emph mine. Chana inserts: The Rav, the Rav, the Rav!] The moments when I lose myself- that's what I dream of, to get lost in the writing- those relational moments, that arc of relationship between my being and the writing, the thing being created, is as close as I can get to the essence of worship. I feel the same way, for example, when I'm in synagogue and I'm lost in prayer. I don't think there is any intrinsic sanctity to the particular words, because if circumstances dictate, I would have no objection to changing the words. [Chana: And here's where I can't agree. I think the prayers/ writing should be in addition to the set text, but I couldn't just mess with the text of the siddur.]


Michael J. Cusick: In Davita's Harp, Jacob Daw says to Davita, "A writer is a strange instrument of our species, a harp of sorts, fine tuned to the dark contradictions of life..."

Chaim Potok: That's what I'm talking about. A harp is a bunch of strings, and it is nothing unless someone is playing it. It is the melody of the harp that is the mystery. Sometimes if you leave a harp out in a strong wind, the wind will make the melody.

In Los Angeles somewhere, there is a harp that is a sculpture which reacts to winds. The harp is physical, the wind is physical, even though we can't see it. The music- what's the music? The music is the relationship between the harp and the wind. The writing is the relationship between the writer and the piece of paper. Worship is the relationship between the worshiper and the text.

~Conversations with Chaim Potok, 138-139

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