All Is Beautiful and Holy–A Poem to Expand Your Prayer Experience

082313_jews_prayer_lgFrom the primordial spinning of the Big Bang
to the spinning wheels of a toy train
everything in the universe is
turning in one way or another
and all is beautiful and holy

From the wheels of the chariot Ezekiel saw
in his vision by the waters of Babylon
to the wheels of the chariot
driven by Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur
all is miraculous and holy

From the thoughts in our heads when we obsess
about whether to do this or that
to the wheel of samsara as we contemplate
the meaning of birth and rebirth
everything is beautiful and holy

From the spinning wheels on a bicycle
traveling along the Platte River on a spring day in Colorado
to the spinning wheels on a car
driving through the Mojave desert on a scorching summer day
everything is lovely and holy

From the turbines in a hydroelectric plant turning
through the days of the year
to the gyroscope in the Space Station rotating
while orbiting the earth
everything is marvelous and holy

From watch gears revolving in the telling of time
to engines revolving on a cruise ship in the Caribbean
from blades rotating on a Black Hawk helicopter
to eggs tumbling in a pot of boiling water
these can only be described as holy

From a monk spinning prayer wheels in a monastery in Tibet
to a rickshaw driver slowly pedaling through Kolkata
from the way we roll our eyes at bad jokes
to the way a dog rolls over when her belly is scratched
everything is mysterious and holy

Now close your eyes and enter
the realm between waking and sleep
and tiny, supernaturally colored wheels
may appear that are sharp
as if viewed through a microscope

Stare at those wheels
and they may multiply as if attached
to a rotating kaleidoscope
you just might see
an old man on a throne speak to you

You may not remember his words
but surely will know they are beautiful and holy
miraculous and holy
lovely and holy
magical and holy

Ascetics and skeptics will know too
along with cynics and mystics
believers and unbelievers
atheists and deists—
all will stand on their tiptoes and shout

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts!

c 2015 Henry Rasof

Learn and Do: This type of piyyut–Jewish liturgical poem–is an ofan (literally, “wheel”) and is meant to be inserted into the kedusha blessing in the daily and shabbat morning prayer service (optionally–you normally won’t see one). (The kedusha appears in other parts of the service too, and can be very elaborate during high holidays, with elaborate ofanim, but this is another discussion.) In the kedusha (sanctification) the various celestial beings praise God, as follows:

“Holy, Holy, Holy, Adonai tzeva’ot, the whole world is filled with His glory.” [Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Adonai tzeva’ot, melo kol ha-aretz kevodo.]

The ofan goes immediately after, before the line beginning in Hebrew v’ha-ofanim and in complete English translation

“As in the prophet’s vision, soaring celestial creatures roar, responding with a chorus of adoration….”

If you want to try writing a piyyut of your own, this might be a good one to try. It needn’t be as long as mine. You might want to start with even just one sentence or a stanza or two. You also could try the approach taken by R. Shlomo Carlebach or R. Shefa Gold, namely, to utilize a piece of regular liturgy, either as written or slightly modified.

Quotations are from the Conservative movement’s Siddur Sim Shalom, Harlow translation.

About Henry Rasof z"l

I have been writing poetry for over fifty years. During this time, I have worked as a musician, chef, book acquisitions editor, and creative-writing instructor.

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  1. I love it, Henry! I hope we can add this to our NK liturgy…