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Books Healing Prayer

Psalm 27:4 In God’s (Not Yet Perfect) House

I wrote the draft of what would come to be a Reflection for Focus in my book, Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27, “In God’s [Not Yet Perfect] House” on October 4, 2017, a few mornings after country music fans were murdered at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.  The reality of what seemed unbelievable was becoming incomprehensibly comprehensible and I reflected on the Psalmist’s affirmation, and deepest desire, to live in God’s house.  It was hard that morning to feel like we were living in God’s house—where such hatred was possible. 

It was chol hamo’ed sukkot and the fragility of the world felt all too real.  In the weeks that followed, as I edited this piece, my goal was to capture that moment in time, and allow it to reflect the timelessness of the psalm, to help us see hope and find courage, to make God’s house a holy place.  What I never imagined is that what I wrote would be relevant, over and over again, in just two years, not because it brought illumination to Psalm 27:4 in a new way, but because we would bear witness, again and again, to mass shootings, in public places—in synagogues and mosques, in school and shopping malls, and now in the mid-western city of Dayton and the Texas border city of El Paso.  The scenes of bloodshed are horrifically similar, the calls for political action and the lack of it are also despairingly alike, and our urgent questions of faith remain too.   

Psalm 27:4 In God’s [Not Yet Perfect] House

One thing have I sought from Adonai—how I long for it:
That I may live in the House of Adonai all the days of my life;
That I may look upon the sweetness of Adonai,
And spend time in the Palace;

The boots scoot, the hats ride high, the beer flows,
guitars twang, harmony rings loud.
Here in God’s country house
the story is always bittersweet:
love then loss, pain then healing,
doubt then faith, then doubt again.

This is God’s house, but is God home?
Some say, no.
Thousands plan to party while one has other plans.
Ten minutes of sheer terror.
Shots. Bullets. Blood. Final breath.
Fear. Horror. The dread of death.

This is God’s house, but is God home?
Some say, maybe.
He uses his body as a human shield.
She grasps a stranger’s hand
while the life force ceases.
They hold each other and move silently toward the exit.

This is God’s house, but is God home?
I say, yes.
This house of God, where we live,
where we gamble
with our money, with our values,
with our own lives and the lives of others,
is not yet perfect.

But God is always home.
Rescuers. First responders.
Kind people with holy instincts
doing God’s work,
singing melodies of courage,
in God’s not yet perfect house


In honor of those who survived and in memory of those who were murdered at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, Las Vegas, October 1, 2017, between Yom Kippur and Sukkot 5778.

Rabbi Debra J. Robbins has served Temple Emanu-El in Dallas since 1991 and currently works closely with the Social Justice and Adult Jewish Learning Councils, the Pastoral Care department, a variety of Worship initiatives, and teaches classes for adults. She is the author of Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, published by CCAR Press.

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Books

Psalm 27: Music and Spirituality

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Presss forthcoming publication, Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27 by Rabbi Debra Robbins, we invited Cantor Richard Cohn to share an excerpt of the chapter that he wrote.

Music offers us a powerful connection to spiritual practice. Melodies are both fluid—moving through time with flexibility and intention—and grounded—anchored in structures of rhythm, scale, and key. They embody aliveness within a defined structure, mirroring the flow of life itself.

In combination with the harmonies that support them, melodies can convey beauty, form, and emotion. They can touch on areas of comfort, hopefulness, serenity, warmth, and joy (among many others!), even suggesting more than one feeling at the same time. They are received and interpreted differently by each of us, and their resonance can vary from day to day, or even from one repetition to the next. In addition to emotion, form, and beauty, music miraculously transmits something from the formless dimension of spirit into the physical realm of song.

Rabbi Robbins has chosen the last verse of Psalm 27 to be a musical thread in our encounter with the complete text. Why anticipate the conclusion when we’re only starting out? One possible answer is to reflect on the closing words in their relationship to each stage of the journey: How do we move step-by-step toward a strengthening of the heart that lifts us in hope toward an awareness of the holy? Singing (or listening to) a melody corresponds exactly to that process, as we travel from note to note in search of a destination that exists in potential from the very beginning, but that can only be reached by tracing the entire path. As with the psalm itself, repeating the melody again and again can deepen and expand our understanding of the journey.

There are many ways to utilize the recording that accompanies this book. You may wish to begin with mindful listening, perhaps closing your eyes and bringing attention to the sound itself, to the shaping of individual syllables and words, or simply to the unfolding stream of music. You may find yourself starting to hum along, and you can add the words whenever you like. With each repetition, or from day to day, notice what’s new (or old!) in your encounter with the music. If you’d like to sing it on your own, rather than with the recording, see what happens when you try a different tempo or if you sing it more softly or loudly, more contemplatively or emphatically. Before long, you may know the music by heart. It may become an increasingly internal experience, becoming fully integral to your daily practice. If the melody begins to seem a bit less interesting, scale back to singing it only once a day, or sing it an extra time to see if you can bring something fresh to your interpretation.

May this singing practice be heart opening and soul lifting, as you explore the inspiring textures of Psalm 27.


Cantor Richard Cohn serves as Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He’s also served as president of the American Conference of Cantors, and he has been a featured conductor at the North American Jewish Choral Festival.