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  • Rabbi Marcey Wagner

Amanda Gorman: Writer of a Modern Psalm

For there was always light. If only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it.

Amanda Gorman “The Hill We Climb” poem record at the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden Jr.


It was a surprising day for me. I am always emotional watching history- no matter what the event is. I feel that it is a privilege to be alive in this moment and I need to be extremely present. So, I watched the coverage with true attentiveness. I found myself tearing up at the historical ‘firsts’- Kamala Harris’ swearing in as the first female, black and south asian vice president. I was also overcome by the view of the mall filled with thousands of flags instead of thousands of people because of the pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and a riotous attack on the Capital that took place only days earlier.


The most surprising emotion came when a beautiful, young black woman, clad in a daffodil-yellow coat topped by a cherry-red headband performed a poem that literally shook the nation to its core. Her words were simple yet profound, timely but timeless, inspired and inspirational.


It made me aware of how badly I needed to exhale. I needed to take in a long deep breath and let it out, long and slow. In that exhale I released the anxiety that had built up over the last years of fear, disunity, deep divisions and instability. Amanda Gorman not only captured those feelings, but she channelled them in to a positive outlook for the future. Not a silly, naive version, but a realistic, mature, yet hopeful one.


It reminded me of the profound nature of the psalms. They too were poems penned by professionals (or by King David, depending on your belief-system) for a special event. The psalms were chanted, traditionally by the Levites, and Amanda Gorman did exactly that with her powerful words of commentary and healing. She was a modern poet delivering her message in the powerful format used for millennia.

I will look to her words for inspiration and comfort in the weeks ahead, just as I look to the Psalms for the same thing. God bless the poets who put into words the yearnings we feel in our hearts.

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