Someone said the psalm conjures up an image of an orchestra of nature coming together in a symphony of praise. Another noticed that the psalm includes young and old, men and women. "It's egalitarian," he concluded.

As they continued this imaginative discourse for nearly an hour, I thought about how I could listen to them for days. Then, as the night drew to a close, we walked down the hall and stood outside, waiting for daylight so that we could begin Shacharit, the morning service. My heart pounded and my eyes teared with emotion as dawn approached. Then we moved indoors, where several people donned tallitot (prayer shawls) and began to sway and davven.

As this year's Shavuot approaches, Karen and I are planning for another all-nighter. We'll start with our own synagogue, Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, then we'll head for Chabad, the Hasidic synagogue. Perhaps after that, we'll try a couple of synagogues where we've not yet studied during Shavuot.

This year, however, I'll study as a Jew. In past years, I've been an avid observer and participant, but as an outsider. I've written about what Shavuot and Jewish study sessions have meant to me, and I've listened to the insights and the questions raised during this holiday, but it's always been from the perspective of an awed bystander.

Now I'll celebrate what Torah is coming to mean to me, little by little, as I learn to relate to its history, to cherish its mitzvot (commandments), and to more intimately connect my identity with the people who fill its pages. I'll feel not only a sense of responsibility to honor this day, but also a tremendous amount of privilege and awe for my inclusion within a community, a people, and a religion that have deeply transformed my life.

I've been counting the omer each day, meditating on the emotional and spiritual attributes that are said to be manifest during these days between Passover and Shavuot. For instance, during the first week of the omer, the meditation focuses on chesed, or loving kindness, the second, on gevurah, or restraint/discipline, the third on tiferet, or compassion, and so on. During each of these weeks, we "tune into" one of these attributes, examining our hearts and lives to see both our strengths and weaknesses. This practice has been especially meaningful for me, because I have been working with an incredible rabbi and spiritual guide, Micha'el Akiba. Recently, he's been helping me go more deeply into my omer meditations.

As Shavuot approaches, Micha'el explained, all of this spiritual work (going deeply into the meditations related to the omer, and working through the emotional struggles that arose), will build up, and on Shavuot, I should release it. It's a day when this spiritual work I've done during the past seven weeks, during the counting of the omer, culminates. "As you go from synagogue to synagogue, tune into the people who are alive with the Divine," Micha'el advised. "This will enhance what you're already experiencing."

Karen and I are looking forward to greeting the dawn with our morning prayers, followed by an immersion in a mikvah (or a body of water that will suffice), as Micha'el suggested.
The spiritual purification process of the past weeks, culminating on Shavuot, will be completed in the mivkah. There, Karen and I will "pass through the Red Sea," emerging from the waters into spiritual freedom, refreshed, invigorated, invigorated, and ready to face the new challenges that each day brings.