Posted on September 15th, 2012 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Congregation, Featured, Leadership, Learning, Theology
Tagged with Creation, Death, Elul, Faith, Formation, God, High Holidays, Hope, identity, Judaism, questioning, Questions, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, seminary, transformation
Every year, preparing for the Yamim Noraim (the Jewish High Holy Days), I can’t help but feel like all this davenning, preparation, and soul searching would be a lot more convenient if it fell at some other time of year, any other time of year.
Whether we are working in the summer or on a break from school or a job, these months of May-August seem so spacious. Time feels like it expands with the long days yawning out in front of us. So much seems possible when evenings are accented by freesia and fireflies; days are punctuated by blooming buds and bird song.
Yet, our holiest days don’t fall during these months of expansiveness. It seems that just as the month of Elul sets in, the calendar begins to fill and Rosh Hashannah (the Jewish New Year) is upon us before we even notice. For many of us, this is the busiest time of year. Grants are due, new hires come into the office, moves to new apartments are made, school starts up again. It seems that, no matter what, fall is a time of increased responsibility, obligations and activities.
The weeks surrounding the Yamim Noraim require an incredible output of energy, even as our tradition asks us to go inward. It is at precisely this time of year when anxieties are being aroused and when our values and limits are being tested that we are meant to engage in the hard work of rectifying relationships, asking and accepting forgiveness, emptying ourselves out and emerging renewed.
Ours is not a tradition that let’s us remove ourselves from the world so that we may engage in self-reflection. Rather, we are meant to both fully inhabit our lives and step back for reflection at the same time. In a paradox such as this, as Parker Palmer writes, “opposites do not negate each other – they cohere in mysterious unity at the heart of reality. They need each other for health.”
It is only when we are actively living this outward journey of life that we come face to face with our fears and failings and can see with honesty where our inward journey needs to go.
Just as much as this journey is about rebirth, new life, and a fresh start, it is also about loss, confusion, and letting go. It may be that if we were still surrounded by the abundance, light, and warmth of summer, we would avoid the darker tasks involved in this holy work. As Palmer writes, “When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can be only one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows ever more terrifying as we try to hold it off.”
So, then, the time of year becomes even more integral to the task at hand. It is precisely at this time of year, when summer’s bounty ends and the plants begin to brown, that we are called upon to reflect the natural world around us and acknowledge our own period of decay. It is a time, in Palmer’s words, when the “days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer’s abundance decays towards winter’s death.”
Rosh Hashannah marks the beginning of our process of letting the surety of who we know ourselves to be die away so that we can become who we truly are.
ForestWanderer's image via WikimediaCommons