..In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the L-RD. -Leviticus 16:29-30
Having been raised in the Jewish faith, attending services at Congregation Beth Torah (a Conservative synagogue) in Willingboro, NJ, Yom Kippur loomed large (and as a young child) sometimes forboding. The concept of ‘atoning for sins’, ‘ afflicting our souls’ and ‘being written in the Book of Life’ for another year, before the sun set on that day, puzzled and bewildered me. I wondered what I could have done that could have me cast out of the circle of love and acceptance into which I was born and what those I held close could have done to have lost God’s favor. My parents explained that it was more symbolic than literal, but they still recited the prayers that implied those things. What I did enjoy about this, considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, was time with my parents and sister. We would walk the mile or so from our home to the shul, in our finery (much like some Christians who wear nice Easter outfits), since many Jews don’t drive on Y0m Kippur. When I was younger, we would sit together, next to our mother and father, and as I had mentioned in the blog entry about Rosh Hashanah, I loved to lean into my dad and play with the fringes of his tallis (prayer shawl); such comfort there. As a teen, I sat in the back with my friends, as we were sometimes being ‘shushed’ by older members of the congregation, with fingers raised to lips and disapproving looks. We would duck outside and sit perched on the wall by the front door, chattering away about all kinds of things of interest to adolescents . I recall one rather embarressing situation at 13 or 14, when my father came out to look for me and asked me to come back in. One of the other girls rolled her eyes and commented (once my father had walked back through the wooden doors) that they were talking about “important things like boys and clothes” and “Edie has to go back to services.”, with a tssk tssk sound. At that moment, I felt like I was cast out of the realm of the cool kids to total nerd-dom. In retrospect, I can laugh at it, but at that moment, I did feel like my teenage soul was afflicted. I have to tell you that it took YEARS for me to forgive this girl for her humiliating comment, since I would experience an internal grrrrr each time I thought about that moment. The funny thing is, that when she and I actually re-connected in adulthood via the internet, and I did a ‘come clean’ with her and shared the experience, she said she didn’t recall the incident but did apologize for hurting my feelings all those years ago.
One of the most potent aspects of this holiday is the concept of forgiveness. We are called on to extend and accept forgiveness with those in our lives and the world in general. One of the prayers that I have modified to fit my more peaceful/compassionate sensibilities is called the Al Chet. ‘Chet’ is the Hebrew word for ‘sin’ and it translates to ‘missing the mark’ as in archery. There are many arrows with which we can aim at the intended target of goodness; whatever that may mean. I prefer to think of it as a ‘heart-board’ rather than dart board, to which we attract loving people and experiences. The prayer has us reciting all of the potential wrong-doings and then pounding on our hearts. I much prefer expressing individual regrets, resentments, judgments that I have held toward myself and others, whether or not I know them and then placing my hand on my heart and send it healing. We also fast, and in my mind, it is not depriving, but rather, cleansing and mindful.
One of my personal rituals that I have done since college, is sitting by a body of water, writing what it is I want to release, and then how I choose to step into the new year with open heart. A few years ago, I began a new one, reflecting my eclectic spiritual leanings. I carried with me, mala beads and as each of the 108 beads ran through my fingers, I thought of a person who had touched my life and sent them a blessing. I actually did it twice around, since so many faces appeared before me. Links in a daisy chain of love.
I will be heading out later today to engage in that experience and am eager to immerse in a sense of at-one-ment which is, to me, at the core of atonement…..a knowing of undeniable connection with a God who could never in a million years, abandon us and who showers us with goodness and mercy for the work-in-progress human beings that we are.
http://youtu.be/Kww33eLc6Cs Mercy -Dave Matthews Band
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars: you have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” C.S. Lewis
When I was a little girl, I liked to climb things, get dirty, play in the mud, ride my bike, skate, sled, and fly a kite. I also enjoyed playing with dolls, arts and crafts supplies, and musical instruments. I immersed myself in the world of words, becoming a voracious reader. In other words, I was a pretty well rounded kid. I also felt a need to prove myself. That came from multiple health diagnoses, including asthma and being flat footed and pigeon toed which required frequent doctor’s visits, allergy shots, and red, clunky looking orthopedic shoes instead of loafers or sneakers like my friends wore. The monkey bars in the playground at Pennypacker Park Elementary School became my challenge course. They were probably no more than 6 feet from end to end, but to me, they might as well have been a mile long.
The first time I climbed the ladder to reach for the first rung, my heart was racing…”Could I do what the other kids did, moving hand over hand to the end in one graceful swoop?” Nope. After the first few bars, I dropped to the dusty ground beneath it, feeling discouraged. I don’t remember if they made fun of me, but the taunting inside my head was obnoxiously loud. The next time, I went perhaps one bar further and hung there for a few more moments that felt like an eternity. I was so determined to do this that I developed blisters on my hands. I wasn’t about to give up. Not sure how long it took, but eventually I made my way to the other side. Never again could I say I couldn’t do it. Such a sense of triumph!
Now the thing is, I did have to release one bar before moving to the next one, or I would never have reached the end and my blisters would have grown blisters. How long do we cling to distressing memories as if they are still happening? What stops us from relinquishing the cold steel bars of regret, what if’s and if onlies, shoulda, woulda, coulda thinking? What if monkeying around was as much fun as swinging from vines in a rain forest jungle or simply playground equipment in a suburban South Jersey schoolyard?
http://youtu.be/JmH9ahaTt7k Hey Hey, We’re The Monkees
This weekend heralded the Fall Equinox here in the Western Hemisphere. In my world, that means acknowledging the seasonal changes by gathering with kindred spirits at the home of my friends Stephen and Kathy Redding at Happy Tree Farm in rural Pennsylvania. As an arborist, I think of him as being like The Lorax who “speaks for the trees” and to the trees that dance in the wind, and stand steadfast like guardians of the sacred land on which his family (including his wife and 3 of his 4 adult children) has lived for many years. At Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice as well, they invite folks to come over, camp out (I only live 25 minutes away and prefer my comfy bed and shower:), bring food to share, instruments to play, stories to tell, spiritual insights to offer, love to scatter. The theme this year was “The Secret of The Bloom”, the title of which came from what Stephen thinks of as a visitation from a flower that sprung up between rocks recently and also had shown its pink and white face a few years ago. It stayed a day or so and then disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared. We are encouraged to look at such experiences as expected miracles. The day was spent lounging in the sun, swimming in the lake (I got nibbled by fish who thought I was a snack), taking necessary time to veg without agenda. As the sun was setting, we were treated to a fireworks display across the lake. We expressed our delight in the pyro-technic language of ooohhh and ahhh~ Within moments after the last sparkly light spiraled into the water, the towering bonfire was built from dead trees on the property. The word ‘equinox’ was carved into a wooden plaque and placed in the front of the teepee shape. Many of us sat around the fire on carved topped benches or folding chairs, enjoying the radiance and warmth. Some had brought drums and serenaded each other and the flames; noticing that they dance in time with the pace of our percussive motions. The sparks flew to the sky, at times appearing to be stars and at others, like the fireworks moving upward, rather than downward. A carved tree stood next to it that served as the perfect perch and vantage point to watch the show.
Long about 10 pm, I meandered home, with the pungent aroma of woodsmoke wrapped around me and tumbled into sweet sleep, ready to head back out the next morning. We held a Sunday afternoon service by the lake, the temps considerably cooler and a blustery breeze dancing off the water. This time, the focus was:
Flower Where You Are “How Intention sets the bud from which we bloom.” I had the joy of assisting with my friend Rev. Glenda Smith as well as welcoming others to step up and share their wisdom and insights in poem, prayer and song. My sharing was about intention setting as a dream in progress, and passed around a bowl with wildflower seeds appropriately called ‘cosmos’. I asked those present, while in meditation, to hold the seeds and place their hands on the parts of their bodies where they felt how it will be once their intentions come to fruition as we had explored earlier in the service. I could already see the wheels turning, seeds taking root and growing. I asked that when we came together again at the Summer Solstice, that they share what had transpired in the meantime and how their gardens had blossomed.
I look at my intentions on a daily basis and more often these days, am a willing participant in growing my own wild flowers as I allow myself to be those outrageously hued petals that once upon a time were just buds; pure potential, to be abundantly harvested.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVi0UvFu8Yo Harvest Moon-Neil Young
Thank you, danke schoen, gracias, gratzie, merci, tak, toda rabah, pan parius, Go raibh mile maith agaibh ….I discovered a list of ways to express gratitude that if layed out end to end would likely surround the room I am sitting in as I write this blog entry. Although I express gratitude throughout my day, 365 days a year, September 21st was named World Gratitude Day. Its origin came through spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy who has since passed. In 1965, he was sitting at a Thanksgiving dinner table in Hawaii and invited those assembled to acknowledge their blessings. They agreed to do so each year on this day. Twelve years later, the United Nations Mediation Group designated the day as well.
They declare it as a “holiday for all peoples, a day of meditation for all religions, a day of celebration for all humanity, united by knowledge of simultaneously shared emotion, a day when triumph of the spirit can make a world community.” I like the idea that we are united by a common desire for peace, to feel a sense of belonging and that ultimately we matter and can make a difference. Although we may think we are separate, at our core, we really are one. That is the basis for all religion.
Some ideas to celebrate the day could include:
1. Making a gratitude list, naming all of your blessings.
2. Taking note of all of the people you are grateful to have in your life by writing their names and then saying them out loud.
3 Contact as many of them as you can either in person, by writing to them or calling them.
4 Send thank you notes.
5. Say thank you to the person in the mirror.
6. Pay it forward by doing a good turn for someone else.
My own gratitude list includes love in all forms, dear family and friends, vibrant good health, financial abundance, limitless opportunity, communication skills, all of the blessings showered on me, a beautiful home, the tools to do my work, including this laptop on which I am typing at the moment, freedom of choice, my Jeep that gets me where I need to go, always being at the right place at the right time. An atty-tood of gratitude feeds the blessings.
I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. Gilbert K. Chesterton
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. – Albert Schweitzer
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Melody Beattie
http://youtu.be/ZRe339H4Iwg You Inspire Me, A Song of Gratitude by Skye Dyer