On the Cusp of the Days of Awe: Everyday Magic, Day 953

This pre-Rosh Hashana afternoon, as I watch a dive-bombing hummingbird and a dozen others just trying to get a drink from our feeder, my mind is on community. How we can make and keep community. What community is at its best, and how it enacts love as a verb. Why breaking bread, breaking through barriers, and breaking new ground together matters, especially in a time of rough-edged divides, political name-calling, and one-size-fits-all labels  that diminish us all.

I’m also thinking of awe: that sense of wonder at the shining edges and in-depth centers of the life force. From the vantage point of the porch I get to witness this regularly in the parade of clouds behind the translucent lines of spider webs where unfortunate moths meet their maker (and the spider). The good dog, realizing I’m not getting up to let him in, lies down gingerly, then collapses to sleep on his side. A hummingbird suspends itself in buzz on the other side of the screen, and the air is brilliantly bright and cool.

At sundown, I’ll be at the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, singing, davening (bowing back and forth in prayer), and even dancing at our Rosh Hashana service before the annual cookie orgy that follows, all of which opens the Day of Awe — the 10 days between the new year celebration and Yom Kippur, the day of fasting, prayer and atonement. During this time, we are called to fix anything we screwed up (particularly with other human) this year, based on the premise that while prayer can right us with God, only action can right us with each other. Of course this also entails looking at how we’ve messed things up with ourselves: times we may have acted not from our values and deepest goodness but from our anxieties and fearful badness.

Which gets me back to community and awe: we can’t sustain positive change in our lives without the help of one another. By opening our eyes to the wonder of how we can show up for each other and ourselves, we may just find the right steps, words, breathes, and stillnesses to arrive right where we are, in the promised land of this beautiful life even while trudging through the desert of brokenness, injustice, heartbreak, and grief.  Whether you’re Jewish or not, a new year is here for the taking (and I believe in jumping onboard for every new start that rolls on through). Let us walk together, and to all, L’Shanah Tovah (have a good and sweet year).

Here is a poem I wrote about this time:


Entering the Days of Awe


Let us walk unfettered into these days

unfurling in the sun, wide fields of old grasses

bracketed by sunflowers and pebbles.

Let us step into the lapis sky that fastens itself

to the driveway, the sidewalk, the worn leaves

of dying summer under new leaf fall.

Let us give up the wasteful thinking,

the 2 a.m. anxieties over what cannot be changed,

the waking with a gasp. Let us stand in the morning,

the new chill of the air clearing the disgards of time,

fear, reaching too hard or not enough.

Let the wrongs be made right. Let forgiveness

overtake the words we hear and pray, the stories

we’ve made and tilted. Let us remember this dreaming song

from all our beloveds long gone or just over the bend,

each note engraved with lost lands, singing

of how good it is when we dwell together.

Let the peripheral vision in the days of awe show us

the world, the first seeing of the heart, the last pulse

of those we love who travel with us. Let the wind shake

the trees, the tattered leaves shine, the last butterflies

flash their orange, the first dark blue of night

open into a panorama of past and present light

on its way to us all.

Let the next breath we take inscribe us in the book of life.

Let the next breath you give welcome us home.

~ Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg


Time To Repent, Reflect & Reconvene: Everyday Magic, Day 422

Yom Kippur begins at sundown, the biggest holiday (not counting regular old shabbat, which counts as the biggest regular old holiday) of the Jewish year, and also the most confusing…..or the most simple, depending on your point of view. Tonight, Rachel Black will sing the Kol Nidre, a hauntingly holy song, long and sorrowful, that we stand during, which basically begs with heart and soul, words that in English translate into an extremely complicated legalistic statement/prayer/plea to give us clearance to pray and repent together. But what speaks to me isn’t the precise and multi-layered meaning of the words, which were scripted in the Middle Ages and are tied into Jews having to renounce and hide their Judaism just to survive.

What breaks my heart open is the sounds (listen to this gorgeous version with cello oloist Teodora Miteva, Bulgaria/Austria, with the Vienna Philharmonic Women´s Orchestra at the St. Thekla Church in Vienna). There is something about the melody, and how it surges through us, all standing in unison, many of us dressed in white with our tallit (prayer shawls) around us. This song ushers us through the archway between the daily life and this holiday.

There are many other songs, most beautiful and familiar to me, that surge through our services along with prayers I love, particularly the ay-yi-yi-yi-yi hitting-our-heart gently with our right fist as we list all the ways we as a people have gone or done wrong, and that’s a key to this observance: we pray for ourselves as a people, we repent and reflect as a people, we reconvene in the land of our collective soul with prayer and fasting.

My friend Judy quoted from one of our prayers this today: “But repentance prayer and compassionate acts will avert the severe decree.” Okay, so the whole “severe decree” part is dark, confusing and open to interpretation (as is everything — to me that’s the ultimate essence of Judaism: deep questioning). Since I read this on her facebook status this morning, I’ve been thinking about how compassionate acts, Tzedakah in Judaism, is also part of this reconvening. The prayer and repentance aim my heart more toward compassionate acts, and the way we pray, in song and chant beyond the reach of my engagement with language so often, is what shows me most how to live: as a continue reconvening with all that’s alive all around all the time.

Good Yom Kippur to us all, and for another beautiful angle on one of our prayers, listen to Leonard Cohen singing, along with Sonny Rollins on saxophone, “Who By Fire?”