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We are in the midst of the Jewish High Holy Days, which began last week with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah (head of the year). This is usually celebrated by reconnecting with friends and family and it signifies the beginning of a new year. Often there are special meals celebrated together with special candles that are lit and special foods that are shared. I like the symbolism of the Jewish New Year with its emphasis on taking stock, on looking back over the year just ended. You are asked to look back over your own actions in the past year and to “atone” for anything you may have done, intentionally or not, that harmed another. You are then tasked with finding, if possible, that other and setting things right again. This takes place for a period of ten days. When that is done, you are ready to enter the coming year with a clean slate.

The holiday concludes with the highest holiday in the Jewish calendar, “Yom Kippur”. This is a more or less somber religious service which begins with a traditional prayer, the “Kol Nidre” (all vows). This unusual prayer basically says that all vows made to God in the coming year are null and void! On the surface, this seems odd. But, this prayer is said to prevent a religious Jew from making an overly optimistic promise to God he or she cannot keep by recognizing that human beings are fallible, and that nobody, however well intentioned, can guarantee perfect behavior. You have to love a religion that is so honest! At this point the “Book of Life” is sealed for another year and you have the chance to start fresh.

Unlike the secular new year, the Jewish New Year focuses on your relationships and community more than your own personal goals. And in this year of isolation, it is needed more than ever. In a way we are in our own unique form of exile from each other this year. And, many of us have become introspective in this time. We have looked back with regret for the common things we didn’t appreciate. And we look forward to a time when we can be healed, and whole and connected once again. Shanah Tovah.

Days of Atonement

As the gates of another

year swing open,

we are given new options,

again.

There is a sacred temple

in the place where one year

speaks to the next.

In this in-between place

we get a glimpse of

how everything is stitched together.

It is our job

to find the lost threads

right in front of us,

to thread them

onto the slim silver needle

and begin to repair

whatever has broken

whatever has frayed

along the way.

We can do this holy work of mending,

like our mothers

who sat by the basket of socks.

They took up mending

our holes without asking

how or why.

They knew something

we now have learned.

The gift of repairing

has been given to us too.

See how day is stitched

seamlessly to night?

How holes

can be patched.

How this is sacred work

that must be done.

~Penny Hackett-Evans

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  • evansph2


The word Guru comes from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions denoting a person who is a supreme spiritual guide. A person with wisdom. American spiritual teacher and psychologist, Ram Dass says most of us have an image of a “guru” – a little old Indian man wrapped in a dusty cloth wearing sandals and carrying a walking stick. A man of few words who usually resides a long way from where we are – often in a mountain monastery or in a beautiful forest in Tahiti. Little wonder we never find him/her as most of us don’t have the opportunity to go to India or Tahiti to look. We forget about looking right here, right now – which was Ram Dass’ quintessential advice always! His book “Be Here Now” was the source of the first sermon I ever preached – and the source I still turn to these days as I am forever tempted to look for answers everywhere except where I am!

There is a Hindu belief in finding your “Upa Guru” which translates to something like, the person right next to you. The guru waiting for you to find him/her. The ordinary, the usual, the one disguised as a person you know.

It’s a good practice now and then to think about who or what might be our own guru. The sage Ziyoung as written that there is nowhere that is not a wisdom hall. Where might we look for our own upa guru, our own wisdom hall? Though we’d probably prefer a trip to Tahiti or even a stint in a mountain monastery, likely the opportunities are all around us to find wisdom and to find people who will help us seek our own wisdom. I’ve always liked the saying (probably by Ram Dass) that Nirvana is right here nine times out of ten.

I was talking with a friend recently who said her father-in-law at age ninety and quite infirm had one piece of advice to pass on. The secret to life?? --- “acceptance”. The best thing to do when it rains is to let it rain. Good lessons. Hard to learn!

Questions Before Dark – by Jeanne Lohmann

Day ends, and before sleep

when the sky dies down, consider

your altered state: has this day

changed you? Are the corners

sharper or rounded off? Did you

live with death? Make decisions

that quieted? Find one clear word

that fit? At the sun’s midpoint

did you notice a pitch of absence,

bewilderment that invites

the possible? What did you learn

from things you dropped and picked up

and dropped again? Did you set a straw

parallel to the river, let the flow

carry you downstream?

  • evansph2

Updated: Sep 12



Occasionally I am given the opportunity to be completely alone. Not just an hour snatched here and there – but the opportunity to be alone for a long stretch of time. I almost always feel guilty about claiming that time. There are so many things that need doing, so many ways that the world tells me to just join in, to make friends, to stay busy, to return that call, to send another email. It is surprisingly hard to claim the right to solitude. The poet David Whyte has written in his poem, “The House of Belonging”…

“This is the temple of my adult aloneness

And I belong to that aloneness

As I belong to my life.”

Claiming the need for solitude feels sometimes like nearly a matter of life and death to me. I have a happy life, a good marriage, wonderful children. My need for solitude does not deny those things. It lives alongside of them. Stretches of time to follow my own muse, on my own time table. Not necessarily to meditate for hours on end, or to write the great American novel, nor to write a list of resolutions. But simply to see again who I am when I am not responding to the world around me. What are my desires? How DO I want to spend time? What touches my heart? What am I really hungry for? Such questions as these arise from within during times of solitude. They are questions that take stretches of time to answer or to even begin to answer. Nor do I mean to use my precious solitude to find “Answers” – but, even just sometimes to find the questions that nag at me under the radar. Here is another poem by David Whyte which has touched me deeply over the years, addressing all this.

SOMETIMES by David Whyte

Sometimes if you move carefully through the forest, breathing like the ones in the old stories, who could cross a shimmering bed of leaves without a sound, you come to a place whose only task is to trouble you with tiny but frightening requests, conceived out of nowhere but in this place beginning to lead everywhere. Requests to stop what you are doing right now, and to stop what you are becoming while you do it, questions that can make or unmake a life, questions that have patiently waited for you, questions that have no right to go away.

Especially in this time of trouble that we are living through, it feels important to somehow carve out a niche of time, however small to be alone. To follow your own muse… maybe just to nap, read a novel, listen to some music, cook yourself a good meal…. May you find your own “temple of adult aloneness” and may you learn to worship there.

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