Shared reflections for a New Year.

A new comment on an old post prompts me to repeat posting the words of my therapist-shaman-spiritual seeker friend, who sent the following out in an email a year ago.
Dear Friends,
Last night, on the evening of Rosh Hashonah, the beginning of the Jewish
New Year, I made a difficult decision. After attending Rosh Hashonah
evening services, I decided not to attend today’s New Year’s day service.
A strange decision. In the annual Jewish spiritual cycle, this holiday
time begins a ten day period of soul-searching and introspection,
purification and reconciliation. It is meant to prepare us for our next
year of life by beginning that year cleansed, uplifted, unburdened, and
wiser from reflection on our mistakes and the ways we have hurt each
other. What better place than a synagogue, temple or church to practice
such introspection and contemplation?
Indeed, many of the words repeated in the prayer service, in fact
repeated for centuries, are meant to bring us to such a place of deep
internal reflection. We declare that “we consecrate God by our acts of
righteousness.” We declare the Divinity is the source or morality. We
affirm that “the illnesses of our world will be healed by those who drink
deep from ancient wells of wisdom.”
I strive to drink from those wells not just today but every day. I
strive to consecrate God by living righteously. The entire meaning and
motivations of all my professional activities as – psychotherapist,
growth facilitator, journey guide writer – are found in these goals. The
beautiful words in our traditional prayers remind me of my own deepest
motivations, and that they are watered by ancient wellsprings living in
Jewish and other religious thought. Then why am I home writing this
instead of in synagogue repeating the words in person with a few hundred
others, and in concert with Jews everywhere?
The answer is alarmingly simple. My friend, a Jewish lawyer who has
dedicated his life of professional service to crusading for social
justice, told me earlier this week: “I go to synagogue. I assume that
Judaism means something to the people attending services. But I don’t
see or feel what it means. I don’t see my neighbors rending their souls,
struggling with the big questions, applying these difficult spiritual and
philosophical questions to our daily personal and collective lives.”
Services too often substitute for rather than encourage the soul-rending
that needs to occur on these days. Religion, meant to be the soul’s
guide through the difficulties of life and living, becomes a substitute
rather than aid and encouragement to spirituality. My friend asked how
he could make the holiday truly spiritually alive, what he could read to
guide his soul in the process.
I, too, want to rend my soul on this day. In this brave new world we
live in, where we are in a new form of war without end, where our
political leadership chomps at the bit to plunge us into another
destructive and morally questionable war, where ecological, economic and
social decay threaten all of us on the entire planet daily, there is no
better, no more apt time to rend our souls, to ask how to live
righteously, to ask how to honor God and celebrate the creation. For the
meaning of the Rosh Hashonah holiday is just this. The holiday is the
mythic anniversary of the day of Creation. We celebrate it by working to
make ourselves morally clean so that we can be good stewards of this most awesome gift of the Creator to us all.
With so much suffering, with such a degree of modern illness afflicting
us all, we must experience soul-rending. So, sadly, I stay home to rend
my soul in private contemplation because I do not experience that rending
occurring in the shared public arena. We are at war but we barely touch
its pain. We are about to go to another war but are not sharing our
terror. Our planet is frying, our fresh waters disappearing, yet we are
not agonizing over it and asking what we each can do as individuals, and
what we must do collectively, to help our beloved Earth heal. So how do
we celebrate and behave righteously toward the Creation? There is just
too much pressing our us, disturbing and threatening us, for today to be
a day of nicities: “Have a good year;” “Be kind to each other.” We must
ask much more difficult and terrifying and disturbing questions — of
ourselves, each other, and all our leaders. And we must demand a much
more difficult and uncomfortable search for answers.
I wish to go on with this reflection. I wish to apply the spiritual
demands of this holiday to our difficult political, social, environmental
questions. And I will. I will spend this holy day, the ten days of
repentance that follow, and the holiest day of Yom Kippur, in such
contemplation. I will ask about the unthinking sacrifices we are making
of our children and our earth — as indicated by the story of Abraham and
Isaac retold today. I will ask about how I individually and we
collectively must serve as good stewards of the Creation on this day we
celebrate its birthday and declare that spirituality and right moral
action are one and the same. I will personally apologize to those I have
wronged, and seek ways to stop further harm in my individual as well as
our collective lives. I will continue to dedicate myself, my work, my
life to ultimate concerns, remembering that power and money are just
tools to use for good or ill, and should never be pursuits in themselves.
I will tremble in righteous indignation at the daily abuse of our
freedom, and use of our power to abuse others and our planet. And I will
never agree to allow my children, yours, or distant strangers’ children,
to be sacrificed on the altar of our vanity and greed.
I will go on with these reflections in every way I can, hourly, daily,
yearly, and not just pay my public dues to the holiday and tradition by
taking an easy path. I ask, I implore each of you to do the same.
Thank you all for being my congregation of spiritual seekers,
soul-renders, and God-wrestlers on this anniversary of the day of
Creation. May you each and all have a year of blessings and meaning.

“…a year of blessings and meaning.” Yes.

3 thoughts on “Shared reflections for a New Year.

  1. Thank you so much, Elaine, for sharing this communication. We didn’t go to synagogue this year–for the first time in at least twenty years. Our reasons aren’t as lofty as your friend’s, but she expresses something that’s moving through our souls–an exaustion of spirit, an unwillingness to sit through the lip service and the exchange of pleasantries. Jill likes and misses the ritual, but to me, the ritual is just a warm blanket, woven over centuries, to pull over the eyes into your soul.
    I consider your post today a New Year’s gift because your correspondent really articulated feelings that I was having trouble putting my fingers on.

  2. That’s a very interesting letter Elaine. One of the long term thouhts I’ve had about organized religions in general is that the very attempt to codify a religious experience, with the intent to transmit it to others, destroys the experience. I would suggest that is at least a contributing factor to the result of “Services too often substitute for rather than encourage the soul-rending that needs to occur on these days. Religion, meant to be the soul’s guide through the difficulties of life and living, becomes a substitute rather than aid and encouragement to spirituality.”
    It has always been my contention that there are as many paths to enlightenment as there are people seeking it. The attempt to confine that seeking to a predetermined path is a recipe for failure.

  3. if you need a god,
    open your eyes
    and see around you.
    there is god enough
    everywhere you look,
    and if you see,
    you will find, as well,
    a god
    in your very own soul,
    enough to lift you
    into the heart of everyone.
    and together you are
    the god.

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