NOTE: This post was written last night. This morning during rush hour there has been a disastrous train crash in Hoboken, NJ not far from where I live. I hold in prayer all those who have lost their lives, their families, those who are injured and the first responders who run into disasters when others are running out. Join me in holding this situation in thought and prayer.
Sunday evening is the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, a time when Jewish people pause to reflect on the previous year and set intentions for the one to come. Families gather in synagogues to worship in community. One of the rituals of this holiday is called “tashlich”, which means “casting off” in Hebrew and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. Personally I don’t care for the word “sin”. I prefer “mistake” or “missing the mark”, but you get the idea. I am an interfaith minister and as such I identify with many of the worlds traditions. I was also born into the Jewish tradition, and although I do not attend synagogue, nor am I what would be considered “observant”, I find great meaning in certain traditional rituals of my birth religion. This is one that I particularly love and I’ve created my own little ceremony to share with my immediate family during this holiday. We go to the Delaware Raritan Canal nearby and together we recite some of the traditional prayers, share our thoughts about the significance of the day, then sprinkle breadcrumbs into the water as a gesture of removing anything that doesn’t serve us, making space for a new way of being. We all look forward to family time, special traditional foods, and remembering the elders of our family who are gone from us physically. It’s a time for sharing memories, stuffing ourselves with traditional yummies, and tremendous laughter and joy. Our family knows how to “ring in the new year” Jewish-style.
Rosh Hashanah is considered the Jewish new year and the week following is called “the days of awe” which lead up to the most significant holy day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. During the “days of awe” we are invited to forgive ourselves and others and to notice the cleansing effect forgiveness has on our being. On Yom Kippur one is asked to empty themselves of their worldly lives and open themselves to receive a sort of spiritual cleansing and refreshment. The tradition says that we ask to be “inscribed in the book of life” for another year.
As a child I would attend what is commonly called “high holidays” services with my father and grandfather. The liturgy was fascinating to me in many ways. It also scared the shit out of me because I thought the big bearded man in the sky that was the god of my youthful understanding was taking notes on whether I deserved to go on to another year or had filled my dance card full to the brim with “sins” and I would be denied my place in the book this time. It took years of inquiry, questioning, digging, turning over stones, and lots and lots of forgiveness for me to find my spiritual way, integrating the beauty of my birth tradition into my life in a way that touches my heart and connects me to the depth of my heritage and ancestry without the trappings of dogmatic blind observance. Over time I was able to heal a great chasm that had developed between me and my birth tradition and I’ve had the great honor of helping others to heal their own brand of religious injury from a variety of the worlds religious traditions. (And by the way, the healing process is ongoing, AND I’ve come a very long way!)
As I approach this year’s “tashlich” moment I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to consciously cast off the ways in which I have missed the mark this past year and to have the time and space to reflect on ways that I can forgive…refresh…cleanse…and move forward into a fresh new year filled with promise and possibilities. I know that my name (and yours) is inscribed in that Big Book, that I am a work in progress, that the god of my understanding is the essence of Love and that Love lives as a shining eternal light I my heart and yours, and that forgiveness is the way to grace. May we all know the depth and breadth of the Love that is our birthright, now and always.
STRETCH: Think about the traditions in your life that fill you with a sense of connection to family or ethnic underpinnings. Create space in your life for meaningful ritual that honors your ancestors and reminds you of the shoulders on which you stand. You are because they were.