for a girl who grew up whispering “glory be to the Father,” whenever i felt afraid. for a girl who pedaled her bike to early mass in the mornings, thinking my soul would shine, really shine, like a glow-in-the-dark pair of lungs. for a girl who once wondered if there was a chance, even a slim one, that she too could turn into saint, a 20th-century saint, complete with three miracles, canonization, the whole deal.
for a girl like that it is a curious thing that today, when she walks into synagogue, up the steps, into the room where the sunlight streams in, the sunlight that pours over the pages of prayers that are written in hebrew, she will be filled with awe.
but it’s true. over the years this most blessed day, rosh hashanah, the holy new year, has seeped into my soul, into the cracks and the tight places. has filled me with longing and coming home, too.
i am as at home in the prayers of the new year as i am anywhere else. i tingle at this time of year. if that’s awe, and i think that it is, i’ve got it.
the stretch here, from rosh hashanah today until yom kippur 10 days away, is called, you might know, the days of awe.
awe for the God who gives life, who gives harvest, and who writes our names in His book. we are inscribed now. you might hear the scritch-scratch of the pen. God writing your name and your days up ahead. today it is written. on yom kippur it is sealed.
it is not only that that stirs me. it is everything else. it is the bite in the air as the autumn rolls in. and the rustle up in the trees. the old leaves are drying, are wrinkling, are getting ready to fall.
and then, always, the light. the synagogue where i pray has a whole eastern wall that is old leaded glass. the light plays there. it draws me in. in the midst of a prayer i might look up at the light, watch it. see the dust floating there, suspended. like some sort of prayer. on its way up to God, but not there yet.
and the voices. the chanting in hebrew of words and in minor-key notes that will stick in my head, that i’ll be humming for days. because they move me. because i don’t want to leave the place that they take me.
and the sound of the shofar. the ram’s horn that is blown, that could rattle the walls. talk about feeling a current run through your spine. it’s a collect call from God.
and then at home, it’s all apples and honey and the round spiraling challah, the sweet bread. all around there is sweet golden honey it seems.
these are the days at the end of the harvest, when the nectar is tapped. that’s how it was long long ago, when the jews left their fields and gathered for prayer. they knew the God of the rain and the sun and the wind.
i know Him too.
and that’s where the awe comes. here i am thousands and thousands of years later. i’ve not seen a goat or a sheep since i was out at some farm in the zoo. i don’t know what it is to feel the sun beat down on my back as i break through dry earth, hard as a rock.
but the prayers, some of them, echo the sound of a people who are of the fields and the flocks, and very hard labor. and i hear in their words how something so simple as rain from the clouds might be a tap on the shoulder from God, a whispering, “Here I Am.”
i know this God. and i am in awe that i now understand how to listen for him in two different tongues. i know the God of the church, the one who i kneel to, make the sign of the cross, swallow holy communion.
but i know, too, the God of the synagogue.
i feel that God wrapped around me like some sort of prayer shawl. i am at home with the God of the sweet autumn light. and the honey and apples.
i took a road, some ways back, that i’d never expected. but it is a road that i’ve watched very closely. i’ve studied it, taken its bumps, and come up the inclines.
it’s carried me home.
not sure how meandery all this is. but that’s the definition of meditation, and that’s what i did here. i followed the trail of my thoughts wherever they went. and this here is what flowed. have you found, over the years, a road you never knew you would take? but once you walked it, you found yourself coming to understand it was taking you somewhere? and the journey, no matter how far or how twisted, was as much of a blessing, as the getting there was?
to everyone, jew or not jew, i wish you a most blessed new year, a day of awe, a string of days of awe, l’shanah tovah.
p.s. stay tuned for middle eastern lamb stew. it’s our rosh hashanah tradition and it’s coming tomorrow…..five pounds of lamb are in the fridge, waiting for alchemy. even people who hate lamb, beg to come back for more. i’m not kidding. i’ll tell you the story, give you the roadmap tomorrow. you’ll be drooling. bring forks.