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Category: holy days

hope patrol

yellowboots

i’m just in from searching for hope. my boots are a bit muddy. my fingers are cold. and i’m not surprised to report there were no sightings of winter loosening its miserly grip.

sadly, in my corner of the world there is no snow. no drifts of white. no boughs laden with icy meringue. no fat flakes tumbling, tumbling from heaven to earth.

there is, more than anything, drab brown. not even rich brown. drab. drained-of-zing brown. which, perhaps, is apt description for my soul of late. which is why i was out searching.

thank heaven, the heavens responded last night: posted a nearly full moon, a fat moon, a bright moon, a moon that tonight will glow in all its glory. full snow moon. the moon that marks the arrival at sundown of a jewish holiday i’ve come to love. tu b’shevat it’s called, and it marks “the new year of the trees.” in israel, the holy land where all of these blessings begin, it’s the date on the calendar when vernal whisperings begin. when, if you pulled out your magnifying lens, and tiptoed close to the tips of the almond tree’s branches, you’d easily see the evidence: fat buds, fatter by the hour.

the trees are shaking off their slumber. the trees are stirring toward blossom, toward heavenly perfume, toward fruit. (the prescriptions for tu b’shevat i find wholly enchanting, a four-course feast of fruits and wine, so explained by the kabbalists, those deeply spiritual thinkers who believed that we elevate ourselves by the eating of certain fruits on tu b’shevat. if done with holy intention, they taught, sparks of light hidden in the fruit could be broken open from their shells, freed to float up to heaven, to the great divine, completing the circle of the renewal of life. oh my.)

it’s the eternal rhythm of earth and heavens. the inalterable equation of light from above, and richness from deep down inside the earth. it’s carried us forth, a pulsing pull, from the beginning of time. till now. and some winters — some winters inside our soul — we need surrender to the holy earth, to the rhythms that sustain us, move us forward even when we don’t believe we’ve the energy to lift a weary foot.

this winter would be one of those winters. all around the news is drab to worse. we’ve all been holed inside. and around here not even buffeted by snows, by the glory of an icy-painted window pane. we’re worn thin.

so mother earth comes to comfort us. she offers hope. even when we cannot see it.

back before the winter came, my last act of hope came the day i dropped to bent knee, thrust my shovel in the ground, and tucked in dozens and dozens of bulbs. i’d scanned the nursery shelves for blues and whites, the colors of delft, of old willow plates, the colors of sky and cloud. it’s a form of prayer, i’d insist, to tuck hope beneath the earth, to step away, and await the moment when the surge comes, when the tender determined shoot of newborn green comes poking through the earth. declares triumph. offers proof that hope pays off.

it’s too soon for that moment, as my morning’s patrol has made perfectly clear. but i find hope in other ways. i find hope seeping in through the cracks. do you?

i felt hope last night sitting in a circle of prayerful souls. i feel hope as i watch folks far braver and bolder than me pick up the reins and write the truth. i feel hope as all around i see the humblest among us stirred to action. i feel an awakening, even though it’s not yet the one from down beneath the crust of earth, where all the roots are emboldening, the roots we cannot see.

maybe it’s a blessing that we’re all paying attention, maybe it’s a very good thing that we’re being reminded that a democracy is a fragile thing, a living breathing entity that, like the rhythms of the earth and sky, must be carefully attended to. and we must all hold up our corner of its banner. we must all — by little and by little — find our courage, find our voice, think hard, think critically, employ deepest civility, listen with a gentle heart, and wield the purest acts of justice. and not let go — ever — of plain old kindness. the sort that seems to be rising up in some of the loveliest defiance i’ve ever seen.

come to think of it, that all sounds like hope to me. maybe, after all, it’s out there where the winds blow cold, blow certain. maybe my muddy boots led me to the very thing i’m hoping for.

are you sensing any signs of hope? any stories of pure kindness you’d care to share? the more we hear, the more emboldened we become, i do believe….

couple special intentions on this second friday in february. two dear friends of the chair suffered heart-shatterings this week: deepest prayers to pjt, who lost her dearest best friend far far too soon, and pjv, whose sister — last i heard — is on a ventilator and whose hold is fragile at this point. at my house, we are remembering my papa who died this day 36 years ago. i’ve heard from a few of my brothers this morning, who are all mourning his long absence from our every day. 

if you’re curious about tu b’shevat, i wrote about it here a few years back….

and now we pause for awe…

DSCF1354

the lamb has been ordered. the prayer books, slipped from the shelf. soon, i will slice the pomegranate and begin to count the seeds. are there really precisely 613, the same as the number of mitzvot, or commandments, as the sages taught, as i was told in whispers in a kosher kitchen once upon a time?

i have been curious, asking questions, burrowing into the holiness of the new year, the jewish new year, rosh hashanah, ever since i stumbled on that fine bespectacled fellow in the newsroom so long ago, decades ago now. and because i come to this beginning — this pause to behold the wonder of creation, original creation — with inquisitive heart, because question upon question tumbles before me, because one leads to another and another, i can’t help but be drawn deep into what these days offer: these days offer awe.

they are called, quite precisely, the Days of Awe.

awe, my dictionary tells me, is “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.”

awe, my etymologists* tell me, has deep roots in fear, and traces back to circa 1300, aue, “fear, terror, great reverence,” earlier aghe, circa 1200, from a Scandinavian source, such as Old Norse agi “fright;” from Proto-Germanic *agiz- (cognates: Old English ege “fear,” Old High German agiso “fright, terror,” Gothic agis “fear, anguish”), from PIE *agh-es- (cognates: Greek akhos “pain, grief”), from root *agh- “to be depressed, be afraid” (see ail). the current sense of “dread mixed with admiration or veneration” is due to biblical use with reference to the Supreme Being. To stand in awe (early 15c.) originally was simply to stand awe. Awe-inspiring is recorded from 1814.

in my own dwelling inside these days of awe, i don’t think too much about fear. i tend toward wonder. the God i know and sidle next to is not one who makes me tremble. truth is, i’m most myself when i draw deep into the hollows of God. when i feel myself wrapped in the arms of the one who gave me breath, and question, and proclivities for awe.

because this pause for holiness is at once still new to me, and now familiar, because in many ways it’s always felt as if i’d been waiting for reason to hold up these days, to hold up these autumn’s-coming hours, i walk through them with all pores open. i love the pungent notes that will rise up from the pot on the stove, the one where lamb simmers alongside onion and celery and garlic, before the apples and raisins and cinnamon settle in. i love the way the molasses morning light pours across the page. i love each sentence i find on the page, especially the ones that startle me, give me pause, give me much to think about during the long hours in synagogue, during the long walks that will punctuate the pause, the anointing that makes the days of awe unlike ordinary time.

because i am always, always drawn to the sage of all sages, abraham joshua heschel, i pulled him, too, from the shelf this morning. i’ve been filling the shelves with heschel for a long long time. even before i knew i’d be the one to share my husband’s bookshelves.

this morning i found this from heschel, along with the pages of prayer that we will tuck under our arms and carry to the pews where the prayers will come. because it speaks to all of us who are inclined to turn in, to refuel in the depths of quietude, i share these fine heschel thoughts as something of a blessing for these days when we pause for awe.

here’s heschel, from “On Prayer,” found in the collection, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, edited by Susannah Heschel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996):

Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for the innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home. Weary, sobbing, the soul, after wandering through a world festered with aimlessness, falsehoods, and absurdities, seeks a moment in which to gather up its scattered life, in which to divest itself of enforced pretensions and camouflage, in which to simplify complexities, in which to call for help without being a coward. Such a home is prayer. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where prayer is.

may you find your way home in this sacred span of time, the one that unfolds across the coming hours, the ones i’ve come to know and love as the holy Days of Awe, when i bow my head, my heart, my soul, and pulse with the wonder of creation, and my one small moment to revel in all its glories.

how do you pause for awe? who is your trail guide across the landscape of prayer?

*my etymologists: online etymology dictionary

mullipuffed

dandelion_gone_to_seed

…it is written.

those were the words onto which my eyes locked, as i turned to page 108 in the morning prayer service of the new union prayer book for the days of awe:

“on rosh hashanah it is written..” 

those words burrowed deeper than they might otherwise have burrowed, those words that inform us that God is on high, is etching our fates into the great book of life, of destiny; a refrain of the jewish new year that is ancient and every year new. it is the beginning somber note of a two-part doxology: on rosh hashanah, it is written; on yom kippur it is sealed.

weighty enough. but even weightier this year for me.

for far beyond the walls of the synagogue, where i bent in prayer yesterday, i knew that cardboard boxes were plopping on door stoops, sliding into the hungry maws of mail boxes. i knew because blessed friends had been sending me pictures. a book landing here, landing there. each one a birth.

indeed, it was written.

and that’s when suddenly the image popped into my mind: the wafting seeds, airborne puffs roto-coptering across the landscape, over farmer fields, over desert mountaintops, from sea to shining sea.

there’s a word that’s gone out of vogue, but i am on a one-woman campaign to revive it, breathe life back into it. it’s mullipuff, a delightful collection of syllables and spill-from-your-mouth cotton-ball consonants, and it is the word for the seed head of the dandelion, when its yellow fronds are spent, but its deepest job is just beginning: it’s about to take flight, and in that breathtaking way, transformation has occurred. it has seed dropping to do. holy act of faith, indeed. flinging itself to the winds and the rains. counting on calm blanket of air, of breeze, to carry it to where it might plop, sink in, begin the birth and rebirth.

mullipuff.

…it is written.

and so i find myself this morning, twirling and spinning the thought of all those books, of those pages being turned, and i know this is where i need to pray most mightily. this is where the holy act begins. the book is landing, and with it the words, the prayers burrowed deep down inside. lying in half-sleep this morning, i prayed that those words — like seedlets in motion — would begin their journey, their voyage, their sacred beginning….i imagined each word propelled, each one decked out with little flagella, those microbiological wings — propellers — that scurry amoeba along. if you’ve ever put your eye to the microscope lens, you know what i mean, the little flippers that make the droplets of pond water swim across the microscope slide.

so, i imagine, the words. so i pray for the words. now that they’re unloosed on the world, now, i pray, “please do your job.”

it’s what happens, i suppose, when you don’t set out to write literature, don’t sink your heart into plot twist or narrative arc. but when all you do is set out to unfurl your heart, to write a plainspoken book of common prayer. the prayer from one harried mama who is looking so hard for the holy. who, after practice and practice, is beginning to gather it, to fill her heart with it. to find the holy bliss she’s been looking for. looking for so very long.

and so, this morning, i hold my breath, i pray my prayers, i ask the heavens to take over where i can’t go. the words that i typed are dandelion seeds. they are wafting now. landing, burrowing down.

dear God, let the seedlings take root. let something begin deep in the hearts and the souls. a scratching the surface, and quietly quietly sinking deep down where wonder takes root. where eyes are widened, and ears are perked. let the holy begin to rustle. let it quiet the noise, and peel back the hard dull edge, make known the unnoticed. let the hours be mined for all that they hold — magnificence, mystery, luminescence and shadow. let us see the beauty, behold the beautiful. let the books that land on the doorsteps, let them be the field guide to what lies deep within. the wonder, the wisdom, the Sacred.

so now you’ve read along as i prayed out loud. saying your prayers aloud gives them a bit more heft, adds ballast. i’ve been blanketed in that prayer all week, as i knew that little book, the one called Slowing Time, was miraculously being boxed and shipped and delivered. it’s as if a hundred thousand prayers of my heart, the seeds of the mullipuff, are finally released, finally getting to work. and all i can do is pray that they land where they’re likely to burrow and bloom.

what constitutes the mullipuff you choose to blow into the world?

p.s. because i was enchanted by the noun, mullipuff, i turned it into a verb (up above), as in a weightless something blown upon the whisper of breath out across the landscape. mullipuffed. may what matters to your heart, be mullipuffed….

because i was wholly entranced, as i always am, by the prayers i find in the jewish prayer books, and because i was struck by how deeply i’ve been informed by the lens through which ancient jews marveled at the world, i carried home the prayer book, so i could share this prayer with you. it’s called, Your Endless Blessing, and it begins on page 82.

Great and holy Maker of all the living, 

You create the world, Your child, anew at every moment.

An instant’s pause in Your creative love, and all things would turn to naught.

But Your blessing glows in every spark of time.

Again and again the morning stars unite to hymn Your love.

Again the sun comes forth to sing Your light. 

Again the angels sing their sacred chant to You.

Again the souls intone their need for You.

Again the grasses sing their thirst for You.

Again the birds chirp their joy before You.

Again abandoned chicks voice their orphan-song to You.

Again springs softly bubble their prayer to You.

And still the afflicted pour out their complaint to You.

And still their souls’ prayer splits Your heavens. 

And still they tremble in awe of Your glory.

And still in hope they lift up their eyes to You.

One ray of Your light, and we are bathed in light!

One word from You, and we are reborn!

One hint of Your eternal presence, and we are refreshed with the dew of youth!

Author of life, as You renew all things, take us, Your children, and make us new.

Breathe Your spirit into us, that we may start life afresh, with childhood’s unbounded promise.

hours of sorrows

silence on day that darkens

amid this breathless week of passover seders and holiest hours, amid trying to pack lunches kosher for passover, and waking up early to stir and bake passover coffee cakes (in which it’s the egg white that’s relied upon for alchemy, to lift the leaden matzoh into something that falls on the tongue with delicate bite), amid wondering what to serve our muslim houseguest when she’s here for easter brunch while we’re keeping kosher for passover, today is the day i deep breathe.

today, good friday, holy friday, friday of sorrows at the nadir of the week, this is the day when the noon hour comes, and the sky darkens (at least in my searching imagination it does), and i retreat to my quietude. and my sorrows.

sorrows not my own, but sorrows for the world. sorrows of which there are too, too many. the more you read the newspapers, the more you turn the pages of memoir, the more and more you realize the world is shrouded in darkness. darkness that demands whatever energies we have to battle it back. to insist we’re not letting it win. we’re not standing by in abeyance. we’re not washing our hands, turning and dropping the ball, leaving the dirty work to anyone else.

on this day, in these hours of sorrows, i turn to that ancient and ever-birthing instrument of petition and promise: i pray. i pray on my knees (till my old bones tell me to stop, anyway). i pray curled by my window, my eyes deep in the words on the page. i pray all alone, just me and the God who is listening. listening, i’m certain.

this year, i’m bringing along a wisp of a book, a book originally published in 1955, before i was born, a book i searched for and found this year because its words had so stirred me, sitting in the pews at a church not far away in miles, but legions away in raw earthy truths. it’s a church filled with a few dozen languages and skin from pitch-black to blotchy from tears. it’s a church where i go to feel naked, to feel in communion with the messy stuff of humanity. i’ve seen old women, bent and bowed, rocking with tears, and mumbling half out loud. i’ve seen fat brown-skinned babies dunked in the holy waters. i’ve seen walkers and wheelchairs and crutches and canes. the whole lot of God’s sorrows streaming up to communion.

the book, this book that speaks to me, speaks to all who gather at st. nick’s and beyond, it’s “the way of the cross,” written and illustrated back in 1955 by caryll houselander, and you can find it from liguori publications, down missouri way.

way of the cross

now this caryll houselander, she was a bit of a rabble-rouser (a chain-smoking, profanity-spewing 20th-century british catholic mystic, artist, woodcarver, prolific author, teacher of disturbed children, counselor of the war-traumatized, widely known as “the divine eccentric”).

she liked her religion messy, she liked it to speak from the hollows of the human heart. and she lifted it out of long-ago millennia and into the moment, for me anyway. she puts me there in the dust at the side of the via dolorosa, the quarter-mile road in old jerusalem where jesus carried the cross, falling not once or twice but three times under the weight of those shoulder-crushing timbers. up the hill to calvary, where, upon that cross, he cried out, “father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” and then, with his mother weeping at the foot of the cross, he let out the gurgly rattle of death, and he died.

we all have words in our lives with magical mystical powers, words that unlock some soulful place in us. caryll houselander’s “way of the cross” does it for me.

here she is on veronica, the compassionate woman who burst through the rabble to come face to face with the tormented jesus. here she is, caryll houselander, with the pleading to God inspired by veronica wiping the face of jesus, a soulful act of compassion if ever there was:

give me Your eyes

to discern the beauty of your face,

hidden under the world’s sorrow.

give me the grace

to be a Veronica;

to wipe away

the ugliness of sin

from the human face,

and to see

Your smile on the mouth of pain,

Your majesty on the face of dereliction,

and in the bound and helpless,

the power of Your infinite love.

 

Lord take my heart

And give me Yours.

quietly, i leave you to enter your own pleadings and sorrows.

may this be a day steeped in the Holy. may your hours of sorrows draw you into a depth of compassion that lifts you beyond your own full deck of worries.

another road into compassion:  a few months back, i mentioned here that i was working on a story about a 20-year-old former star swimmer and water polo player who suffered a brain aneurysm in the fall of his senior year of high school and now lives in the hell called “locked-in syndrome.” the story just came out in marquette magazine, and web wizards masterfully interlaced film clips throughout the words of the story. if you are hungry for a bit of humbling today, you might want to click on patrick stein’s story here, as published in the magazine. 

how will you spend the hours of sorrows? 

what if…

what if

i was lurching to a stop, at a light leaping toward red, and that’s when the thought was birthed in my head. oh, it had been pulling at me all morning. i felt the weight of it from the moment my eyes opened, let in the light.

i was having trouble letting go of the great sacred hours of saturday. it had been a day of pure oxygen. i had nowhere to be other than prayer. i did nothing worldly.

i only drove at the end of the day, when the dark came. all day i walked to the place where the prayer was in pews. i walked with my boys; we weren’t in a hurry. the little one filled his pockets with acorns, sat off in a corner when we got there, played games with the corns and their caps. the other boy, wrapped in his prayer shawl, stood beside me, sat beside me, prayed beside me. their papa, this year, was far far away.

we spent enough hours in the place where the prayer was–coming and going all day–that we followed the arc of the sun.

the morning light, white, filtered through glass the color of cafe au lait, poured in from the east, lit my pages of prayers from the top, spilled toward the bottom.

by late afternoon, the light streaming in from the west was golden. some in the pews wore sunglasses. i let the sun in without filter, practically blind me.

when the sun fell, when the light fell, the rabbi lit a bright candle. for a few minutes, it was the only light in the great-ceilinged chamber.

then, it was over and we stepped out into the twilight. walked home one last time.

it was the light and the words, and the pushing away of the everyday, that drew me into a place where i want to return. the rabbi kept saying yom kippur is the one day, the one 25 hours of the year, when we brush up closest to God; we taste paradise, he told us. i believed him. i felt the stirring inside me.

i felt the touch of the fingers of God, up near my temples, up where the prayers settle and launch back into orbit. up where my thoughts rustle like grasses.

i felt time itself transform. it was not a staccato of chock-a-block minutes. but, rather a plane with no beginning or end. it was a mist that carried me. took me deep into a place where the world could not enter. it was sacred and slow and without measure. i had no hunger. other than that of wanting the day to last forever.

and then came the next day. and everything about it, it seemed, was hard. there was breakfast to make and errands to run. and a whole week ahead. i felt the wallop of monday galloping towards me.

i was on my way home from the mall where i’d gone to buy knobs for a door that resisted the ones i’d already bothered to try. that’s when the words came.

what if?

what if we let go, just for a spell, of all the constraints and let time return to its essence? what if we put out our hands and cupped as much as we could? what if these were our very last hours? what if we allowed each minute to sink deep into our soul?

would we be racing to malls? or would we be breathing? filling our lungs with the warmth of a sun that hasn’t gone out yet.

would we know if a monday followed a sunday? would we care? we have lassoed the moments of time, coerced them into ill-fitting forms.

oh, i know, i know. we have lives to lead, jobs to fulfill, mouths to feed.

but might we maybe have gone overboard? gotten so locked into clocks and calendars that we never, only maybe once a year, and only if we must, tell time we’re not paying attention.

we are, instead, wholly indulging in the gift of the light and the breeze. we are sinking our hands and our heart and our soul into the timeless. we are digging holes for a bulb, kneading bread dough, rocking our children. we are watching the waves, holding a butterfly, listening to air flutter the leaves of the trees.

the gift of shabbat and the sabbath offer that very reality. one day of each week. from sundown to sundown. for years now, i’ve said i wanted to follow the laws of the sabbath: not drive, not do any labor. pull into a place that knows no end or beginning. knows only the light of the sun and the stars and the moon.

what if each day we honor one blessed hour, or one blessed chunk of an hour? what if we give time its due? not lock it, and chain it, and wrap it around us.

but rather, allow it to flow through our hands, each sacred drop tasted for all that it is: the closest element in the world to paradise itself.

if we give it a chance.

if we let it sink into our skin, in through our eyes and our ears. if we taste it. if we suck on the marrow of time. if we stop and we marvel. the difference between any one moment and the next might be the difference between life, and life no longer.

each moment is sacred.

if only we notice.

if only we live as if we grasp the whole of that truth…

it’s my job to go out on a limb. it’s my blessing to have a place to do so. to say so. i netted this thought before it floated away. here it is now, you too can enter the thought. it’s ours now to share. to look at, consider. to release or let flap for awhile. do any of you make a practice of releasing time from its trappings? how do you do so? do you long to do it more often? what ways do you strip the world from the worldly? seek just a taste of the divine, the everlasting?

a word of deep sadness: a boy who filled a room with his strength and his sunshine died on saturday afternoon. in his mother’s arms. his name was nick. he had just turned 16. he and i shared tuesdays in a small room where we tried to get our bones stronger. he’d been fighting the ravages of cancer since he was four. but he never let on. my little one loved him. so did i. you couldn’t know nick and not love him. maybe nick is part of why each moment feels sacred today. be at peace, sweet friend. be at peace. your mama, and papa and all those who love you, peace to you too.

and finally, that photo up there. it’s from my will. the boy who’s a manchild these days. i usually don’t tell you his name. but the photo is his. and you should know where it came from. i asked him to go out with his lens, and catch a moment that felt timeless. full of light. inspired. up there is what he brought home. i could stare at that moment all day…thank you, sweet will.

molasses light

molasses light

i caught a lick of it just the week before last. seeped through a late afternoon window. oozed in between branches of honeysuckle.

there it was pooled on the dining room table. scattered like seeds on the wall just beyond. it is the light that i live for. it is the light of the autumn, when the globe starts to tilt and the slant of the sun shines more purely, i’m certain.

now, i’m no monet. i know not a thing, not a sciencey thing–or even an art one–about light. how it falls. how it bounces through bits in the air. how our eye knows.

but i do know a thing of the soul. and light, i am certain, unlocks some deep-inside chamber. lets it out. lets it flap like the monarchs that fill the air now. that busy the garden.

and when the fall comes, the light comes right with it. comes before it. knocks on the door, says, excuse me, it’s time for the summer to go. that was the warm-up. far as some of us think.

the real golden days, they are coming. they are autumn. and the light through the window, it tells you. it hints. it gets the pot bubblin’.

it gets me bubblin’, for sure. as long as i’ve lived, as long as i can remember, the fall is the time when my body starts humming. my heart sings along.

the light through the window, the light through the crack in the door, it’s pure gasoline. probably high-octane. i could go round-the-clock when the light turns to autumn.

is it blue light, or white light? or is it molasses?

i can’t quite decide.

i know, though, i’m not alone having noticed. i’ve heard here and there, the snippets of something, the talk of the light. it’s changed. have you seen it? i’ve heard people whisper.

i’m sure deep inside, maybe back of our eyes, there’s a meter. a little widget with dials and buttons. it takes in the light, into a beaker. it measures it. weighs it. marks it as “autumn.” tells the brain. signals the heart. sends a message: dig out the sweaters. start thinking apples. and maybe a simmering stew.

oh, am i jumping the gun? geez, it’s not even september, and here i am woozy for fall. for the “er” months: september, october, november, december. i love them all. some get quite busy, but that’s not here yet. and maybe by then we’ll come up with a plan to avoid the confusion.

right now, we’re just on the brink of what i might call the molasses days. the days when it’s golden. when the light is so straight from the heavens. straight from the heart of what is.

these are the days that make you want to stick out your tongue and just lick it, the light through the window.

these are the days you can taste it. it’s golden and sweet. you could pour it on flapjacks. melt butter.

the light now’s delicious.

it is a most blessed thing to pause for a moment and let it soak in. consider the source.

this here is sacred time, far as i know. far as the jews do too. not too long now, the days they call the days of awe will be here. the highest of high holidays, rosh hashanah, yom kippur.

even though i didn’t grow up knowing those prayers, i do know them now. and now, as i chant them, the light through the windows, i can picture it now, will fall on the pages of prayer books. it will be golden.

it makes me think, long ago, a wise soul or two must have noticed the light. noticed the glow. felt awe drape the days, like some sort of cloak. woven of shimmery threads. told a story that fit the occasion. declared it was blessed.

which it is. the light through the windows, the light in the leaves, it is the light of a God who saved, i am certain, the best for the last.

here it comes now. go out and pluck some. catch it, pour it into a jar. turn the lid tight now. it won’t last. but it’s here now. and it’s ours for the licking.

raise your hand if you’ve noticed. if the change of the light poured through your panes, and hit you right in the heart.

if you happen to know a bit of the science, know what it is that softens and shifts the way it comes in, please do tell. if you, like me, have a light meter, please tell what it does to your engine, this pure filtered light of the fall.

and a molasses-y birthday wish to sweet sandra, who is off in the country, up by the lake, savoring pies and second-hand stores. happy most blessed birthday…..

into the woods

leave it to the italians. they have a name for today. they call it “pasquetta,” or little easter.

why, they wonder, after all the deprivation and darkness of lent, the shadow that burst, finally, into light, into the unbridled exuberance of easter, why, they wonder, why pack it up like so many leftover baskets, and tuck it on the shelf ’til next year?

mais non, they would say if they were french. but, of course, they say it in italian. dag nab it, is what they mean, though, again, they don’t say it quite that way.

those smart italians, they do a very smart thing: they grab one of those baskets, they pack it with leftover yummy things from easter, and they take to the woods. specifically, they set out in search of a watery place.

water, on pasquetta, is key. there is, depending on your level of gusto for this little easter, some splashing involved.

in fact, all over europe today, there are folks splashing. they are not being mean to each other. as a matter of fact, they are partaking of the little easter blessing.

in hungary, apparently, boys knock on doors. girls answer. boys splash girls. girls invite them inside. they feast. they send boys home with wildly painted easter eggs.

on easter tuesday, the girls return the favor. they knock and splash.

it must be riotous, all this knocking and splashing and heading to the woods with your leftover pink and green eggs.

but, besides the fact that it’s quaint, there is, it seems, something rich about the european approach to little easter. to all of life, perhaps, but certainly to little easter.

it is about taking linear measure of time, peeling back the ordinary, extracting mystery and sacred, raising simple hours into the realm of the extraordinary. it is about pushing away the rock of workday expectation, exploring the cavern of the deep unknown, the unexpected. reveling on a monday.

because a friend i love has been telling me for months i need to, have to, must not sleep until i read, “to dance with God,” (paulist press, $14.95) a poetic, eye-opening 245 pages on family ritual and community celebration written by gertrud mueller nelson, i finally cracked the cover over the weekend.

she is very wise, this deeply jungian, deeply spiritual woman, who in 1986 wrote this book while living in california. she says this of what she calls “holy time out”:

“holes are created in time through the creation of holidays–or, indeed, holy days–where the ordinary and everyday stops and time is set apart and not used. every seventh day (sabbatical) since the story of creation is a day of being, a ‘day of rest.’ that is what a feast is. the feast has its origin and its justification in its dedication to celebrating and worship. it belongs to the gods.”

she goes on to tell us that plato, of all thinkers, put it this way: “the gods, taking pity on mankind, born to work, laid down a succession of recurring feasts to restore them from fatigue and gave them the muses and apollo, their leader, and dionysis, as companions in their feasts–so that, nourishing themselves in festive companionship with the gods, they should stand again upright and erect.”

the feast–or holy day–then, is, “the very act which makes the transition from crawling beasts to the upright and conscious human,” nelson writes, “a transformation which makes what is human equal to and a companion (comrade) of the gods.”

i don’t know about you but we don’t spend a whole lot of time around here even noticing feast days, let alone packing our baskets and heading to the woods.

apparently, gertrud does. she says that on easter monday she always let her children stay home from school. they went off to church early in the morning, but then they took off to the woods, often to a marshy place. through binoculars, they watched the water birds, the mating birds, doing their springlike thing. they inhaled the woods, the little tips of tender green budding on all the branches, turning the gray of winter woods into the lacy green of early spring.

getting wet, she says, was always part of the picnic. back to the baptismal waters, and the holy sprinklings, that are so very much a part of easter.

immediately, i found all of this a notion i could warm to: an excuse for picnic. tromping through the woods. stopping time for one more day. stealing children from the classroom, for the sake of exuberating spring (i know, i know, it’s not a word, but i just made it one, so now it is).

so last night, well past sleeping time, i tiptoed in the dark to the bedside of my almost-man-child, the one who loves the woods and who also had just flicked out the light when he heard me coming up the stairs. i told him my little easter idea. at first, he broke out in a grin (he turned the light back on, that’s how i know that), but then he thought about the school day, and thought, not even for a lunch hour picnic could he leave the load at hand.

oh, well, i sighed. fact is, we might have done our little easter backwards. we had taken to the woods already, on big easter. taken kosher-for-passover-for-easter picnic to the woods, in our glorious mixing of religions. it seemed the place to be, the woods that is. for all the reasons up above.

but still, i think, i might take the little one on a pasquetta picnic. or maybe in the twilight, i’ll take my boys by the hand, and take them off to where the gods urge us to recline. just one more day, a holy day.

a holy day for splashing in the woods. i think i like this little easter.

all right, all you wise people, do some of you already know and do this little easter? have you been splashing away for years without me? and what of the notion of not confining the holiday to one day, but extending exuberance? might we do well to weave more holiness and more exuberance into our ordinary time? are the italians, and all the europeans, not onto something? something much larger than little easter?

photo credit: my sweet will. taken on big easter. we both spotted the moss island amid the marsh; my camera said it was busy reclining and couldn’t be bothered, so will came to my rescue, once again.

p.s. it’s monday, the lazy susan spins afresh…