My Chicken Little Moment

Just this past Shabbat morning I arrived with just enough time to do some final preparation for that morning’s Torah reading. I walked into the sanctuary needing only a few minutes with the Torah scroll to get the reading where I wanted it to be … and then I had my Chicken Little moment. The sky was falling down! … or, so it seemed that way. The roof of the sanctuary is being replaced (hail damage and also because it is probably as old as the building itself). All of the banging and hammering of new shingles into the ceiling of the sanctuary caused at least some very small parts and pieces of dirt, soot and whatever else accumulates between a ceiling and roof tiles over decades to fall on the floor and the chairs in the sanctuary. My few minutes of Torah had just been triaged behind making sure the sanctuary was clean when people began arriving for services in just a few minutes.

I hated that choice in that moment – the choice between spending some time fine tuning the Torah reading – a significant part of the Shabbat morning ritual and making sure that people would not have to sit in soot. In a way there was no choice – one would not make it to paying attention to the Torah reading and whatever spiritual challenges it may hold if one was focused, distracted, or even put off by how dirty they felt sitting in the sanctuary. Even though the place needed to be cleaned before anything happened, my decision nagged at me.

While the Torah reading was fine, I wanted it to be better. However, it was not even the relative merits of my Torah reading performance that bothered me. The moment felt emblematic of hundreds and thousands of decisions that I made in the past year where I have had to choose between keeping physical order in some corner of my world vs. tending to a more ethereal order. Often – and deservedly do – it is the physical disorder or chaos that demands my attention and response. But, what happens to me when the mounting cascade of small decisions continues to amass and further distance me from broader, deeper and spiritual matters? What happens to the essential balance of tending to body and soul? What about the need to care for my ‘sanctuary space’ and caring for what happens in it?

This past Shabbat morning – (one of the few Shabbatot in this preparatory month of Elul) – the Falling Sky was more than nuisance to my morning Torah preparation. Perhaps, I should not have left that planning to the last minute. Maybe there is a few more minutes in my week or day that can carve out to insure that I will have the time I need to clean up whatever mess makes itself known and do my Torah preparation. Even more than merely being about that particular moment, I’ll take the presence of the soot and muck and ancient roof-stuff as an ‘Elulian’ nudge. Take care to set aside time and energy for tending to that inner/ethereal/spiritual part of myself and my corner or the world. Even when the ‘sky’ is falling, the ‘Torah’ story needs to be told.

Take A Seat, It’s Elul

Last year at this time I think I had already written three or four posts during my inaugural Elul Exercise.      You may or may not recall that My Elul Exercise was my effort to blog each day during forty days that fall between the 1st day of the Hebrew month of Elul through the day that those primordial gates of heaven close on Yom Kippur.  Elul is traditionally a month of preparation for the days of awe that encapsulate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  During Elul one is challenged to hear the call of the shofar each day – physically and spiritually (with your ears and your heart) and respond to the call to return/get back/remember/realign with our essential selves/truths/purpose/god.  

Last year I actually blogged some 28 of those 40 days.  It was hard, but it was invigorating.  I loved the exercise of paying attention each day with a writer’s eye and what that stretching of my psychic muscles did to how I experienced each day.  Then, I had the chance to sit down and write – reaching into the creative flow that so often remains untapped each day.   I was excited.  I was committed.  I was energized and ready to continue that experience throughout the year …

And here I am … a year later and not am I already behind on last year’s Elul output (it is the 6th day of Elul and this is post #1!), but I never even came close to my expectations for writing during the year.  Even the richness of my short trip to Israel during my January Sabbatical – despite my good and announced intentions – could not push me pass the inertia of life to tap with any regularity into that precious creative flow and write once again.  So right off the bat … as I gear up for the annual Jewish internal review – I am reminded and confronted by one of the ways that I missed the mark.  I wanted to write more in 5772.  I set that goal and woefully missed it.
So, my first reflections of my past year elicit regret, sadness, disappointment … even grief for what I lost by not realizing this goal. Yikes, it does not bode well for the reflections that follow, does it?
That brings me to a mystic take on the sound of the shofar that I recently discovered.  However, before we get to the teaching we need to cover some background.  With their anthropomorphic, patriarchal and hierarchical glasses on, the Rabbinic tradition understand God as occupying two thrones – the throne of Justice and the throne of Mercy.  God sits on each according to the demands of the situation – sometimes justice needs dispensing and some times mercy needs to be shown. Both thrones are essential to the effective progress of the universe.  This mystic teaching suggests that the sound of the shofar has the effect of actually making God move – from the throne of Justice to the throne of Mercy.  After all, it is easy to begin with the assumption that in this anthropomorphic scenario that God spends most of this time of year lounging in that barc-o-lounger of Justice.  With all of the sinning, missing the mark and messing up that gets done around the world – there is lots of Justice to mete out.  And yet, the shofar acts like a audial electric fence that jolts God from snoozing too long in the chair of Justice to spending some time reclining in the comforts of the seat of Mercy.
If you know me you know that some kingly god sitting on any throne does not do it for me in a strictly theological sense.  I am pretty sure that it did not work for the mystics either.  This mystic midrash about shofar sounds that shift is not about God, but about us.  It reminds us to allow space for both Justice and Mercy as we assess the year that brought us here.  In the case for many people – we lean toward an imbalance of one or the other.  Sometimes we are heavy on the Justice – paying attention to our shortcomings and limitations so much that we get stuck in judgement.  Both Justice and Mercy are essential elements to our own process of Teshuvah.  We need the unbiased, clear and honest assessment of Justice to help us see and learn from our limitations.  We also need the guiding, hopeful and graceful nature of Mercy to empower us to grow beyond them.
As we embark on this annual accounting of our souls … let’s pay attention to the sound of the shofar and try to make sure that those cosmic derrieres balance time in the seats of Mercy an Justice.