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False Advertising? – Day #17

This Saturday night is Selichot. Technically, Selchot are prayers of penitence that are said through the entire month of Elul. However, it is the last Saturday night before the New Year that is a special night of Selichot. It has always been one of my favorite services of this season and even the entire year. I like it because it is a smaller and more intimate service during these very hectic days. As I announce it and promote it I find myself using words like mysterious, magical and mystical.

However, when I think long and hard about it – Selichot really isn’t any of these words!  I am engaging in (more than )a bit of false advertising.   Mystery? There is no hidden agenda to it — we focus on the High Holyday themes and do so fairly directly. Magical? I do not do any magic – no rabbits out of hats, card tricks or slight of hand. And as far as Mystical? As much as that tradition intrigues me, I am hardly a mystic. 

When I intellectually corner myself and ask myself why I use these words … it’s really about wanting these things.

All of this hype about focusing on Returning – to our Truths, our Ultimate Issues and the urgency attached to doing so … places a premium for me on mystery, magic and mysticism.  I want a bit of the curtain pulled back, just a smidgen so I can get a cosmic hint as to what’s behind it all.  I yearn for a sense that there is some wand that can be waved, just once in a while that graces the flow of life with some kind of extra spark.  I can sense the bigger layer of truth that lives along and behind and among the reality we know, but it is beyond me.

So, why is Selichot the place for me to so palpably feel my craving for the mysterious, the magical and the mystical?  I am guessing it has to do with the combination of the setting: There is the music – with its unique right balance of High Holyday tones and contemplative rhythm.  It offers the just right kid of psychic massage … and carefully stretches those muscles of mine that may not always get stretched in other ritual settings.  There is the light (of the candles) and darkness (of the hour) that create the simultaneous sense of isolation and connection.  Such a paradoxical affect efficiently cuts away the truly irrelevant and enlightens the essential, it humbles and uplifts.
I believe the human being requires, craves and lives for such moments – no matter how we name them (religious, spiritual, ritual, natural, etc., etc.) – for they help us begin the acknowledge our nature, our limits and our possibilities.
Some very non-Selichot, irreligious words come to mind as I leave you to consider the mysterious, the magical, the mystical:

“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
(Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 5 )

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