One of the traditional implements in the Elul toolbox is the regular reading of Psalm 27. And so I tuned to the Psalms (that spiritual iPod of Jewish tradition) and checked out what Psalm 27 had to say to me today. Verse 9 grabbed my attention as David (King David to you and I) says to God: ‘Don’t hide Your face from me.’
Now, I am not ready to at this point into my Elul Exercise to get too deep into the God thing, but underneath that idea in this verse there is something for me to get my teeth into. This line implies that there are indeed essential things hidden beneath the surface of the lives we live. While we may not see them, we do want to see these things. We need to do something to be able to see, even just a bit of that mystery beyond our current vision. We need to clean up the mess and the disorder and create some cleanliness and order in the space around us to better see what lay beyond.
Which brings me to my encounter this morning with the Virgin Mary. (Just bear with me.) The move of Temple Micah’s Religious School to the Blessed Sacrament Catholic School this year requires the moving of cabinets, books and supplies to that space. During each visit I have made to the school in the past months I observed new things about our new locale. I remember during one of my early visits noting how the actual amount of ritual symbols I expected to see in a Catholic school were less than my expectations. During this morning’s visit – dressed to shlep and shvitz while I lugged the boxes and cabinets to their new home – I stopped to consider one of the symbols that does preside in the school: a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Now, my caveat of ignorance is that I think it was the Virgin Mary, but I fully admit that I could be incorrect. However, no matter who this rather warm and inviting symbol was supposed to be, it made me think of Mary – who in the canon of the Christian sacred story – is Jesus’ mother. One of the important elements of that story is that Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. As a Jew I have never been asked to accept or even understand this concept, this article of faith. My approach to it has been simply to honor and respect it as significant to someone else’s faith and religious understanding. Of course, that doesn’t mean I have not tried to understand it …
I considered her and her story and let go of what I could not logically grasp. From there concepts and conditions like innocence, purity, simplicity and even mystery came to mind. Perhaps, from a Christian perspective the arrival of Jesus on the scene needed those elements. Jesus’s arrival needed a clean slate, a lack of pretense and politic or a sense of wonder and possibility. Whether I believed this story or not, I could certainly understand the way that such conditions create space in our lives for the Sacred to enter. Perhaps David’s was not an admonition, but more or a invitation: ‘Come on in … don’t hide your face from me.’ … How do we create such conditions? … What do we need to do to enable ourselves to see what may be hidden from us?
Coincidentally (if you believe is such things as coincidence) I came back to the synagogue and began to do some of my own housecleaning. I was already dressed for it and the afternoon had opened up appointment wise – so I began to attack the hallway of lost supplies and my office itself. Each year at this time I have the need (I can physically feel it) to clean up the physical mess and disorder in the spaces in which I spend so much time. I examine what I have laying around, on my bookshelves and in my desk and cabinets. I decide what to discard (probably some untouched and forgotten items that last year I determined I should keep because I might need them). I place things in new places or decide to keep them in the old ones to help increase my efficiency and my enjoyment of that space. In the order that follows I can actually see the top of my desk and easily find things in my drawers … there is room in my space to see what I did not see before. And then, I am ready then to take on the work involved in the New Year.
One of the forms of Jewish meditative practice guides the practitioner to focus on emptiness or nothingness. This emptiness or nothingness is called ‘Ayin’ — loosely translated as ‘that which is without any-thing’. Perhaps it is a part of the nature of the human being that there exists a kind of divine Mystery that lurks just a bit out of our awareness and reach. To see it, feel it, experience it or simply know it we must takes those first steps toward re-ordering our space and making room for some simplicity or emptiness. We need to clear our heads and our hearts and create a bit of pure, unadulterated nothingness … and then pay attention for how the Sacred begins to fill that space.
No matter if that space is the desk in front of us or the space within, it is time to get to work.