High Holy Days in Pandemic Times: Finding Awe in the Unravel (Excerpt)
By Kohenet Dori Midnight, in collaboration with Elan/a June Margolis and Annie Rose London
5780 has been wrought with profound change, loss, upheaval, disorientation, hope, resistance, and resilience. Many of us find ourselves at sea, overwhelmed and longing for connection. In this time of social, racial, and economic uprising, of global pandemic, how do we engage with the beautiful, ancestrally-guided work we are called to do? This year, we are charged with reimagining how we do High Holy Days. This year we wade in unchartered waters. How might the Days of Awe serve this moment, and how might this moment serve the Days of Awe?
As we spin into Elul, the month before the turning of the year, we begin our personal and collective process of deep reflection and accountability that shepherds us into the new year. Our new year begins with ten days of ritual and practices in which we mourn, we fast, we pray, we consent to facing and feeling the vulnerability and precarity of being human. We dress in a shroud, we prostrate ourselves, we practice our own death and pray to be written in the book of life for a good, sweet year. This year, we are already in the depths, we are already in precarity. For many of us, it feels as if it has been Yom Kippur for months.
What if this time around, we are being offered the extraordinary opportunity to dream up our own Days of Awe, to answer what this present moment asks of us? Perhaps this year, we draw upon Jewish traditions of centering our practices in our homes and connecting with the essence of these days in our own way, inviting us into a new kind of intimacy and depth. Perhaps the sacred work this year involves hearing the calls for reparations, the call to dismantle white supremacy, ableism, transphobia, classism, anti-Black racism in Jewish communities and beyond, the call to tend to our most vulnerable siblings, the call to invest in community care and mutual aid, the call to slow down, the call for indigenous land sovereignty and wise care of our earth.
DAYENU: Remember We Already Have What We Need
Before we dive into this river of suggested practices, we invite you take a breath and approach these offerings with curiosity. Capitalism and systems of supremacy tell us we don’t have enough, we aren’t enough, and we’ll never know or do enough, so remembering that we have everything we need is a kind of resistance and magic. Isolation, uncertainty, and change may bring up old stories and fears: Who are my people? Where do I belong? Do I belong? I’m doing it wrong. Everyone knows more than me. Everyone else is doing it wrong! You get the picture. Greet them, notice them, and do as our people do with demons: offer them some honey, burn some cloves, chase them away with garlic, psalms, and a bell. The demon slaying technique may be different depending on where your people are from, but the point is, recognize those demons and don’t let them ride you or throw you off. This year, we embrace curiosity: what might emerge this year only because we are so far out of familiar frameworks?
ELUL: Practice Waking Up
Honor the dead ~ It is customary to visit the graves of your beloved dead during the month of Elul. Since many of us cannot physically do that, find other ways to connect with those who have transitioned beyond. Perhaps you can create a space in your home to put up photos or special objects that remind you of your beloved dead, which you can keep up through Sukkot. You may also want to find an outdoor space you can visit and bring a stone each time, as if you were visiting a grave. Click here for details about an Ashkenazi ritual for making soul candles by Kohenet Annie Cohen.
Recite Psalm 27 ~ We are guided to recite Psalm 27 every day in Elul. This Psalm is an anchor and guiding light, a remedy for fear, and a daily practice as we train for the intense spiritual Olympics that are the Days of Awe. The Psalm begins, “God is my light and my life; whom shall I fear? God is the foundation of my life; whom shall I dread?”
Sound the Shofar ~ As we are instructed to hear the call of the shofar daily, you can trust that there will be many daily shofar offerings online (including this daily morning Elul offering from our friends at Fringes), or perhaps there will be local opportunities for you to hear it in person. If you don’t have access to blow or hear the shofar, what sound can be your daily shofar? One year, I took on the practice of listening to Democracy Now! as a daily shofar blast. You can enlist any sound as your shofar call: birdsong, a kazoo or horn, a passing train or subway, your alarm clock, the sound of the spoon clinking your cup as you stir your morning beverage, your kids’ laughter. Take a moment to “listen” to something each day and ask yourself, “What is this calling me to awaken to?”
Begin to Return / Return again ~ Elul is the month we dive into our Teshuvah work, our work of individual and collective reflection and accountability. The first step is to recognize your missteps with love and acknowledge them. You can do this in writing or in chevruta – talking to a friend. Begin with the most intimate relationship, yourself, and move in ever widening circles, taking stock of your intimate relationships, work relationships, your relationship to communities you are connected to, ways in which you are complicit in oppression in both personal and more systemic ways, and in a kind of full circle, looking at your relationship to G-d/ess/exx/HaShem. Then, move from witnessing to actually allowing yourself to feel the impact. It’s not like “feel some feelings” is on your to do list. Create dedicated space for what some people might call “healthy shame”, like what is required for us to feel when we really f— up? Don’t get stuck there, visit that land of rich soil that is made being burnt the ground for the time that is required and then know when it is time to act. You are ready. Air it out, own it, take responsibility with witnesses who can hold you in accountability. And from this raw and tender place, you can begin to make steps towards repair.
Commit to Noticing ~ Elul invites us to turn our attention inward, not for the sake of self-improvement, but so that we can begin to see the unconscious patterns and behaviors that shape our lives and our resulting ripple in the ocean of life. One way to do this work is to commit to a practice of noticing. This can be done either by choosing one area of our lives to focus on and take note of, for as our teacher Taya Ma says, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” The invitation is to take daily note of your relationship to walking your dog, or brushing your teeth, or putting your kids to bed, or making love, or making breakfast (etc.) and be available for what is revealed to you. Elul is a month about returning to the Beloved; now is the time to be our own Beloveds by seeing ourselves with eyes of curiosity and love.
For the full reflection and rituals visit Kohenet Dori Midnight at https://dorimidnight.com/writing/high-holy-days-in-pandemic-times-finding-awe-in-the-unravel/
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