As we enter the third week of Elul, there is a full moon rising over our mesa. Each night I’ll watch that bright moon shrink into darkness. The dark skies will reveal more and more stars. We’ll be able to see farther and more distant galaxies. So too, for the inward skies… as we journey into Elul, finding our own darkness, exploring the shadows. That darkness will allow us to see farther into our own patterns, yearnings and depths.
Then, on Rosh Hashanah, we can celebrate the renewal of light, the re-Creation of our world, the rekindling of our vision and the rebirth of hope. We’ll call on the light of the new moon of Tishrei to illuminate the path forward into a new year and an expanded awareness.
There are three main modalities that we will use to call that light forward during our services for the High Holy Days:
The Practice of Chant
The Practice of Silence
The Liturgy: There are 895 pages in the Machzor (Prayer book for the Holy Days) that we’ll be using. It’s filled with an abundance of words, ideas, metaphors, poetry. It could be overwhelming. I see the liturgy as a resource that connects us with the ancestors and sends us to our own prayer. I don’t want to sit all day and read from a book. I want to use that book as a springboard that will lift us into our own highest wisdom so that we can dive into our own deepest love. (Warning: I was once fired from a congregation for not reading enough from the book. “We spent a lot of money on these books,” they complained.) Yet I do dip into this book and call on the nusach (the particular melody) of these Days of Awe. I want those traditional melodies to evoke wonder, majesty and the history that is sending us. On the other hand, I don’t do nostalgia very well, and I would rather tune in to the truth of this present moment. I live by the commandment: Sing to God a new song.
The Practice of Chant: Yes, I love the words of our liturgy, but I find that if I say too many of them, I am just riding on the surface, and I stay in a very left-brain, cognitive state (which is not conducive to deep prayer). I have found that when I focus on one powerful sacred phrase at a time, and explore that phrase with melody, rhythm, and ever-expanding intention, that phrase becomes a doorway. Chant is a form of meditation. It is different than singing. With a song, you can sing it a couple times and you’re done. With chant, it takes a while to kindle a light in the words, to let those words lift you into prayerfulness. Singing can be great, but chant is meant to transform. I try to make the chant simple so that everyone can enter, and then you can go deep, letting the chant work its magic on you. Chant won’t work if you just sit there and listen to it, or if you are looking around the room. It requires some commitment, an outward sound and an inward focus. The reward and benefit of the chant then unfolds in the silence that follows.
The Practice of Silence: Yes, it is in the silence where we can receive the benefit of our liturgy and chant. Metivta is the only community I’ve ever been to that lets me integrate periods of silent meditation into our prayer service. And it is such a blessing! In the silence I can let the words of liturgy and the power of chant reverberate through my entire being. I can surrender. I can just be with God. I can let go of the busyness of my mind, and listen carefully to the promptings of my heart. I can allow all the words I have said or heard send me to the stillness at my center. In the silence I can receive the gift of this miraculous moment. I can make space for the authentic response to the challenges that are set before me to rise up and be revealed.
As I prepare to be with you in just a couple weeks, I keep remembering that the most important thing is that we get to be real with each other, to show up exactly as we are, all of us “in process,” all of us making our mistakes, striving to be our best. The Tradition that we have inherited is meant to support this work of reflection, refinement and renewal. And thank God, it is a living tradition whose forms keeps on evolving, growing and responding to meet the challenges of our time.
Below you’ll find links to some of the chants that we’ll be using during our service. If you feel inspired, learn them and do these practices as part of your preparation for our time together.
In grateful anticipation,
In grateful anticipation of our time together,