I ordered a shofar from “the Tallit Man,” an operation out of Florida. Along with the shofar, the owner made a YouTube for me, with my shofar, showing me how it sounds and that it sounds. A shofar is made from a ram’s horn.
“All horns may be used, except those of cows and oxen, because their horn is called keren and not shofar. And also the horn of the cow and the ox is not acceptable because the accuser must not be made to serve the defender, that it may not be said: Yesterday they made the golden calf, and today they come to appease their Maker with the horn made from it.” ~S. Y. Agnon (from page 246 of Mahzor Hadesh Yameinu ~Renew Our Days~A Prayer-Cycle for Days of Awe~ Edited and translated by Rabbi Ronald Aigen
Jewish folks blow the shofar during the month of Elul, in the mornings, except on Shabbat. We blow it also to usher in our New Year called Rosh Hashanah and to mark the end of Yom Kippur. We blow it whenever we want to pierce the protections around our hearts and also the layers of klippot (hard shells created by our wrongdoings) that obscure our pure and radiant souls. It is not an easy sound, it is not an easy thing to make a sound with.
I think, other than ancient shepherds, the sounds I’ve been making in the hills of Eire with my ram’s horn are pretty unique. Although the cows across the stream in the next field and I seem to be communing as a result. Also, the crows don’t seem to mind the sound. The sound is supposed to remind us of the Akedah, (the story of Abraham and his sacrifice/binding of Isaac). At the very last second, an angel points out the ram in the bushes and the ram becomes the sacrifice, not Isaac. But Isaac was the sacrifice and this story is a haunting and intense one. There are many, many interpretations of it, perhaps another time, I’ll give you some of them.
I need to get back now, here and now, to “my Elul” in Eire. So, the loud, Jewish, Alpha female is living at a silent Catholic Carmelite Hermitage/monastery, no, this is not the beginning of a joke, but it could be. Here are some of the practices, sayings, rules here: No Fuss, Silence from 7pm-9am, every day (exception of prayers said in mornings and evenings), Silence Mondays-Tuesdays (complete day), Silence for a full week once a month, oh yes, silence in general, unless you really have to ask a question, but even then it’s preferred if you write a note. Oh and let’s not forget the basic vows of Catholic religious folks: Obedience, Chastity and Poverty.
Those of you who actually know me, are going to be laughing hard right now. I am the opposite of “No Fuss.” Obedience and I have never been cozy, Chastity and I aren’t and never have been related and while I’ve lived in poverty in my single-mother years, it was never something I wanted to be doing. Simplicity and I are also like oil and water. If I can make something spicier, more involved, more complicated, then I usually do. Visually my home, body and any spaces I live in, are fully colored, adorned and they are also full of imagery and visual patterns. I am also the opposite of moderated, quiet, and sparse.
When I got to my simple cabin named “Clare” for the companion of St. Francis of Assisi, I opened a card from one of my dear friends. She had instructed me not to open it ” ‘til you get to your cabin in Ireland.” So, I opened it to one of her original art pieces with Hebrew teachings. It said: “I am dust and ashes” in Hebrew and English. I broke into tears, and am doing so now. This person knows me very well and is my “spiritual buddy,” I’ve given her permission to always say the hard things to me and to help me grow and she does. Five minute pause to sob here….that’s what I just did.
Elul is about self-examination. I timed my arrival here so that I would be here in time to have the full month of Elul in this space where all I get to do, if I choose to, is self-examine and correct. So, here where it is actually more perfect than I could ever have imagined, with robins, swallows, crows and the wind as my companions, I am and have been looking deeply at myself.
I do this every Elul, but this Elul is different because I am alone. Except, I feel anything but alone. The presence of the Divine is with me all the time and the Holy One is more accessible to me here, because there is no NOISE and no DOUBT and no INTERRUPTIONS to my connecting. The only sounds I hear from my cabin, are the stream outside my window, the crows, the cows, and the wind or rain. I can avoid seeing all people by choosing what hours I go to the main house to get my food or do my laundry, or I can choose to see folks but go on a day of silence so no conversations will ensue. Or, I can choose to join the people here in prayer and silent meditation on the days when that is happening.
I didn’t think I would set foot in their chapel. I mean no offense to my Christian friends, but hanging out with a cross on a wall while I am praying, has never been something easy for me. I used to have violent images come up for me with crosses and pyres of Jews combined, the crosses pushing the Jews into the flames. That is not the case for me here. First of all, it’s a beautiful space where the hermitage folks pray, very simple wooden small space, “no fuss,” and thankfully those images, from my people’s historic past, are no longer haunting me.
The most luminous part of being in this place and worshiping with these folks, is that everyone here is in love with Ha-Shem. The deep delight and beauty of that is extraordinary for me. It’s a feast for me to be around people who are in a relationship with Holiness that is not a chimera or philosophy. These folks have been living a religiously engaged life for their entire lives. They are not neophytes at worship, at communion, at listening to the voice in the silence. They are deep practitioners and to be in their presence is to be in the presence of Peace and Holiness. (Don’t worry, I’m not planning to become a Carmelite Nun).
I know this feeling of complete connection. I’ve had it whenever and wherever I go that people are not in question about the presence of the Divine in their world. I have experienced it with my Moslem friends, with my Jewish friends, with my Buddhist friends, with my Wiccan friends and my Native American Friends, with my Hindu friends. I experience it wherever folks are connecting from a place of love to the Divine, however they define that. I do not want to cause any distress to anyone who does not have this feeling. I am just trying to explain that the environment here is very different from the world at large. This place is steeped in and radiates Relationship to Reverence.
That’s why I’m here. Hee Ney Ni-Here I Am, which is what Abraham says to Ha-Shem when he is called. It’s what I am trying to say here, every day. Here I am, in my mess, my mistakes, my loud intensity, my large appetites, and my fussy, particular, complicated humanness. As I get better at sounding the shofar, the layers of my junk, the hard shells that obscure my soul, are getting shattered. Shattering anything is not easy or gentle. While I am in a gentle landscape, the work I am doing is not particularly gentle. It’s ragged and rough. It’s dark here at night, all my fears come forward, all my pain around issues that are old and familiar for me emerge, all my missing of those I love, most especially my husband, comes to the forefront and I find myself sobbing and sobbing. AND, the Exciting and Enraptured part of this is that there is no one here to interrupt my process or for me to appease or be taken care of, so I get to go really deep and actually heal from my core.
The Angels and the Holy One are here taking care of me, the stream and the green leaves are here taking care of me, the roses outside my front door are taking care of me, the view of clouds crossing the sky is taking care of me, the silence and the stillness is taking care of me, the warm cup of milk I fix myself with honey, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla (not a simple, no-fuss glass of warm milk) is taking care of me. Hee Ney Ni, Here I Am, open to whatever needs to unfold.
This place is the safest, kindest place I’ve ever been in my entire life.
I have never felt more enclosed and able to be fully tender and exposed than here. The quality of this place is delicious and gentle and I feel held here in ways I cannot completely express. So, I’m not traveling to Dublin to spend the Jewish New Year/Rosh Hashanah with other Jews. I’m staying here, and quietly and deeply saying the prayers that all my folks will be saying. I’ll play the recording, lovingly offered and made for me, of our Temple Beth El Choir, singing the songs they would be singing. I’ve actually been listening to it over and over, and sobbing or singing along. I miss my family, I miss my community and my friends. And, it is okay for me to miss them, because I am not missing my connection to what runs through all of us and the world. That is here for me in every breath, in every view, in every birdsong and stream sound and in the quiet smiles and presence of those around me who are also in communion with the Divine.
L’Shana Tova U’Metuka (A sweet New Year) I wish for you all.