Tag Archives: Jubilee

Jubilee Part Six: Turning Fifty and Flowing Freely through the Tight Center of My Own Personal Hour-Glass

Me, a few years ago!
Me, a few years ago!

Jewish folks have two birthdays; our Hebrew one, linked to the sun and moon cycles as well as in alignment with our Holy Days and then the Gregorian calendar one. I was born in Paris, France fifty years ago on September 4, 1964, this is my Gregorian birthday. My Hebrew Birthday is always the 27th of Elul, two days, before the Jewish New Year. My birthday is always connected to Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). The piece of Torah being read the week of my birth, which is MY piece of Torah is Parshat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

This September 4th, as I turned fifty, I was alone in a cabin that belongs to some friends. I cannot take off yet for my extended solitary Jubilee retreat. I still have one more bird to launch out of this nest of mine. I do still want and need to set the tone though for space and time by myself. On August 31st, I am getting away and spending several days by myself with the river, the solitude, the creatures and whatever prayers, practices and angels are present with me.

The front view of my Retreat Space
The front view of my Retreat Space

Several folks have asked about what I am doing or if there will be some big bash. Many folks want to celebrate my fiftieth. I appreciate all of the love and care, and the only thing I really want is time alone.  This makes it very hard for others to gift wrap. I am not trying to be difficult on purpose. What I want and need right now is just not the “usual.”

In order to navigate the territory of others wanting a celebration and my own desire to gift others, I will provide a luncheon for those who attend Rosh Hashanah/Jewish New Year services at Temple Beth El, this year. It will be the only “party” I intend to have. My friend Lauren Sarabia from Comfort of Home catering will make my birthday luncheon. The menu is Salade Nicoise, chocolate mousse and Key-Lime mousse. I will make the dressing and provide the champagne. This luncheon is sort of my final big hurrah for others. A very obvious and clear offering when and where I can announce my intentions for time off, time-out and time away while gifting folks with great food and bubbly.

The metaphor that I am using that works the best for me right now is of the shape of an hour-glass. My hands, body, being and energy have all been extending outwards and up, like the top half with all the sand in it, but as I draw near to this birthday, my energy, willingness and direction are all getting narrower and smaller and moving into the thin corridor at the exact middle point of the hour-glass. This is a hundred year “hour” glass. I hope I live to be one hundred, and there is good precedent for this in my family. Several ancestors have lived to be a hundred or older on both sides of my family.

I don’t know if I will be extending out or doing something completely different from what I have done on the other side of this narrow passage and time away. The next fifty years, on the other side of my Jubilee retreat, are mysterious unknowns. I have to go into this contracted physical space away from people and things first. As a woman who has given birth, and you don’t need to give birth to get this, contraction is a prerequisite for expansion.

Breathing in allows you to breathe out. My process of self-reflection, self-enclosure and self-return is an in-breath. Implicit in all these “selfies,” and underlying them is the need and desire to figure out how I am best supposed to serve the Divine and all of creation for the second half of my life.

I will no longer be actively parenting, I am no longer interested in working jobs that are not a reflection of my soul. If I can find a way to join my heart, skills, mind and ability to earn an income, that is the ideal. The terrain I will be navigating is going to be radically different. I want to consciously choose where and how I sail these sands. I do not believe that if I choose correctly or figure things out perfectly all money and goodness will flow my way. This is an overly simplistic and flawed view of how the universe works. Horrible stuff happens to great people, who are not doing anything wrong in any way and good stuff happens to jerks and cruel greedy folks. I do believe that my attitude and how I direct myself have impact on my present and future experiences and certainly they color how I experience what is happening in my life.

So, I am setting sail in a new direction. I am endeavoring to make this as easy as I can for those around me, those dependent on me and those who are used to having me around. I created a website for this purpose that really is an electronic version of me. The colors, the feel, the content are all me, it is a true Nicole zone and reflects my Open Heart, Open Hands policy. Even my sister, who was sure that this was impossible and resisted visiting my website initially, has agreed that it feels like me. So, while I am away, starting next summer, folks who really need a hit of me can go to www.ohohands.com or www.open-heart-open-hands.com and find me. You can go there now if you want as well. If you are reading this, online, instead of in the paper, you have already found me.

I’ve uploaded most of my cookbook with more recipes going up every week, a great deal of my past writings, from The Arcata Eye and the Mad River Union, older works, newer works and ongoing works. It’s been very exciting and truly feels like a wonderful new adventure. I have no idea where any of this will lead. I really am going “over the hill” and I have no idea what the other side looks like. I’ll still be sharing about that here. The next thing on my writing agenda will be a break in this series about my Jubilee Retreat and an exploration of the Jewish New Year and its attendant qualities that can help us during this very fraught time.

© by Nicole Barchilon Frank. This piece was originally published in the Mad River Union on September 3, 2014. It has been slightly altered and adjusted here.

Jubilee Part Two: Quaking for The Divine

Nicole, in her red riding hood cape, age seven in Morocco
Nicole, in her red riding hood cape, age seven in Morocco

This is the second of several installments in the Jubilee Retreat Series, the first one is My True Heart Opens and should be read first.:

Seven cycles of seven equals forty-nine. In the Jewish tradition, this is very significant. Since, every seventh day is the sabbath and every seventh year is a Sabbatical called the shmita. The Jubilee (Hebrew yovel יובל) is the year at the end of seven cycles of shmita, So, my forty-ninth birthday was last September. My birthday is always around the Jewish New Year/Rosh Hashanah. I will turn fifty this coming September, so it is my Jubilee. I have been planning to go away for a long retreat for many years. I have told all my family members and most of my friends about this for at least ten years now. Since my youngest is only seventeen (another number with a seven in it), I cannot actually take my Jubilee retreat when I turn fifty. I am determined though to start on my Jubilee year-off before I turn fifty-one.

Both of my parents are Jewish by birth. Neither of them are Jewishly observant or religious. I wanted some connection to the force moving within and around me, to Holy Presence, and since neither my father nor my mother had any relationship to religious practice, nor any connections to Jewish community, my father chose the Quakers also known as The Friends. My father took me to Quaker meetings as a child. He liked them because they were mostly silent, they were educated, there were lots of intellectuals, and they were pacifists. I was in heaven from the first time I sat in Friends Meeting. Here, finally, were a bunch of folks/Friends all communing with and in relationship with Holiness. They were not discussing it or trying to argue against it, they were simply sitting in stillness and waiting for the voice, the still small voice, within them to make itself known.

I am anything but still, small and quiet. I was a slender young girl, but I was never quiet. The Boulder Friends Meeting was my first spiritual home. I would sit in meeting and, of course, The Divine would start talking to me. I would sit on my hands, try and be calm and as patient as a young girl can be, but eventually I would have to stand up and shaking and with tears streaming down my face, share how much The Holy One loved everybody and how beautiful they were. This was the most common theme that seemed to be coming through me. It is still my most common theme and my forever “good news.”

I was a young girl when this was going on and I felt as if I was the only child doing this kind of thing. Usually, the elders would speak or occasionally someone older would share something. I became a favorite of the elders and also made tremendous friendships with the other children at meeting. These friends were different from any other friends because I was encountering them in a spiritual context. They were truly Friends with a capital letter “F.” I spent years with the Boulder Friends Meeting and going to the Inter Mountain Yearly Meetings in New Mexico during the summers was one of the highlights of my early teen years.

The Boulder Friends Meeting was also home to Elise and Kenneth Boulding. These were two maverick human beings. Married for forty-plus years by the time I encountered them. They were white haired, tall, strong and beautiful. Kenneth was originally from England and a world-renowned and respected economist and Elise was originally from Norway and was a professor at Dartmouth prior to being in Boulder and also a world-renowned Sociologist. Both of them were intellectual giants. They had five children, all grown, by the time I met them as a young girl. Kenneth had written many books and several long love poems/sonnets of love for his wife. These were just the best and most wondrous people. Kenneth would sometimes speak after I did at meeting. When he spoke, you knew the voice of Wisdom, and Holiness was coming through. He was gentle and kind and had a slight stutter sometimes, his hair was like pictures of most mad scientists, white and wiry and going in ten directions at once. He was well over six feet tall. He had a strong accent and an extremely distinct voice, which was forceful and strong, even with the stutter.

He would often speak about my sharing as being a gift and he likened my young tears to tears of baptism. He would affirm that all of us need to experience this love and joy of Holiness, that the tears were a place of cleansing and newness and youth. He made me feel at home. I am crying just thinking of these people and this time in my life, when I was honored, even at the young age of eleven or so, as a person of merit and depth with something to share. In school, I was perpetually taunted and teased. At home there was still pain from my parents divorce and so much confusion. At Meeting, I was heard and seen and honored and not for anything I did, but for the voice of love and hope inside of me that couldn’t help but bubble up as soon as I got still and quiet in communion with other folks sitting still and waiting for inspiration and connection.

The first time I learned of the idea of a year retreat was when I was a young girl. Elise Boulding was a mother and an inspired feminist, professor, peace activist, and she wrote many books. My mother is also a feminist and artist and she collaborated with Elise when she was writing a book called The Underside of History: A View of Women through Time, first published in1976. My mother, Helen Redman, did the illustrations for this book. My mother and Elise worked together and I remember sitting at Elise’s table one summer afternoon with them both. Elise was speaking about her retreat, her year long silent retreat. What was this busy mother, grand-mother, author, professor and extraordinarily busy activist talking about? How could she have taken a year long retreat? But she had. Elise and Kenneth were very deep thinking and deeply feeling folks, their relationship to Holiness was not casual. Elise Boulding planted the seed in my young mind that a mother, wife, maverick thinker and activist, could retreat from all of that to seek stillness and connection with Holiness.

This seed, planted so long ago has been growing since then. It is now a veritable oak tree inside of me. I will always love my first spiritual base, my Friends from Boulder and New Mexico. I still love Quakers and the Friends Meeting and feel at home there. I am no Quaker though, I’m just too damn loud and very definitely practicing and in love with my Judaism now.

Imagine my delight when I uncovered that the Jewish tradition, which any well-versed Christian Quaker (like Elise), knew, has retreat practices related to the Jubilee Year and to daily meditation and stillness. There are instructions in the Talmud that suggest one should take time to get still and calm for an hour or so before beginning prayers and then do the prayers. After the prayers one is also instructed to sit in stillness and communion for another hour or so. If you do this the three proscribed times a day, that’s about seven hours of prayer and meditation. Not really something the average person is doing, but it is still there as the model of what should be done; an ancient instruction to engage in daily meditation and retreat.

There are also teachings about how a man should take a retreat when he is fifty to re-assess his life and prayer practices. I’m not sure a whole year is specified, but again the seed is there. There are lots of fascinating and deep practices related to the Jubilee Year. All debts are supposed to be forgiven, all land is supposed to revert to its original owners, and many other amazing and not easy to do things. To my knowledge, these practices were rarely observed, and alterations and amendments were made. Who wants to forgive all their debts? Who wants to give their land back to the original natives? Who are the original, original natives? How far back does one go, etc..?

I know that I need a retreat year to be by myself with the Divine only and I’d love to have all my debts forgiven, or at least take a break from thinking about them! It is also very hard for me to find my own sense of what is MINE to do and be around others. I am looking forward to the time and space, a luxurious amount of both, to go deep into the great mystery and see what I find and how best to serve Holiness, my family and community on the other side of fifty. Please stay tuned here, before I go away, and follow me to know more abut this adventure as it unfolds. To be continued………….

___________________

Nicole writes and remembers, with tears and laughter, from her home in Bayside she dedicates this teaching in honor and memory of her greatest teacher Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, May his Memory be for a Blessing. He came into this world on August 28, 1924 and left it on July 3, 2014. This piece was originally published in The Mad River Union on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Jubilee Part One: My True Heart Opens

 

Final Photo in a series by Francesca Woodman of Nicole from 1979
Copy of the final photo in the Polka Dot series by Francesca Woodman of Nicole from 1979

My true heart opens most in prayer, in songs of praise and communion of the Divine and those I love. My deeper heart, the part of me that is the central core of my soul heart and is woven into and connected to the Great Heart of Holiness really opens differently in prayer. I’m not sure what more to say after that, but being me, I guess I’ll try. I’m starting here, with my heart, the true one, because I need to talk about my need to do something really different from what most folks do or even imagine doing.

 

I am not sure if there is a study that has been done to gage the percentage of folks on this earth who feel called to serve the Divine. I’m not talking about people who attend religious services of one sort or another, or folks who casually engage in religious practices around holidays, family events, or out of obligation or a sense of tradition. I’m talking about the percentage of folks who feel pulled across time, space, mountains, rivers, streams, their families, reason, logic and any number of political beliefs or even being tortured or sacrificed to HAVE to engage, praise, serve and be with the Divine. The rabbis, the nuns, the Buddhist monks and nuns, the Shamans, the priests, the imams and the leaders of spiritual journeying wherever and however they connect to it, are the members of my tribe. It’s probably the same percentage of folks who feel they HAVE to climb Mount Everest or explore the deepest canyons of the oceans; not too big a percentage. I’m a serious member of this fringe group though. The relatively puny size of my tribe doesn’t really make any difference to me, and I am not talking about climbing high mountains physically.

 

The mountains and canyons I need to climb are linked to stars on distant galaxies and they are deep inside the cellular structure of my body and yours. They are the essential mountains, the true north peaks of the Soul. Really, not a big deal at all! I sometimes have to laugh at my ridiculous grandiose metaphors. I hope you can too. All kidding aside though, this is BIG.

 

I need to place myself in a context that can be related to in some shape or form by those who do not share my proclivity or my calling. I often have a profound and deep instant connection with the devout. It makes no difference whether they are practicing Christians, Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus, Native Americans, Jews, Pagans or any other stripe of folks who feel called to be in serious relationship with their sense of Holiness, there is an immediate spark of recognition and camaraderie that ignites between us.

 

So, where am I going with this? If I were living in a different century and I wasn’t Jewish, I’d definitely be pursuing retreat in a monastery or abbey or going on a long-term vision quest. Since, I am most definitely Jewish, in my true heart, my need to find space and time to connect in a more complete way is something I have to craft. It’s not something completely unheard of in the Jewish world. There are parables and stories about various rabbis in antiquity and even more recently who go off to commune with the Divine. The most well-known story is the one about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, which you can read about in detail elsewhere. Sometimes, other people say things better than I do, and in this instance Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue from his sermon: The Caves of Our Lives perfectly encapsulates what I need to say next:

 

Jewish spirituality, though not oblivious to the allure of otherworldly pursuits, is better described as the ongoing effort to bring the mystical into the everyday. As our own Milton Steinberg explained, it is our ability to function as kinsman, congregant, citizen and human being which serves to advance God’s design. Bar Yochai, our greatest Jewish mystic, did not remain in the cave. Not even Moses himself stayed on top of the mountain too long; even he was ordered to return to his people to live in the company of the everyday world. Our spiritual heroes always bring the extraordinary back into the ordinary, the sacred to the mundane, or as the prayer book says over and over, carry the hope that the peace of the heavens is brought upon us, Israel and humanity.

 

From Elijah in the cave, to Jesus in the desert, to Mohammad’s night journey, this is the oldest story of all – the call to enter another world in order to acquire wisdom and experience not available in the here and now. Each one of us, I suppose, if we chose to do so, could linger in the wild rumpus of those alternative realities, and perhaps someone would even suggest that we be made king of Where the Wild Things Are. But as Jews, more appealing than being crowned the philosopher king of the wild things, is our hope to return to the place where we are loved – to bring that other world back into this one, always returning home, hopefully in time to find our supper still hot. It is the oldest story of all, but the Jewish version always ends here – in this world, with our family, our fellow citizens and our obligations – each and every day, tending and tilling the very fields of this earth that God has given us all.”

So, I am announcing here my intention to enter the cave, there are no wild beasts chasing me or Romans threatening to kill me (as in the case of Rabbi Bar Yochai). Instead there is a loud and very constant ringing inside of me, a slow and steady gong beating, sort of like a heart beat. It is calling me to get still, to get away, to get into a completely different rhythm than the one I’ve been attending to for the last 49 years of my walk on this earth. I will be going into detail about the whys, the mechanics, the details, but not the LOCATION of my upcoming retreat here in these pages with all of you. This first installment here is part one of a larger series, most likely six or ten more articles.

Whether you are called or not, if you want to understand a little more about what it means to be called and to step away and outside of the spinning fast wheel that most folks are on, I invite you to get a taste here with me over the next few weeks. I’m not going away yet, but I am getting ready to be gone for a full year, this is your notice of my upcoming Jubilee Retreat. I’ll explain that term next time!

-by line:

Nicole emerges from the cave of her wacky brain to write these thoughts down for you, she did so, this week, from her deck in Bayside. There were lots of flowers, bees and cawing birds giving her prompts and feedback about what she should or shouldn’t say here, bzzzzzzzzzz, tweet, caaaaaw, caaaw and also the flowers had some input for you, which she has shared here as well.

This piece was originally published in The Mad River Union: Wednesday July 2nd.