Friday, September 10, 2010

Days of Awe…

First of all, let me say that last month’s letters about worship were fun for me. A good chance to explore different ideas about my favorite part of church. As I mentioned in the August 12 letter, I have a deep love for the Taize worship tradition. I believe its simple, beautiful melodies and repetitive words help us put aside the clutter we bring into worship, and arrive more fully into God’s presence. So this Fall, we’ll explore that tradition in greater depth, singing one Taize song per week. Meaning by Advent, hopefully, we’ll have added some new songs, and a new genre of contemporary, multi-cultural (Taize is a monastery in France) music to our worship life!

But this week, I want to bring your attention to the Days of Awe. That inspired phrase is the Jewish description of the ten days from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, i.e. the holiest days of the Jewish Year. For those who don’t know, Rosh Hashanah is actually two days, and celebrates the “Jewish New Year” (although, according to “This name is somewhat deceptive, because there is little similarity between Rosh Hashanah…and the American midnight drinking bash and daytime football game”!). Yom Kippur occurs a week and a half later, and is the “Day of Atonement.” Now if this sounds out of left field, let me remind you we’re in the midst of the Days of Awe. Rosh Hashanah began at sunset Wednesday, September 8, and Yom Kippur ends at sundown, on the 18th. Something felt somehow more…awe-some…didn’t it?

My Jewish buddy Andrew, who makes guest appearances in this space, has sometimes referred to himself as a “Three-day-a-year Jew.” This means his Temple attendance typically is restricted to these High Holy Days- Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In Christianland, we’ve sometimes paid joking tribute to our own attendance-limited sisters and brothers, calling them, “Chreasters,” i.e. Christmas and Easter Christians. I’d, of course, advocate more regular worship, from both Andrew and our Chreaster friends, but annual attendance is still something, and it highlights an important fact about Abrahamic religious traditions: We have a profound reverence for time.

Abraham Heschel, the great 20th Century Jewish Rabbi, wrote a beautiful book called The Sabbath, in which he contrasts sacred space with sacred time. Most people find certain places spiritually significant; a sanctuary, beautiful mountain, a certain room in childhood homes. But in the Creation story, God designates a day, a moment of time, holy and set apart. As the Sabbath approaches, therefore, we’re invited to enter through its door into a ‘room’ of 24 hours, when we can experience greater holiness than the other days of the week. But it’s more than that. Annually, we perceive more spiritual power in certain periods time than others. Our sisters and brothers of Islamic faith just completed an observance of the spiritual power of time. Their holy month of Ramadan ended Friday, so for the past month they’ve fasted, prayed and offered hospitality to neighbors in their annual search to live more submissively to their understanding of God’s desires.

Which makes me wonder- Why do certain times contain more ‘awe’ and sacred potential than others? My provisional answer for the space remaining- memory. Some memories just carry more spiritual freight- times we felt God more fully, or when we believe God did something profound. Through memory, in effect, time can stand still, and the blessed hopes or facts of what was can be again. At our core, we believe God doesn’t stand outside of time, but through the vast array of human history, of our time here on earth, God got involved. Which suggests that all the time ahead of us still isn’t just meaningless or dull, but always saturated with the possibility that God will do something awe-some again. So whenever we take time to revere the memories of holy days past, it’s not simply a celebration of what was, but a commitment to seek in the time ahead more awe and righteousness than we’ve seen yet. May your coming week, therefore, be seven days of awe. And the week after that. And after that. And, well, you know…

Grace and Peace,

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