In spite of our collective best efforts, I still hear people reporting anticipatory boredom when discussing their upcoming attendance at High Holy Day services. It’s a shame for a couple of reasons. First, High Holy Day services actually aren’t boring at all. Second, with all that life has to offer, there’s no reason to be bored anywhere or anytime. Here’s a quick list of suggestions for those that may be afflicted with this perennial plight.
As you participate in services, ask yourself whether anything that is being said, shared, sung, or otherwise communicated reminds you of something that you know to be true but have forgotten. If so, explore that. What do know? How do you know it? Why or how have you forgotten it? Allow the various input channels of the High Holy Days to evoke in you a process of remembering.
Argue. Pay close attention for things with which you disagree. Whether in the sermon, in the liturgy, or elsewhere. It’s hard to be bored when you’re fired up about something. Activate your critical and analytical skills.
Meditate. Close your eyes. Relax. Breathe. Focus. Listen to the sounds around you, be they the turning of the pages, the melodies of the holy days, the sound of your loved ones or neighbors.
Do theology. How many different God ideas are communicated or explored during the High Holy Days? Which resonate? Which don’t? Which seem helpful to the future thriving of humanity and our planet? Which might, in fact, be problematic? If you don’t believe in God, spend some time identifying the God you don’t believe in. Here’s a helpful tip: there are many names for God in Jewish tradition. Most of those names aren’t proper names but are actually attributes or descriptors of God. Use those as a gateway into theology.
Time travel. Take a moment to think of yourself as a child during this season. Does anything come to mind? Then think about your parents. Your grandparents. Go back through the generations and imagine how they encountered Rosh Hashanah. What kind of vision or image are you able to conjure?
Pray. Pray for the world. Pray for humanity. Pray for your loved ones. Pray for yourself.
Look for coherence, look for tension. Does the prayer book, the synagogue, the congregation, offer a coherent world view? Or are there tensions and maybe even contradictions embedded in the text, the place, and the people? Coherence might be a good thing, but tension might be as well. Are you informed enough to offer a thought or perspective on this question? If not, can you be?
Read the marginalia. Most prayer books are treasure troves of information. Most have lots of genres and types of material in them. Take a look at the margins, at the introduction, at the index. What do you find that you haven’t seen before? What’s missing? What biases, assumptions, themes, or tendencies does your prayer book reveal?
Listen. To the still small voice inside of you. To the music. To the voices from the bimah. To the whispers around you. To the small talk. To the sermons. To the HVAC. To the silence.
Last night, I had the honor of leading a Selichot program at my home congregation, The Temple. Over the course of two hours our congregation gathered in a generous and engaged spirit for study, spiritual writing, and worship. It was a special evening for me personally because I was able to integrate three passions of my rabbinate: teaching, nurturing creativity, and sharing my original music.
Joined by Will Robertson, my musical chevruta, producer, and songwriting partner, Caroline Patterson, one of the most talented and thoughtful vocalists I’ve ever worked with, and Bob Michek, a truly professional percussionist and longtime bandmate, I finally had a chance to share some of the quieter, more reflective, and gentler of the music I’ve written over the last couple of years. Creating music alongside such talented and dedicated friends and musicians, being able to share that music, and then seeing that the music has meaning and resonance for others who are new to it— that was a gift for sure.
The title of this post is the theme that we selected for the evening. That theme was woven through the study, the spiritual writing, and the worship. For lots of reasons, I’m very curious about and interested in The Human Voice. I’m interested in the human voice because, kind of like breathing, it’s something that we almost always take for granted. In preparing for last night, I wrote a vision of what the time together might address. Here’s that description for those that might be interested and also so I can look back on it and remember the thought process that led to such a special evening of community learning and spiritual connection.
Through a combination of shiur, spiritual journaling workshop, and Shabbat/Slichot Tefilah participants will have a chance to reflect on our human voice and their particular human voice. The human voice is our most precious and unique instrument for communication yet most of us fail to fully attend to and care for it. How do we cultivate our voice? How do we honor it? How do we project it into the spaces and places that we feel summoned to do so? How do we listen to our own voice, how do hear and experience the voices of others? In what areas do we suffer from an abundance of words? In what areas do we lack the necessary language to articulate our thoughts and feelings? In short—how can we become better listeners and speakers in a world that so desperately needs us to be both of these things. Before officially entering the Yamim Noraim it is both necessary and profoundly meaningful to reflect on the voice that we are bringing with us to this sacred time.
So this is an actual conversation that took place with a bunch of 5th graders this week in the context of a class I teach called Menschology…
What if each of us actually knew a lot more about a lot of really important things than we actually give ourselves credit for. What if each of us knew more about life, about love, about the universe, about God, about the way the world should be than we ever imagined? What if each us wasn’t just a lot smarter than we realize, but a lot wiser? Well, I think we are. I think that each of us, every person in this room, is a carrier of deep, true, and enduring wisdom. And I think that we’re hip to some of our wisdom, but much of it is so deep within us that we’ve yet to fully encounter it and figure out what it means for how we travel through life. And that excites me.
At the same time, I wonder whether each of us also knows things and feels pretty certain about things that, upon closer inspection and scrutiny, we might find ourselves a little less sure and certain, a little less confident and right. I think that’s also the case. I think if we really investigate some of our beliefs and ideas, some of the known things of our lives, we might find ourselves in a place of unknowing and uncertainty.
How can it be that we don’t know what we really know, and don’t know what we think we know, all at the same time? How can we live this complex wisdom and walk the human path of knowing and unknowing.
As we prepare to recite the Barechu and Shema, let’s invite these prayers to help us navigate the sacred pathways of our knowing.