I am a ritual maker, and late Monday afternoon found me in traffic near a local synagogue. It was the new year. Not that night of revelry and midnight fanfare near the start of winter, but the acknowledgement of the renewal of an inner perspective. Moved by old memories of challah and candles and honey, I began to weave a plan.
I was on my weekly journey to a neighborhood in the city where I meet someone that I shall simply call my listener. For an hour each week we take our seats and enact a familiar but inevitably surprising ritual of self-exploration and attention. The end of each session finds me having said things that I had not realized I needed or wanted to say.
I know what I had been thinking earlier in the day that I would talk about. I had been thinking of a time almost exactly a year ago. I had just discovered that a visitor to a blog that I had kept for over two years was systematically mining my text for information to use against me. She had already written letters to the powers that be and telephoned all sorts of offices. With little choice and no guarantee of security, I deleted the entire blog.
Why, I wondered later, would people read a blog unless they were somehow in sympathy with what the writer was attempting in it? Each post on a blog is like a little altar, and the writer is the priest at that altar. Usual ways of talking give way temporarily to another form of communication. It always requires an act of trust on the blogger’s part to craft a reflection in words and pictures, to share a piece of music or a video, to offer an observation, to reveal a thought. Who would visit a blog and break that trust?
With the breaking of that trust, however, I eventually felt myself unmoored in a way I had never believed possible. Nothing significant actually changed in the external circumstances of my life, but old certainties and patterns had been disrupted. Without admitting it to anyone or even understanding it myself, my emotional landscape was changed.
So what was the plan I began to weave driving down streets leading to my listener’s office? I wanted to celebrate a new year.
I wanted to celebrate that this year didn’t feel like last year at this time. I wanted to make an act of hope that with God’s help the year ahead of me could be sweet.
I was going to be on my own this Monday evening, and so it was going to be easier to put together a ritual. What was happening within was going to be able to move out and fill every space within the walls of my home. I was going to be able to say things out loud, not loudly, not dramatically but as I was able, as I was moved. What was most important inside my heart was going to become the most important thing in all the rooms through which I moved that evening.
Not five minutes after my session, I pulled into a parking place that had just been vacated in front of a small bakery. I went inside and pointed to the one round challah loaf on the racks. The owner looked over to where I was pointing.
“That’s the only challah I have left.”
It is hard to describe what it felt like to take into my hands the plastic bag into which the baker had just slid her last loaf of challah. It was possibility that I held there – the possibility that everything I wanted to do with my evening might happen, the possibility that everything I wanted to do with my year might happen.
Within a half hour of sundown, I was lighting two mismatched candles at my kitchen table, one that I had gotten in Paris a year and a half ago at the church of Our Lady of Victories, the other a votive scented with honey from Provence. From a website on my laptop, I read out loud the Hebrew blessings for Rosh Hashanah.
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, she'he'che'yanu v'kee'manu, v'hee'gee'anu la'zman ha'zeh.
“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”
Photo of challah from Chai Time