Friday, September 18, 2009
Happy New Year! Shana Tova, 5770 I was invited to preach on Rosh Hashanah many years ago and it was one of the great honors and highlights of my life. I am not Jewish. But I have deep, deep respect for Jewish faith and tradition and great affection for Jewish culture. It was an honor to be invited to ponder the meaning of this High Holy Day and to have the opportunity for reflection, dedication and renewal. I'm sure I got way more out of it than the congregation did! The sermon I preached is in a box in the basement with the rest of my professional materials and books. It seems more and more likely that I will retrieve them and find them a place in the upstairs mainstream of my life again soon, but, in the meantime, of course I don't remember that sermon; I don't remember what I had for dinner. I'm pretty sure it would have included something along these lines. The Jewish faith tradition is absolutely radical about this: to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your G-d. To love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. To welcome widows and orphans. To beat swords into plowshares. To love the sojourner. And this: choose life. Choose life. Choosing life. It is not so easy as crossing a field, as the Russians say. It is a roundabout, up and down, down and out, over and around and under. A lot of under, to my mind. To choose life in the midst of terror and trauma, defeat and disaster, is not so easy. To choose life after death, in the midst of death, is as difficult a thing as there is to do in this world. To do it every day. Every day. The poet said this, "To choose what is difficult all one's days, as if it were easy, that is faith." W. H. Auden Those words are inscribed under a photo I keep on my desk of a friend whom I believe has embodied that difficult choice every single day. Truth is, it could be inscribed under a lot of people's photos. It's never easy, okay, rarely easy, to choose life, not when one can choose garbage instead. Or gossip. Or deceit, or the couch, or giving up. Giving up. The gravest temptation. Devastating and total traumatization, "complex trauma," it's called, has made me afraid of the world, of life. Danger: unpredictable, capricious, irrational, from here, from there, everywhere, especially when I least expected it. Nobody jumped out from behind a bush at me; I wasn't walking down drug-dealers' streets. I was in a church, for G-d's sake. I was dealing with the people who taught Sunday School, made mission quilts, took casseroles to shut-ins. With folks you trust your teen-agers with, and with officials who have taken vows of charity, of all things, and service. These past seven years (SEVEN flipping years! That is a long time!) have required me to make that choice for life every single day. It's as stupid as my being afraid of the grocery store and making myself choose to go there anyway. As enormous as being unnerved (and not in a good way) when I hear the Lutheran liturgy and traditional church music. As silly as being fearful of taking a shower (don't ask, that's a very odd one), and as sad as being terrified to drive in Littleton. You would not believe how far out of my way I will go to avoid the streets within Littleton city limits (we live just beyond). I still flip out when I hear the classic melodies of the liturgy. My brain screams: DANGER! Isn't that sad? Day by day, I choose, one must choose life. To get out of the tomb where it is safe and check things out in that big wide world. It's now to the point that I need sunglasses. That's a good thing! I'm out that much. New year, new life. New commitments, new choices. It is a gift, to be given this new year. A new year in which to have one's name written in the book of life, and to choose life not only for oneself but for others. I have always been drawn to this high and holy day as my new year's beginning. I suppose as a Gentile I can fly below the radar and make my dedications and commitments without all the fuss and falderal of the onlooking, co-celebrating Jewish community, much less the secular world on New Year's Day, January 1. Rosh Hashanah has not been corrupted by the retail world. It is still is a sacred, holy day without all the goop and gobber of the Today Show bloviating about resolutions to walk more and stop speeding (oh, that's me!) and little black dresses and champagne toasts and morning-after hangovers. That's all fine in its place but it also takes away the holiness, the sense of making a solemn commitment, of preparing to be renewed. I think New Year's Day and I think Rose Parade. I think Rosh Hashanah and I think, be new, be renewed. Renew purpose. Prepare to live. Choose life. Blessings and shalom as you choose life again and again and again in this new year.