October 16, 2014

Still Waters

My travels the past two months rolled right over the Jewish Days of Awe--those 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that asks us to look hard at our soul and make some adjustments for the year ahead. The nearest equivalent in the secular world is making New Year's resolutions. The difference to me is that in the Days of Awe, you first make a heart-breaking spiritual descent into yourself, from your fatty lumps of excess to your sharp razors of how you treat others...to your deepest crevices of, well, whatever they are for you.

The descent takes place over 10 days. On the last day, Yom Kippur, you remain there while fasting, standing shoulder to shoulder with your brothers and sisters in the congregation. And you gradually become empty, until the final long shofar (ram's horn) blast at sundown blows your bones apart and signals the end of Yom Kippur. At which point, your soul trickles back, and you return to the world renewed and with some intentions for the year ahead.

Because I am simple-minded, I settle on one intention for the year ahead and I usually receive direction by just staying open during these 10 days. This year, I got it on the first day, in a poem by May Sarton that our wonderful Rabbi Diana put before us. Here it is:

New Year Resolve
May Sarton

The time has come 
To stop allowing the clutter
To clutter my mind
Like dirty snow.
Shove it off and find
Clear time, clear water.
Time for a change.
Let silence in like a cat
Who has sat at my door
Neither wild nor strange
Hoping for food from my store
And shivering on the mat.
Let silence in.
She will rarely mew,
She will sleep on my bed
And all I have ever been
Either false or true
Will live again in my head.
For it is now or not
As old age silts the stream,
To shove away the clutter,
To untie every knot,
to take the time to dream,
To come back to still water.

There's so much there, but the words "still water" leapt off the page into the void at the front of my forehead. This year, I want to do the work necessary to be still water...not to make waves in the ponds of others and not to get ruffled when the wind blows through mine.


  1. "until the final long shofar blast at sundown blows your bones apart"...and they are
    open for that still water.
    THIS is beautiful, this story you tell me here. I would have done well had i been
    born into your heritage. So...not having the traditions, i need to make my own and
    the words you wrote above will help form that.
    This whole time for me now, this part of the Circle till Solstice, feels to me always
    like those 10 days designated for descent and coming apart, more days than 10 tho
    so it can be long and slow.

    1. And I seem to remember that you, too, end with an intention. Look around on you tube for a yom kippur shofar blast, you will love it.

  2. am enjoying warming my hands & heart by the stillness here

  3. To still oneself each year, to reflect and redirect, is what I try to do each September, my birth month, my favorite season, my new year. It is a cleansing as well as an uplifting ritual, one that as I get older, flows more easily. Julie, I loved reading this and thank you for putting it here.

    1. We do it on the birthday of the year because we are so goddamn communal about ritual, but I dearly love the idea of doing it on one's birthday. (And happy that to you).

      I am moved by everyone's own renewal rites

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. well here speaks another simple-minded soul, who cannot hold onto good intentions for very long (ask my kids or husband, better still don't )

    there is one important lesson I have finally grasped after 51 years on the planet:
    listen to what my body tells me: a lump in my stomach whenever somebody suggests something; take a breath, stop and look: why the lump? what do I think/want/etc and then answer, which could also be 'let me think a while longer and then get back to you'

    so I do quite a lot of reflecting all year 'round now, but maybe a week or a set date would be a good thing for me as well, if I don't forget that is.