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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Days of Awe Build Bridges of Love by Emily VanLaeys

The Shofar or Ram's Horn 
blown on Rosh Hashanah 


        Last Sunday Mark and I attended the Oneonta Unitarian Universalist Society to celebrate the Days of Awe - the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar. Having never celebrated Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I didn't realize what a beautiful ceremony we would experience. It began with the sound of the ram's horn, a sharp cry that is intended to "pierce the armor of the heart." 

       The Days of Awe are a time of inner reflection. Many of the words of this ceremony evoke the realization that all of humanity is inter-related, part of the universe, part of God. Each member of the congregation says: "I stand in awe of the universe within me as I do of the universe around me." The minister says: "The great Maimonides said that belief in an external image of the divine is idolatry. He understood that God does not have a face somewhere out there. What we know as holy we know as an inner force, within ourselves. We create the outer images - of gods, of history - to understand ourselves and what is in store for us."

       Many of the words of this ceremony point to a mystical inner-knowing of self. One of the readers says: "The starting place is within. Tzedokah means more than righteousness. It means listening to your deepest intuition of what is right and necessary for you." The minister responds: "We know that time moves beyond our control. Things change beyond our control. Yet we can decide how we will change our responses to changes around us. This is the starting place; the only one there is."

       Then the congregation speaks: "Those who change without evaluating are like leaves blown off by the wind. Those who change without choosing are servants to the whim of time. Truth and power abide in us. Thence will come the light to illumine our paths. The lines written in The Book of Life are the signature of our year to come."

       The ceremony includes a sharing of bread with participants symbolically forgiving and being forgiven by all those who have hurt them or been hurt by them in any way. Forgiveness is a necessary building block for bridges between people who wish to recognize their oneness. Before the bread is passed, the minister asks the congregation  some questions about their relationships with others, and then says: "We ask ourselves these questions that we may begin to be one with ourselves, at one with each other, at one with nature, and at one with the Eternal Unknown." 

       Near the end of the ceremony the minister says: "The world is sustained by the just men and women in it. The light of justice and mercy has been passed on to us; let us pass that light to our children, to each other, and to the peoples of the world. Be this our understanding of our covenant: to be a beacon of justice and mercy." 

       The Celebration of Rosh Kashanah and Yom Kippur is taken in part from a Unitarian Universalist adaptation of the traditional Jewish Ceremonies and made available by the Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness. This celebration helps all of us who did not grow up in the Jewish tradition to understand how the High Holy Days can be a time for all of us to reflect on our oneness with humanity, Creation, and God.


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