Psalm 27: Finding Our Way Home
By Rabbi Adina Allen
Today is moving day. Everything must go, one way or another. Go through and examine closely everything you have accumulated. Not just the cursory glance given once or twice a year during spring-cleaning or when relatives come to stay. Go through every desk drawer and nightstand, leave no nook or cranny unturned. There is only so much that the boxes can hold and so you must evaluate everything you have. Make piles of keep, throw away, donate, keep going. Whittle down the mountain of “keep” to travel size.
Sort through the basement, those old suitcases of clothing you’ve kept with you in your moves from house to house over the years, even though you never did wear the them. Deep down you knew you wouldn’t; yet you weren’t prepared to part with the memories and fantasies that they had come to represent. Down in the cool dampness of the basement, try them on one last time. Let your skin feel the texture of the fabric. Stretch out your arms and see the way the material hangs heavy on your frame. Let yourself feel the sadness of knowing what you’ve come to outgrow.
Take your time. It can’t happen all at once. Rather slowly, in stages. Pieces of furniture sold, eating down the food in the cupboard. Artwork and decorations you dread un-mounting from their place on the wall because, once they are down, the house just feels so stark, so raw. The walls, bare now, can be seen in all their imperfections. Cracks from age and weather spread like sprawling fingers from corners of the room. Nails and hangers remain in their places, dotting the surface of the walls with hints of the family photos and watercolors that used to hang on their hooks.
It’s freeing and nostalgic and exhausting. When you move it can feel like the world is falling apart because, in many ways, it is. Life carries on around you, other people go about their work and relationships, as you sit on the floor in too dark or too bright rooms, surrounded by dust bunnies and paint chips and the refuse of all you have come to call your own.
The memories of what has been open into grief at what you are leaving behind, which is never separate from the glimmer of anticipation for what the future holds. But for now, you sit in the discomfort of being in between. Everything turned from the inside out, all adornments gone, on the beautiful precipice between here and there.
This precipice is where we dwell during this sacred season. No longer the self we once were, but not yet the person we are becoming. During the month of Elul (the final Hebrew month before the High Holy Days) we prepare for our spiritual move. As the heat of summer peaks and turns towards fall, we feel the High Holidays creeping towards us and begin to evaluate our year. The days cool and shorten as Rosh Hashanah nears. We begin to pack our bags, choosing what of who we are will come with us and what we will leave behind. When we stand in front of the open ark at the end of Neilah (the last service of Yom Kippur), the final box will be sealed. Who will we be when that final cry of the shofar (ram’s horn) sounds? Thinking back on all we have done this past year we build our “keep” pile within our heart: our capacity for love, patience, humor, honesty, generosity, courage, healing, hope. And, unfettered by what has been, we have the freedom to leave aspects of ourselves behind—that which no longer fits, and perhaps never did.
We release anything that stands in the way of our returning to that house we are always seeking, that house which is our home no matter where we move. In the words of Psalm 27, the Psalm for the High Holiday season, “One thing I ask of God, this do I seek: to dwell in God’s house all the days of my life.” What is this home we are seeking?
It used to be that we conceived of God’s house as a mighty physical structure that we would visit for doses of the Divine. During the time when the Temple stood, Yom Kippur was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, the empty space in the heart of the Temple and receive a new name for God. It was, as Rabbi Alan Lew (of blessed memory) describes, “the day we experience the charged emptiness at the Sacred Center.” It was in that place of the holy void that infinity and possibility mixed and new ways of seeing and being emerged.
The Temple no longer stands and there is no longer a High Priest to act as our proxy. Today, we move through the stuff of our lives on our journey to the Sacred Center within. We remove the adornments and lay our hearts bare. Each of us our own High Priest, braving the personal sanctum of our soul. We enter the now-empty rooms of our inner landscape. Walls echo, cracks along the surface show, imprints of what has been recede into the possibility of what will be. We tremble in the exhilarating terror of the emptiness, and from the depths we cry out in joy knowing we’ve made our way home.
Rabbi Adina Allen, co-founder and Creative Director of Jewish Studio Project, is a spiritual leader, writer and educator who believes in the power of creativity to revitalize our lives and transform Jewish tradition. Integrating a lifetime of experience in the creative arts with her rabbinic training, Adina pioneered the Jewish Studio Process – a methodology for integrating Jewish learning, spiritual reflection and creative expression that she has brought to thousands of Jewish educators, professionals and lay leaders across the country. A recipient of The Covenant Foundation’s 2018 Pomegranate Prize for emerging Jewish educators, Adina was ordained in Hebrew College’s pluralistic training program in Boston in 2014 where she was a Wexner Graduate Fellow.
- What imagery does Rabbi Allen use to describe preparing for Elul? How do you respond to that imagery?
- In the spirit of the High Holidays, a time for discernment, what do you feel ready to let go of? What feels important to hold to?
- How does the image of “God’s house” relate to your own understanding of the Divine?
- How do you respond to Rabbi Allen’s closing image of a person crying out in an space with a sense of joy “knowing we’ve made it home”?