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September 2019

The Days of Awe

The Days of Awe is a ten-day period that begins with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), beginning Sunday, September 29-Tuesday, October 1, and concluding with the observance of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). I learned about this Jewish tradition that dates back to the third century BCE from my sister-in-law, Rachel Pred Gehr.

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Rachel and me, grateful we both married into the Gehr family.

Rachel wrote about celebrating Rosh Hashanah several years ago on her blog, and it continues to make an impression on my own spirituality (I thought she wrote it just last year—lol, time flies.) I was touched by the ritual of “tashlich” that she described—“the congregation gathers at the creek for a ritual of tossing our sins into the moving stream, signaling a fresh start to the new year.”

She quotes,The custom of going to a body of water on Rosh Hashanah is a symbolic allusion, for the waters which now seem to be at this place were not here before and will not remain afterward. So, if the sinner says to himself or herself: “I will not repeat my sin; my behavior will change”, the sin, like the waters, will move on.” (A Feminist Tashlich, Rachel KastenOur sins are washed away….sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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Torah at Temple Israel

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Most of what I know about the Jewish faith I learned in patchwork fashion—from a few friends, “The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith and Google. In elementary school, I had a friend who invited me to her Bat Mitzvah, a ceremony she explained as similar to Confirmation in the Christian church. But it seemed a lot different to this 12-year-old Catholic girl—it spanned two days, a lot of prayers that I didn’t understand, the carrying of a large package through the sanctuary and ending at a party with the fanciest finger food I’d ever eaten.

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I am grateful for that early introduction, though, even if I didn’t understand much. It provided me with a foundation of acceptance and a desire to learn more about all faiths…and a realization that wisdom and truth are found in all faith traditions.

Recently my Spirit Circle and I had the opportunity to visit the Tri-Faith Initiative, a sacred space that brings together a synagogue, church, mosque, and interfaith center on one 38-acre campus in Omaha. The Tri-Faith Initiative started over 20 years ago with a vision to encourage relationships in the three Abrahamic faith groups—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths. But it is just in the last year that Temple Israel, Countryside Community Church (UCC), and The American Muslim Institute, opened their new buildings, all connected by bridges and within view of each other.

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A view of the temple from the mosque.
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Temple Israel as seen from the mosque.

It was a profound experience to see all of the prayer centers, but I was most impacted by the temple. Since childhood, I have had a chance to experience and learn more about Judaism. The Bat and Bar Mitzvahs of my niece and nephew, Alice and Mike, were special religious experiences that go beyond the boundaries of the faith I grew up in. Perhaps my fascination with Jewish tradition is because it feels new(ish) to me, but I find it peculiar that Christianity, a religion rooted in Judaism, doesn’t continue to celebrate many Jewish rituals and holidays including The Days of Awe. For 2400 years, Jewish people, likely Jesus too,  have reflected on their past year and repented for their sins with a spirit of beginning again.

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Rachel continues in her post, “And with the new year comes reflection on the past year, and commitments to improve ourselves and the community and the ripple effect continues…whether you celebrate Rosh Hashanah or not – a year can start any time.”

The essence of making resolutions at the new year, whether one follows the Gregorian or Jewish calendar, is that we desperately seek the chance to “do-over.” Celebrating the beginning of a new year is a reminder of our opportunity to “always begin again”—the embodiment of Being Benedictine. It’s not as simple as a “do-over” but Rosh Hashanah or New Year’s Day gives us a definitive time and space to honor our deepest longing to begin again. As St. Benedict proclaimed, “Always we begin again.”

These next days, no matter your faith tradition, can be a time for reflecting on the past, making amends and setting intentions for a hopeful future.

These next days, I shall get me to a river, practice some forgiveness of self and others….and begin again.

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Countryside Community Church
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The American Muslim Institute as seen from Temple Israel 

A lovely prayer to use for washing those “sins” away:

Here I am again
ready to let go of my mistakes.
Help me to release myself
from all the ways I’ve missed the mark.
Help me to stop carrying
the karmic baggage of my poor choices.
As I cast this bread upon the waters
lift my troubles off my shoulders.
Help me to know that last year is over,
washed away like crumbs in the current.
Open my heart to blessing and gratitude.
Renew my soul as the dew renews the grasses.
– Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

See Rachel’s full post here. And another one about “tashlich” here.

A few of my posts on beginning again—
Begin Again: New and Improved!
Always, we begin again.

All photos taken at Tri-Faith Initiative. always we begin

St. Johann, a Day of Rest: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 10

I had a day of rest today. A headache and a very bad night of sleep was cause for intentional grounding.  So it is appropriate that today I also share about my day of rest in St. Johann, Tirol, Austria.

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Amazing view from the balcony of my room. We stayed in St. Johann for three nights. It was wonderful to have a temporary home. Three days is the longest I stayed anywhere in 3 1/2 weeks. 

Sunday, June 23It was my 16th day of travel. Symptoms of a terrible cold that had started to work its way through the bus, combined with a forecast of rain, convinced me I should stay back from sight-seeing and take a day of rest.

I had visited Chiemsee, the day’s pilgrimage destination, with my cousins five years ago, so it made the decision to take this day off from travel much easier, admittedly despite a bit of FOMO. My dear friends, Joyce and Laura, left some breakfast for me in my room and said, “Go back to sleep.” And I did. Just like I did today when I realized going to school was not to be.

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I slept until 11:30 am (both then and today, so apparently rest was just what I needed), had a simple brunch and headed out to explore the town of St. Johann in search of throat drops and cold medicine. It was the right choice to sleep in and spend some time alone, but by myself I felt an acute sense of homesickness and a little bit lonely.  I reminded myself of the importance of balance—of being together and alone, of having activity and rest. This is what my body and spirit needed today. Continue reading “St. Johann, a Day of Rest: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 10”

Salzburg, just aaah: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 9

Salzburg, just aaah. I just loved everything about Salzburg–that the Trapp family performed there, that they hid out in the cemetery I walked through, that “The Sound of Music” was filmed in various locations in the Old Town. I loved the architecture, art, music, food, polkas, prayers, catacombs, street artists, and gelato. I loved it all, but I must go back. I must see where Maria and the Baron were married. Until then, the movie.

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Saturday, June 22A beautiful drive through Austrian countryside and an inspirational morning prayer set the tone for our day in Salzburg. Each day on the bus, we prayed the traditional Benedictine invitatory, “Lord, open my lips. –And my mouth will proclaim your praise,” followed by Psalms. Fr. Volker led our traditional prayers, but today also shared Native American Aztec and Sioux prayers that resonated with many of us.

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Oh, only for so short a while have you loaned us to each other…Let me not take those I love for granted…as if tomorrow you would call them home to you…When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light…

The prayer was a powerful reminder to live each day, THIS day to the fullest; to appreciate our friends and travel companions and to be profoundly grateful, to “stand beneath the endless waterfall of (God’s) abundant gifts to me.” It was also a reminder to be gentle with each other, as “the other is also wounded.” The morning prayer made a difference in our day!

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Passing through the tunnels of the walled city to the Old Town (Alstadt), we arrived in medieval Salzburg for our morning Mass at St. Peter’s Benedictine Monastery. As with many of the centuries-old churches we visited, reconstruction and renovation could throw a wrench into some of our plans, and the same for Salzburg. There was confusion and a wait to determine the chapel that we would celebrate Mass in.

Although inconvenient, it was encouraging to consider that pilgrims can enjoy the rich beauty and history of the churches for centuries to come—and we took advantage of our time to practice impromptu Tai Chi Chih, a form of meditative movement. It was peaceful to do and to watch later (as some sharp cookie recorded.)

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Continue reading “Salzburg, just aaah: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 9”

Always Room for Dessert: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 8

It’s been a month since my last pilgrimage post...no, I did not forget about the second half of our pilgrimage! We have NINE days left to journey!

But life happened here in Nebraska—school started with a week of teacher planning days, our daughter, Jessica, came home for two weeks, her boyfriend came to visit for several days, I had the first few weeks of school with students, we celebrated the wedding of dear friends, helped Jessica move to Madison, Wisconsin, had more weeks of school….and, you get the point. I need another pilgrimage. 🙂 

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Friday, June 21 —Our stay at St. Ottilien ended with Mass in the chapel with Fr. Volker Futter and Fr. Anastasius Gunter Reiser, who spent several months at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler last year.  St. Otillien Congregation of Missionary Benedictines is the motherhouse of Münsterschwarzach Abbey and the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing.

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In 1884 Andreas Amrhein, formerly a Benedictine from Beuron Archabbey (that I visited with my cousin Jefferey), had a vision of combining the Benedictine way of life—following the Rule of St. Benedict, practicing hospitality and promising stability, obedience and conversion of life—while also serving as missionaries. In 1887 the community settled in Emming at an existing chapel called St. Ottilia, and the congregation took the same name. Continue reading “Always Room for Dessert: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 8”

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