Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steps to Teshuva for the Month of Elul

Welcome to “Our Stories, Our Journey” blog site – a space where we can gather electronically to share our stories through words, sounds and visual expression about our Jewish journeys.
The idea:
To share our spiritual journeys in a way that allows for exchange and exploration.

Here’s how it works:

Starting today, and each week during Elul until September 9 (Rosh Hashonah), I’ll provide questions in this space - we’ll call them prompts - to get us thinking about the themes that prepare us for the High Holy Days.

After Yom Kippur, I’ll offer weekly prompts related to a particular aspect of Jewish, spiritual or Beth Emet life -- anything from a childhood memory or something in the news or what the season has brought to you.

We are looking for stories from your life that have a pass-along quality, something that might move or enlighten or teach something to someone else, seen of course, through your own lens.

I urge you to spend some time in reflection and then you can either write in your own Spiritual Journal or blog in this space. The advantage of a blog response is that we can get a conversation going.

As your guide, I’ll introduce ideas for thought, facilitate the conversation and encourage exploration. If personal or spiritual questions or concerns come up along the way, as they most likely will, consider consulting our very gifted spiritual leader, Rabbi Andrea London. Think of this space as the electronic version of that post-services time on Shabbat where our hearts and minds have been stimulated by Torah study and we want to talk about it with others.

Check back in this space regularly for other expressions as well. “Our Stories, Our Journey” also welcomes poems, photographs, music and video.

Those of you wanting to utilize prose writing to tell your stories or express your thoughts and feelings, come join Ellen for an introduction to guided spiritual journaling at Beth Emet on Sunday, October 3 in the Weiner Room from 10:45 am to noon.

To get us started, let's focus on the first of the four steps of repentance: Responsibility. Consider the following tale, retold by Joel Ziff:

"Late one night, in the city of Chelm, known to be populated by fools, Shmuel happened upon his friend Avrum. Avrum was down on his hands and knees, underneath the street light, searching for something. Shmuel inquired as to what Avrum was doing. "I've lost my keys," he replied. "Perhaps you'll help me search."
Shmuel joined him. After half an hour, they still had no success. "Avrum, where exactly did you lose the keys? Maybe we can concentrate our efforts." Avrum replied, "I've lost them in that alley over there." Shmuel was dumbfounded.
So why are we looking here?" Avrum looked over at his friend. "Why are we looking here? Because the light is better here, that's why!"

Instead of focusing on our clearly-seen shortcomings, we can begin to take responsibility to look in our darker places where we might not feel so comfortable.

According to Tamara Cohen, the month of Elul offers us "a structured opportunity to examine what is holding us back from being who we really want to be." The t'shuva process operates on two levels: one involving human relationships and the other involving our relationship with God.

What would it be like to dig a little deeper this year when we reflect on the year and the ways we could have done better? Not to bring out the "reruns" from the year before but to be an innerspace archeologist, searching for another layer of ourselves.

It may be easier to look in those spaces with God's illuminating presence, which is said to be especially strong during the month of Elul. It's customary to read Psalm 27 each morning in preparation for the Holy Days. The first line refers to this light of God: "The Eternal is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Eternal is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?"

Prompt #1:
Think about your difficult relationships with people or organizations, the ones that drain you or get in the way of you being or doing your best. What concrete action can you take work out this relationship or move forward into next year?

Prompt #2
Write a letter addressed to whatever you conceive of as the Divine Presence. Speak as truthfully as you can, as you would to a dear, trusted friend. How would you articulate a way for you and this presence to be closer or more intimate?

I look forward to the conversations we are sure to have in this space!

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