Shana Tova

Because my daughter attends a Jewish preschool, I am a little more in tune with the Jewish calendar than the average Christian.  This morning, when my daughter asked if she were going to school today, I told her, “No – it’s Rosh Hashanah.”

“But I didn’t get to hear the rabbi play the shofar!” she wailed.

After some questioning, it became clear that the rabbi had come to demonstrate the shofar at last Friday’s Kabbalat Shabbat celebration, but Hannah had decided that that did not count, because she was supposed to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.  “Do you want to go to the synagogue?” I ventured.  I knew that they would be having services today, but I also knew I was gambling on the shofar blowing – that could just as well have happened last night, since the day begins at sundown.

But no, she was not interested in that, either.  Like the mercurial four year old that she is, she changed tacks, “But I thought that I would hear the shofar all the way over here, in my house!”

The shofar sounds to signify the commemoration of the creation of the world – Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the world’s birthday – so it is the New Year in the most literal, non-arbitrary way imaginable.  My daughter’s desire to hear the shofar even in our kitchen gave me a wonderful opening to talk about the New New Year – the sounding of the shofar that Jews and Christians alike look forward to – the shofar that signifies the re-birth of the world, when the Messiah arrives (Judaism) / returns (Christianity.)

“When Jesus comes back, the shofar will be heard by every person everywhere!”

“Even in [San] Francisco?… Even in Alaska?… Even in the desert?…” she asked, naming the farthest away places she could think of.

“Yes… yes… yes!” I answered, “The shofar will be heard everywhere, and when we hear it, we will know that Jesus has returned to make the world new, and it will be a new creation, a new birthday for the world and for everyone!”

It was a beautiful sunny day today, just the perfect temperature for a walk to the park to push Hannah on the swings.  It was my first day since getting the shingles that I have felt well – well enough to drive and to spend the whole day with my little girl, well enough to jog beside her bike.  I was so thankful for the sun and the clouds and the leaves and everything.  I was overflowing – it felt like the world’s birthday, and I was filled with praise for the Creator and all creation.

And yet… today was also the day of the funeral for a woman at our church whose life was taken by cancer.  A woman younger than my mother.  A woman who herself was a wife and mother.  This new year will be a year without her in it, without my father in it, without so many in it that have died all over the world since last Rosh Hashanah.  As thankful as I am for all that is, I continue to long for that which is not yet – for the day when the shofar will sound in every kitchen and every prison cell and every graveyard and everywhere – the day when our tears will be wiped away, and the world is made new.  And so, even as my Jewish friends did today in worship, I too hold the two in tension: a celebration of life and creation and all that is – Shana Tova! – and a desire for the round of years to come to – not so much an end as a new beginning.  As a Christian, that hope for me is summed up in the prayer recorded by John of Patmos: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

So I invite my Christian friends to join me in a Rosh Hashanah tradition – eating apples with honey as an embodied prayer for a sweet new year – for the sweetest possible new year of all.

Shana Tova! / Happy New Year  -and-   Maranatha / Our Lord Come

On going to a memorial service for my Dad, on the eve of Father’s Day

I worry my grief like a sore on my tongue.  The pain was acute at first, but always hidden. Now I can forget it for hours at a time, until by chance it brushes up against something unexpectedly, like my tongue against my teeth, and once found I cannot stop touching the sore spot against the sharp edge that reminded me of it – a pain that is almost as searing as when it was new, but somehow sweet, too – or at least compelling.  I keep poking at it and poking at it, until I am distracted by something outside of myself and forget again, for a few hours.

My daughter has started biting her tongue every couple of days.  I am not sure how this is happening – if she is somehow speaking or eating differently – preschoolers are more changeable than the weather.  I do wonder, though, if there is any relation to the time, 2 weeks ago, when she bit her tongue so hard that it bled, and I gave her an ice pop to ease the pain.  But I have not given her one since then.

So the metaphor isn’t perfect then.  No one is handing me a stiff drink to numb the wound when I mention that I miss my Dad.  Thank God.  But then again, I am a grown up, and have learned over many decades how little people want to hear of what pains me when they are feeling fine, so I don’t mention it very often.  And it is not like I have a bottle of vodka sitting in the freezer next to the ice pops.  For whatever good the numbing would do.  I have seen my mother grieve her father my whole life long – a man who disappeared into the hospital never to return when her age could still be counted on two hands.  Unlike a tongue, which heals in a couple of days, the pain of having a parent ripped away is an open sore that does not heal, until finally God smooths it over, when Christ returns.

My sweet four year old daughter is praying for Jesus to come back every day.  Come, Lord Jesus.