Wednesday, October 12 – Yom Kippur, The Jewish Day of Atonement
An almost non-observant Jewish woman such as myself must be a trifle creative if she wishes to honor this most holy of days on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, and find serenity in her alternative ways. With this thought in mind – and -- gorgeous as the weather was today, I set off this afternoon for a visit to the historical town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, just steps away from my door, to celebrate the day.
With the two conjoining rivers, the Potomac and the Shenandoah, flowing through the mountains of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, the mountains of these states embracing the rivers on all sides, the panoramic vista alone makes a wondrous sight on any day, giving rise to the famous words of Thomas Jefferson –
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“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
Spoken eons ago, these words and the view they describe is no less majestic today than it was in Jefferson’s time. Aware of this marvel not far from my door, I set myself off for a brief, but beautiful trek to celebrate the Jewish New Year, with a ritual few slices of bread in hand; Pepperridge Farm dark puppernickel, no less!
“Slices of bread, you ask. Whatever for?”
The answer of which I was well aware was that it was, after all, the Jewish Day of Atonement. And though I had freed my conscience to not sit and pray in Shul, nor was I given to fasting this year in an annual show of contrition, I was not off the hook for attempting to save my soul by any means. Raised as I had been in a quasi-Orthodox family, I knew what I was expected to do, in even minimalist fashion. Most of us of the Jewish faith, world-wide, do know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, be safe not sorry.
So a few slices of bread in hand was my duty, a humble attempt to perform the customary ceremony of “Tashlikh,” the casting into moving waters of pieces of bread, symbolizing the throwing off of one’s sins from the last year passing away. The Jewish New Year being almost entirely about atonement, this small ritual was the least I could do.
The implications of that action, aptly and equally, surprisingly akin to a bumper sticker message a friend of mine told me of with the words – “Look busy, Jesus is watching.” Just goes to show you, doesn’t it, how closely aligned is one religion’s perspectives with another’s?
A minimal ceremony, such as this on my part, might not quite be what the Big Guy, if there be such as he, has in mind for the Day of Atonement. But, at least, I was in there with something to “honor” my heritage and protect my well-being for the coming year.
That same friend, a long-time Harpers Ferry resident I happened to meet up with on my adventure, urged me, most fortuitously, to consider the rightness of how I had chosen to spend this most sacred of days. By her sharing of reflections on our shared locale, she directed my attention, inadvertently, to the Celtic tradition of places such as this that offer an opening into the magnificence and wonder of the presence of the Divine Spirit. She called them “narrow places.” And, of course, we both knew that our Beloved Harpers Ferry was among such places.
Later I found the tradition on the internet called “Thin Places,” places where one can touch the edge of heaven.
I offer here the words of Sylvia Maddox from “Where Can I Touch The Edge of Heaven? that heightened my sense of this wonderment.
“There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.
We return from thin places refreshed and renewed. We are graced with a new awareness of the thin places in all of life. Having seen the glimpses of glory in those sacred landscapes, we begin to see glimpses all around us. Soon the birds outside our window sing of the mystery we might have passed over in our busyness.”And so it was for me! Such was my day with one more beautiful blessing received (I had already had several), traditional or not, that helped me know that I had without a doubt, on my own behalf, chosen the best place for me to be on the holiest of Jewish days, my special Yom Kippur.