Lines and Circles By Cantor Andrew Bernard

2 Oct

Here we are, in the thick of our holiday cycle. Or perhaps I should say, here we are again, in the thick of our holiday cycle. While the events of our lives usually proceed in a line — sometimes a straight line, sometimes on a winding path bordering on torturously circuitous — the world of nature and the world of our holidays progress around a circle. And it is the interplay between the lines and the circles that give us perspective on our lives.

Given that our ancestors were an agricultural people and dependent upon the natural world, it is not surprising that the liturgical cycle parallels the cycle of nature. Our days begin with the setting sun. Our months begin on the new moon. According to the Torah, the Jewish year begins in spring — a time of new life and renewal. Both the agricultural and historical associations of Passover reflect this idea of new life and renewal, and Sukkot in the fall represents the conclusion of the harvest and the fragility of the world as it sinks into winter. Time and nature repeat in a predictable rhythm.

This predictable rhythm is an essential part of the creation story, which we read this month. The story of creation is really the story of human endeavor: how to establish order in the face of chaos. Here, the word “chaos” does not imply mayhem, but rather the seemingly random and unpredictable course of the world that continuously impacts our lives. By separating light from darkness, sky from earth, dry land from the oceans, God imposes order on the world. On the fourth day, God creates the sun, moon, and stars, thereby establishing a regular pattern of days and nights, seasons and years.

“Predictable” is not a word we can attach to our own lives. Of course we make plans: we schedule our days and weeks; we take on projects that have a beginning, middle, and end; we plan out careers and envision the family life we want. But events outside our control intrude, and we are sometimes nudged — sometimes thrown — off of the path we set in motion for ourselves. When unforeseen events occur, we may have to make hard choices. Work or study opportunities might mean giving up our home and moving far away. An exciting new project may mean giving up activities we have enjoyed, while an unsuccessful undertaking may cause us to rethink our life’s path. And sometimes the natural world intervenes, the course of our lives changed by illness or the loss of a loved one.

Where are we today? Are we where we thought we’d be a year ago? Has the landscape of our family or friendships changed? How have our professional or personal lives changed? And yet no matter the path of our lives, here we are again in our holiday season — a season of introspection and reevaluation, a season filled with traditions and memories. Even if the course of our lives seems fickle, the steadiness of this season anchors us. We stop. We regroup. People who are no longer with us loom larger in our lives, helping us regain perspective on our true selves. We engage in familiar traditions, reinforcing our core values.

And then we move forward again, taking the new experiences and enfolding them into the heart of our being. What was random then is now part of our new order. We have grown since last year. And we move ahead with the knowledge that our forward path will always be anchored by the recurring circles.

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