Wednesday, 24 September 2014
All humanity comes from dust, and ends in dust; like a broken clay shard, withered grass, a shrivelled flower ...
My eldest son put his hand through a glass window on Monday evening. Lots of blood. Off to hospital. The plastic surgeon thinks everything looks OK, but wants to have a closer look under anaesthetic. We have to go back. In the meantime my son’s fine, back at school with a bandage and sling for now, but I’m still a little shaky.
There is nothing like hospital to remind us we are dust, in those extraordinary words of the Unataneh Tokef prayer. In the words of Charles du Bos, it is a ‘reveil mortel’ – an alarm call reminding us of our mortal condition. This is the great message of Rosh Hashanah. Who will live, who will die? I cannot know. Who will be enriched, who will become poorer? Beyond my ken. Who in sickness and who in health? My, how fragile this life is.
We are called, for these two precious days, to acknowledge our mortal existence and asses what mark we are really making on this world. How do we make those around us feel, are there interpersonal relationships to address? And what of our engagement with the cosmos and its creator? There is an irony in the notion that we think most clearly about the quality of our lives when we come close to death.
It is a huge honour to be able to lead this special congregation over these most special days. I look forward with celebrating, reflecting and healing with you all.
For those times this past year when I have failed, I offer my apologies.
And for all your support I am most grateful,
May we be blessed with a year of sweetness and health,
Friday, 19 September 2014
Thursday, 18 September 2014
This is the opening line of one of the most beloved sections of the Slichot service. It will be sung, and sung with gusto, this Saturday evening and throughout Yom Kippur. It speaks of a closeness and the possibility of a meeting. ‘We are Your flock and You are our shepherd... We speak of You and You speak of us.’
But for this meeting, this alchemy, to work we need to place ourselves inside the system. The standoffish type, who is really too busy for all this singing doesn’t get to play. The invitation isn’t elitist. It’s open to everyone, but you have to turn up, and you have to bring yourself.
The Rosh Hashanah journey begins this Saturday night with our Slichot service at 9:30. The first night of Rosh Hashanah is Wednesday. Come on Friday, come Thursday evening, come early bring yourself, for it is only by bringing yourself that the possibility meets of a relationship. By staying outside, physically or metaphorically we only remind ourselves of what we already know and another year will pass with our lives unchanged.
Oh, and one more thing. Tell someone else. Growing up every Jew I knew had a Shul and even went to that Shul, at least on three times a year. Either my circle of acquaintances or the nature of Anglo Jewry has changed. I keep meeting Jews who have no relationship with pews. We believe our services, at New London, offer the best of our liturgical tradition combined with an open-minded quest for truth and integrity. We believe our services are accessible and spiritual. If you want traditional, we have traditional. If you want egalitarian, we have egalitarian. And if you have anyone you think should join us, please pass this appeal on to them, together with the link by which they can purchase tickets – they can click [here] http://www.newlondon.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&layout=edit&id=164. All most definitely welcome,
Shabbat shalom, Ki Va Moed – the sacred time is coming,
Thursday, 11 September 2014
I bought what was once called a woolly hat, back in the days when hats were made from wool. This hat, made out of some fancy manmade material, comes with a ‘legend’ printed on the label.
‘Polartec (registered trademark) is a series of high performance fabrics that enable you to control your Body Climate (trademark protected) and stay comfortable regardless of the weather or activity. Believe In What Your Wear! (trademark protected).’
Oh dear. How very un-Ellul. At this time we are called to acknowledge our fragility and the lack of true control we have over our lives. The winds blow and not even the most impressively engineered high performance fabric will keep us comfortable. “All flesh is grass,” teaches Isaiah, in verses that influence the most powerful prayer of the Rosh Hashnaha season, “ and all its grace is as the flower of the field; The grass withers, the flower fades. Only the word of our God endures forever.”
Believing in What We Wear is no more advisable than believing in the idolatrous power of an icon. We do better to place our trust, perhaps counter-intuitively, in that which cannot be trademarked, purchased and owned – we do better to place our trust in a God we cannot understand and have never seen. In part because even in our lack of true comprehension we can still intuit calls to care, be holy and kind. But perhaps even more importantly, by placing faith in that which lacks concrete certainly we are forced to tread more gently. If we are foolish enough to Believe In What We Wear - if we think that a hat, or a burglar alarm or 90 minutes in the gym actually offer any kind of real protection from life and its intransigencies, we are likely to care less about the myriad of encounters that make our life worthy of being saved. Being worthy of being saved, while less superficially attractive than the guarantee of comfort regardless of the weather or activity, does at least has the ring of truth about it.
The problem isn’t just hats. The problem is that wherever we turn we are being sold, quite literally, the ability to be Masters of the Universe. We live in a world so infused with hyperbole, deceit and vanity that looking beyond the nonsense of legendary hats and their like is actually a challenge. It takes effort, we need to nurture the ability to see the reality beyond that which is day-after-day imprinted on our senses. Let me suggest three ways to develop a more profound way to see the world.
This coming Tuesday we are offering an evening of exploration around Rosh Hashanah. More details at http://www.newlondon.org.uk/index.php?option=com_dpcalendar&view=event&id=gc-1-22ieuut3r5if0as0l56drjqv78_201409161900, it will be an opportunity to reflect and open the mind. All welcome.
Next Saturday evening (20th Sept) at 9:30pm we being our liturgical preparation for Rosh Hashanah, our Slichot programme will allow prayer and music to open our hearts – and I’ve pulled all the nepotistic strings I can to bring a very special guest to join me for a pre-service conversation. More information at http://www.newlondon.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&layout=edit&id=202
Finally Friday week (26th Sept) – the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The first day is fine, lots of people we haven’t seen for a while and lots of prayer stuff, but it takes the first day to quieten down the Shuk of the world outside. The true moments of insight come, I promise, on the second day. For tickets please go to http://www.newlondon.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&layout=edit&id=164.