Next week is Rosh Hashana (starting Monday night), and that Elul vibe is definitely in the air.
Accordingly, I began to think about my relationship with God. And I realized that it was in a pretty bad state. It came to my attention that I had been building resentment, and not allowing myself to express it, because I hate being angry and I have a tendency to try and suppress it or pull away from the object of my anger and grow cold.
There is a wide range of emotions towards God that are expressed in our prayer liturgy. When I’m feeling joy, gratitude, longing, or despair, I can find lots of things to say in the prayer book. Anger, however, is not one of those emotions. I was not really taught how to handle being angry at God. (Other than being told not to be angry, which obviously doesn’t help in the slightest.)
So for the past while… I haven’t really been speaking to Him. Even in various attempts I’ve made to try and get back into establishing a regular connection, I’ve been running away to the prescribed prayers, fulfilling my obligation without really saying what’s on my mind.
After spending Friday morning thinking about this, I was washing dishes, and a friend messaged me with some bad news. And I just got so mad at God. And I knew I had to say so. And all that came out was “I am so angry at You” between clenched teeth, and maybe some more muttering about how she has suffered enough.
And I have to say–even that little moment loosened something. And a day and a half later, on Motzei Shabbat, I got some good news. And the next day–more good news, and more. It felt like God was responding to me. Not giving me what I asked for exactly, but letting me know that He’s there and He’s listening and He does say “yes” sometimes.
I’ve mentioned before that they have a saying about Elul: “HaMelekh BaSadeh”–the King is in the field.
Well, I happen to have a field about a five-minute walk from my front door.
So yesterday morning, and this morning, I went out to the field to have a little chat with the King.
It is Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who recommends praying in the fields. He writes that “every blade of grass has its own song,” and that by listening to the song of the grass, your heart opens and you can join their song and serve God with joy.
He is also the Hassidic master who taught his followers to practice hitbodedut, literally “self-seclusion.” It’s a type of meditation that basically involves speaking to God freely and openly as though you are speaking to a friend. Rebbe Nachman recommends this practice in addition to the regular prescribed prayers, and he recommends doing it every single day.
The benefits of speaking to God freely are fairly obvious to people like you and me. But, says Rebbe Nachman, it’s not enough to speak to Him whenever you feel like it. You have to make it a practice–something you do regularly. This establishes a framework for the relationship, and things can happen within that framework that couldn’t happen without it.
I mentioned to you once that I have a sort of “system” of communication with my sister. It started after several years of living very different lives, very far away from each other, and seeing each other rarely. Every time we saw each other, there was so much to catch up on, and not enough time, and we felt like we were totally out of sync and unable to relate to each other’s lives. We would always part feeling frustrated.
So when we discussed this, she had an idea: to establish a weekly “sister update.” But we have to make it doable, she said, not something we’ll put off because it takes too long. Each update must have 5 items, but those items can be as short as “I have no idea what to say” or a silly picture, or as long as several paragraphs–doesn’t matter, there must be 5 of them. These updates would be due every Monday.
We have been doing this almost every week for about 5 years now.
At first it seemed trite and silly. We would tell each other about random things that were on our minds, worries about this or that, or an awesome recipe we had just discovered. (Food is a major topic of discussion in the Sister Updates, as befits any correspondence between a pair of Jewish sisters. 😛 ) But as the contact became regular, it also became familiar, and the e-mails started getting longer, sometimes spilling over into the rest of the week. And in the few times we have seen each other in those five years–I believe there have been three–we didn’t feel that frustration of not being in each other’s lives and having so much to catch up on.
Point is: the sister updates created a framework in which we were able to build a steady, regular communication. They made it possible for us to genuinely be involved in each other’s lives, even though we live on opposite sides of the planet and only see each other once every couple years.
Hitbodedut works the same way. Except that the relationship you’re nurturing is with God. And when you’re in constant dialogue with God, you live your life in a completely different state of awareness. You are able to feel gratitude for the smallest things, and you are able to receive comfort for every difficulty. You can pour out your heart and feel that someone is listening who loves you and wants the best for you. God is the Ultimate Therapist.
All you have to do is show up in His office, for five minutes a day.
…So why is it so hard?!
I’ve been telling myself I need to do this for years. And it is amazing how I’ve managed to weasel out of it. In all fairness, it’s hard to find those five minutes to myself. When I was a teen, I took advantage of my chronic insomnia and spoke to God while lying in bed. These days, though, I’ve got someone else in bed trying to sleep! 😉 And obviously, having little kids around makes it very near impossible.
I really hope I manage to find a way to institute it as a regular practice this time–field or no field.
I probably won’t update again before Rosh Hashana, so let me take the opportunity to wish you and all our readers a very blessed 5777. May the coming year bring us lots of good news and joy and laughter and meaningful connections with God and with our loved ones.