One time, at my little church in JinQiao we did this thing with candles. I took a picture of it.
It is Easter Sunday and it is the first day of The Omer.
I follow the Christian tradition pretty closely in the lead-up to Easter. I do all that. But after Easter Sunday, I turn to the counting of the Omer. It's not conscious, but it happens every year. It's just what I do.
There are 50 days in the Omer. These are the days between Pesach, or Passover, and Shavu'ot.
At Pesach we remember that we've been delivered from Egypt, or Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim is from a Hebrew word that means a narrow place, or a place of constriction. It's really between a rock and a hard place. There is no growth, not even enough room for hope. Later, in Psalm 18, we will hear that the Lord has delivered the king out of deep waters, and from the cords of death. Now the king is in a wide place. He is grateful. And, perhaps nothing is so wonderful as to feel that you have a little room to hope again. So we have a narrow place and a wide place.
We begin in the narrow place. It will take awhile to really be free. After all those years of slavery the Israelites don't know how to be free. And, really, most of us don't either. We learn it over and over when we count the Omer. In 50 days or so we will have reached a wider place. We will be ready, as free people, to receive the Torah.
This journey is important. Each step counts. We don't just go from slavery to freedom; we start by putting one foot in front of the other.
Today is the first day of the Omer.
Today is the second day of the Omer.
Today is the third day of the Omer.
It takes time to get ready for Torah/Shavou'ot. Torah is not for slaves. It is a life-gift intended for free people.
There are lots of ways to count the Omer. I count using a Kabbalistic method I learned way back. I do it that way because that is the way I was taught. I've never given much thought to doing it any differently, but I know there's a Homer Simpson Omer Calendar, and I've been tempted by that one.
My Christian friends are counting off 50 days too. I have never heard the Great Fifty expounded on much, and I think that's a weakness in Christianity. It would be a good time for some real serious preparation work because we have our own Shavou'ot coming up. It's called Pentecost.
We can't just go from alleluia, alleluia on Easter to glory, glory at Pentecost. There is work to be done in between those. I'll tell you, receiving the Holy Spirit isn't for sissys. You've got to be ready.
See, anybody can be saved, and everybody is saved. Easy. If you are born into the earth plane then you have been saved, In the olden days you just had to take a bull or a bird... whatever you could afford... you'd take it down to the temple and the priest would stand before the deity and say, "This is the blood of John, or Mary, or Zaw Zaw..." and that ritual effected atonement. Boom. You're saved. Then Jesus came along and he didn't stand before the deity. He stood before his friends and said, "This is MY blood, and I'm giving it for you... dayneu... it's enough." So no more blood is needed. Atonement is now finished. That's right, it is finished.
But a lot of stuff happens before anybody gets the Holy Spirit. Things have to happen. Steps have to be taken. I don't know what the Christian way of doing that is so I go with the Jewish way. I think Mama Schwartz would be pleased, and Papa and Mama Thiele, and and Bub Riegelman and Papa. My cousins who didn't make it out of Germany... sometimes I think about them. Someone in our family should count the Omer.
It has been a difficult, narrow, damnable Lent for me. Personally, I am ready to be in a wider place. I have taken a few steps, but these things are not always a straight shot. I am surprised at a momentary set-back, but I shouldn't be. Steps have to be taken.
Today I meditate on the letter Aleph. That is my step for today. I remember that it is not the first letter in Torah. The things of Aleph are too high for me, and I don't think about them. But I know. I know that this life of time and space, limitation, the narrowness of the earth plane, it's not all there is. There was something before this, and there will be something after. It's not for me to speculate about it, but I am comforted to know that it's there. Whatever it is, I hope it's wide. That is my hope. Hope, that's a step.
If you don't know how to count the Omer you can do it by saying these words every day:
Baruch Atah Ado- nai, Elo- heinu Melech Ha-Olam, Asher Kid'shanu B'Mitzvotav, V'tzi-vanu al Sefirat Ha'Omer.
Blessed are You, Ado- nai our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has Sanctified us with His Commandments, and has Commanded us regarding the Counting of the Omer.
And then you say,
H'yom yom _____________ ba-omer
Today is the _____________ day of the omer
You count the days up to seven. Then we say "One week and ___ days." I don't know why.
It is important to say it in Hebrew. Your ears LOVE to hear Hebrew. It's the language of God, the language used for creation; say it clearly and loudly and let your ears be happy.
You can meditate on a different letter of the Hebrew Aleph Bet every day and you'll go through the Aleph Bet about twice which is pretty nice. You can also meditate on the sefirot, and today you'd meditate on Chessed. You might do a little breathing exercise about being loved and being love. But let's not be like some who have forgotten that they can't have Chessed without Gevurah. There has to be balance on that.
But, look, it doesn't matter what practice you choose. Really, if I could just get everyone to sit quietly for five minutes a day it would go a long way towards widening things in this plane, I think. Do anything. But, I do think that people should do something.
I had the day off work today. It's tomb sweeping day. That it coincided with Easter is just a happy coincidence for me.
I schlepped all the way out to JinQiao to that church I used to go to, back when I had Sundays off. The liturgy out there is a mess, I could write an essay on it. But, really, I don't want to feed that tiger. The little minister is so cute and joyful that I am able to overlook a stunning array of liturgical faux pas. And for the very first time, the sermon didn't totally suck. It's not gong to be used in any homiletics textbooks either, but it kind of spoke to me. And the people there are nice, and some of them dressed up for Easter. There were a lot of people from out of town. Lots of Meiquos. There were TWO Chinese Americans who hadn't been to China since they were children. I think one was from Baltimore, I don't remember about the other one. One lad in the congregation has raised over 2000 USD for a charity, which I thought was pretty magnificent. And I asked him about it after the service and he looked a little haggard, but his face lit up when he started talking about his charity. And the music was pretty good. I wanted to sing Up From The Grave He Arose, but we didn't have that one. And on Christ The Lord Is Risen Today we only got to sing four verses, so I sang extra loud. I think I saw the minister looking at me approvingly. Or, maybe that wasn't approval. But, I don't care because I like singing hymns. I like singing them loudly. Yes, I have become that woman.
The Alter Guild really out did itself today. Three families sponsored it, and I am sure it cost a fortune, as the Easter Day arrangement should. But it was really lovely. I wish I'd had my camera because it was unusual and gorgeous. I just loved it.
No glitter bombs, though I continue to think this would be a good idea.
After church I had lunch with this guy. You know how ESL expats love to get together and gab. So that took most of the day.
Then I had a little snooze in the taxi on my way home. I was all the way out in PuDong. I don't know why anybody goes out there, and on the way home I thought how glad I am that I live in Jing'An. Why would I ever leave this neighborhood?
And then I finished a short biography of Thomas Cranmer and had another nap. You know, Cranmer is not a very compelling character, but he lived in interesting times. Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote a book about Cramner -- and I am sure it's a big, fat book -- and it would be nice if Diarmaid went into all the theological wrangling between the continent and Rome because Cranmer was right in the thick of it on that. I emerged, though, as not a very big fan of Cranmer.
And tomorrow I plan to teach a little English...