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Friday, August 9, 2013

Practice the Art of Return

Elul 4

We arrived at the Tel Aviv airport 3 hours early for our 12:40 a.m. flight, only to find ourselves knee deep in fellow travelers, pushing and shoving “Tel Aviv style” to get through the seemingly endless stages of security: check-in, clearance, ticket counter, baggage check, passport control, security, gate control, security…..and finally, with only a few minutes to spare, boarding the plane.  Exhausted, relieved, excited, sweaty, ready to get back home, to return…..

As the plane began to taxi onto the runway, I began to think about what it really means to return.  Five weeks earlier I was on my way to an amazing summer in Israel, studying, connecting, exploring, traveling, returning to a kind of relationship with meaning and faith and ethics that often eludes me in my day to day life.  I was privileged to have the luxury of this kind of study sabbatical – to immerse myself again in ideas and questions and exploration and inquiry.  I had returned to Israel to take this journey into the heart of my faith and peoplehood, to return, again and again. 

Now I have returned, more literally, to the place I call home, where I live, where I have established myself in a community, where I work and play and strive to make meaning each day. 

It is simple, in a way, to return – all one needs to do is make the journey.  Yet, returning is also difficult.  True return, that is.  For when we return, both we and the place to which we return has surely, inevitably changed.  

I came back to a St. Louis where stories had been told without my awareness; babies born, illnesses suffered, joys celebrated, tragedies mourned in my absence.  I, too, have my own stories to tell that are foreign to those I left behind.  We return, changed, different, renewed.

Only God is unchanging.  The Rock, the Truth, the Wellspring from which all things flow, yet never changes.  A source of constancy from which we can draw the strength to bear our own change and the change of the world in which we dwell.

Elul, this month of return, bids us to accept, with peacefulness, the change all around, and to return, again and again, knowing that we return to new moments, new people, new experiences, new selves.

Pray during this Elul, for the strength to return.  To face ourselves as we are now, not as we were then.  To begin again. To believe that every moment is a beginning worth beginning.

Shabbat begins this evening at sundown.  This first shabbat during this month invites us to truly begin to practice returning.  Choose a way to practice returning:
  • return to the simple ritual of shabbat - make a moment, an hour, a day, of rest.  light candles, recite the berachot of shabbat, pray, study, meditate, sing, think, rejoice
  • go somewhere you enjoy being, where you have not been for a while and think about what it feels like to return
  • find something that you need to return to someone or someplace a return it. return a book to the library, an object you borrowed from a friend
  • return to a practice or behavior that you have abandoned but wish you had not given up - a musical instrument you once played, a diet you abandoned, an exercise routine you neglect, a hobby you miss
  • return to a long neglected friendship and try and renew it by setting a time to talk, or writing a note, or making a date to meet
  • read a book again that you remember loving
  • listen to a favorite song, watch a favorite movie, go to a favorite restaurant
  • return to Temple for a class, a service, a meeting with the clergy, a volunteer experience
  • find your own way to practice the art of return
Think about what it means to return.  The month of Elul is a wonderful time to really push ourselves to explore the boundaries of  our lives and where and how we can return.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jim Bennett

1 comment:

  1. Is God unchanging? What is the source for that point of view? In Torah there are times that God changed God's mind (in narrative, convinced by humans to do so), though that could be attributed to an unchanging grand plan.

    Our relationship to God has changed much, even in my own lifetime, and I think (I hope) for the better.