If you live someplace where the sky was clear last night, you may have seen August's full moon glowing huge and luminous. On the Jewish calendar, that was the full moon of the lunar month of Av. Today is Tu B'Av (the 15th of Av -- Hebrew numbers double as letters, so the number ט׳׳ו becomes the word Tu.) Just a few days ago we marked Tisha b'Av, the most grief-drenched day on the Jewish calendar, anniversary of the destruction of both Temples, anniversary of so many great shatterings in our people's history. That's the psycho-spiritual low point of the year. Immediately after that, the emotional tenor of our calendar starts looking up as we approach the Days of Awe. Today -- the full moon following Tisha b'Av -- is supposed to be a day of joy.
Today is the anniversary of the day when our mythic ancestors, condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years because their lack of trust meant that they couldn't enter the land of promise, discovered that their years of alienation from God were over. There's a beautiful story about digging graves every year on Tisha b'Av and sleeping in them, and each year waking to discover that more of their number had died. This went on until the 40 years of wandering were complete, whereupon they woke and everyone was still alive. By the 15th of the month they realized that that chapter of their journey was over, and in wonderment they clambered out of their graves into renewed life. (See Tu b'Av, the end of being "grounded," and accessing God's love, 2013.)
Another tradition sees Tu b'Av as a kind of Jewish Valentine's Day. Talmud teaches that in antiquity this is when the unmarried women would put on white dresses and go dance in the vineyards, and by the end of the night they would have found husbands. I'm struggling with that one this year. The flowering of new romance is hopeful and sweet... and it's hard to face that sweetness as I continue to navigate the aftermath of the disintegration of my own marriage. I'm keenly aware that the hopes implicit in the image of white dresses and new love don't always endure. That on the far side of that story there may be the disentangling of two lives, and with that disentangling may be profound grief. For those who are in that chapter of a life's journey, Tu b'Av may hurt.
The challenge is harnessing the emotional uplift of Tu b'Av to help us climb out of our emotional low places even if there is no white dress in the vineyards, no simple happily-ever-after. On this day long ago our ancestors rejoiced that their years of deep alienation from God were over -- and then their story continued, with new challenges to face and new lessons to learn. We always have new challenges to face and new lessons to learn. The work of authentic spiritual life is facing that truth not with dismay but with readiness. Whatever comes, we can find blessings in it, if we take the leap of faith of climbing out of our mourning. We can find blessings in whatever the next chapter of our story may be, even if we are not yet ready to dance.
Image source: full moon and heart nebula.