Shine on, harvest moon

Seeking the Beloved

This morning in meditation we used the name of the current Hebrew month, Elul, as our focus. The Hebrew letters of the word אלִול can be read as an acronym for the phrase Ani l'dodi v'dodi li, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." (That's from the Song of Songs.) The Beloved, the rabbis teach, is one way of understanding God; the acronym reminds us that Elul is a time to keep God and love foremost in our minds. Today as we sat in the sanctuary and focused on our breath, we were encouraged to think of each inbreath as ani l'dodi and each outbreath as v'dodi li -- each breath a conversation with the Beloved, an assertion of that relationship which underlies everything we do.

As we approach the Days of Awe, it's easy to get hung up on the stern qualities of God that some parts of the liturgy celebrate. (Like the Unetanah Tokef prayer, which shows God sitting in judgement, establishing who will live and who will die in the coming year.) I imagine I'm not the only one who's occasionally distanced by the infinitely high and transcendent sense of the divine that some of those prayers describe, and by the emphasis on judgement, power, and might. But Jewish tradition has always stressed the importance of balance, especially between and among God's qualities or attributes -- like the pair of chesed (lovingkindness) and gevurah (discipline and strength), which are considered to be a matched set.

The holidays we're moving toward may have a lot of gevurah in them, but that discipline is balanced -- ideally, anyway -- by the previous month's focus on lovingkindness. In Elul's focus on God-as-Beloved I see deep chesed, and that tells me something important about the process of teshuvah (re/turning to God) in which we're meant to engage at this time of year. In order to align ourselves with our Source, to do the spiritual housecleaning we each need to do, we're supposed to focus on love.

Some teach that during Elul we should focus on external teshuvah (repairing our relationships with others) and during the Days of Awe, the first ten days of Tishri that fall between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we should focus on internal teshuvah (repairing our relationship with God). What might we learn from combining these two notions, that Elul is for focusing on love of God and that Elul is for repairing our relationships with others? Maybe that the best foundation for repairing our relationships is remembering that we are each created b'tselem Elohim, in the image of God. I enact my love of God by loving you, and in healing what's broken in my relationships I draw nearer to the ultimate Beloved.

Traditionally this is a month for reading Psalm 27; this year I may augment the psalm with some selections from Hafiz. There's nothing like sacred love poetry to remind me that there's more to the All than distant judgement or kingship. Especially this month, God is as near as my own heart.

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