Welcoming immigrants as Sukkot approaches
Two readings before Yom Kippur

Before the ecstasy

This morning it hit me: I still hadn't washed my Yom Kippur dress. The dress in question is flowing and white, made in India, embroidered and top-stitched; I bought it a few years ago for my first Elat Chayyim Yom Kippur. It has since become the dress I wear to honor and celebrate Shabbat anytime I'm blessed to be celebrating with a Renewal community...and it requires, of all things, hand-washing. Which I don't do very often. I unearthed it in our laundry room last Sunday while I was folding all of our clean laundry, and set it aside to wash before this Shabbat rolls around. And here it is Thursday, and where was the dress? Still on the floor of the laundry room.

Of course, that was also the moment when I realized we were out of Woolite. After some scrounging, I came up with half a packet of a fancy detergent intended for washing "delicates," and stoppered our bathroom sink, and immersed the dress in cool suds. When the time came to scrub and rinse the dress, I had a flash of inspiration: instead of kneeling over our bathtub, I'd take the dress outside to the little deck and wring it out over the grass of the lawn, and then drape it to dry in the open air. Soon the sun would edge over the hills and paint that side of the house gold, and my holiday dress would shine in the morning sun. So I took the dress and went outside.

I wish I'd had my camera with me. (Well, my hands were full of sopping dress, so maybe it's just as well I didn't. I've taken similar pictures at other times, but that doesn't quell the impulse to take them again.) The view this morning is breathtaking: the dark green world is starting to be tinged with yellow and red around the edges, and the valleys are filled with mist, gleaming in the early morning light. I couldn't help singing Modah ani l'fanecha -- "I am grateful before You, living and eternal God; You have lovingly returned my soul to me; abundant is your trust!"

Somewhere along the way I've heard a teaching from Reb Zalman about morning prayer, to wit, that the impulse behind shacharit was originally the mere sight of morning -- the light of new day, the glory of creation. When we're really tuned-in, our morning prayers arise naturally out of our over-brimming hearts.

I've been talking with my friend Maria about Jack Kornfeld's After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. [Read an excerpt here.] After any intense spiritual experience, we always have to return to ordinary reality, and the disjunction between the ecstasy and the laundry can be painful. That's one of the great challenges of the "spiritual life" -- what my teachers call "domesticating the peak experience."

I thought about Kornfield's teaching as I sang and arranged the dress in the sun. Yes, laundry comes after the peak experience, and before it, too, but every now and then even the laundry itself can spark awareness and praise.

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