Kate Braestrup on marriage, God, and love
A psalm for those who are in freefall

Seeking endurance: week four of the Omer

Week four of the Omer is the week of Netzach, endurance. Maybe it's no coincidence that this week comes in the middle of the seven-week journey. If this spiritual trek were a sprint, we'd be finished by now. But moving mindfully from freedom to covenant, from Pesach to Shavuot, requires endurance.

Image by Frank Hurley, member of the Endurance expedition.

As an Antarctica buff, when I hear the word "endurance" I can't help thinking of the Endurance, Ernest Shackleton's ship from the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The Endurance was caught in pack ice en route to the continent and was slowly crushed. Her crew spent months camped on ice floes after the ship went down; then took to their lifeboats and found their way to rocky and inhospitable Elephant Island. Shackleton and five others then traveled 800 miles, in an open boat, through the worst seas in the world, to reach South Georgia -- where they had to climb a mountain range in order to reach the island's inhabitants on the far side. The whalers there helped Shackleton return to Elephant Island and rescue the remainder of his crew. Despite unthinkable hardship and against incredible odds, everyone survived.

Netzach doesn't take such a dramatic form in most of our personal narratives, but it's a quality each of us must tap in order for our ambitions, our hopes, and our work to endure.

Netzach is also sometimes translated as victory, sometimes as eternity, sometimes as fortitude. The power to overcome obstacles -- especially obstacles which stand in the way of one's desire to bestow goodness on the world -- is netzach. Netzach is the long slog of the marathon; it is persistence and focus.

This is the week to ask ourselves: when I think of the work of my hands and heart, what do I hope will endure? What endures in me? Do I have the endurance to take a task from fruition to completion?

This is the week to ask ourselves: how can I overcome the obstacles I perceive in my path? (Is there a way around them? If I reframe the path, do the obstacles disappear -- or do I need to just climb over them and keep going?) Am I persistent enough when it comes to the things which matter?

And -- the shadow side of netzach -- where am I too obstinate, too willing to sacrifice things which matter on the altar of my persistence? Where might endurance turn to stubornness in a way which doesn't serve me and doesn't serve God?