Time as a Healer: The Jewish Calendar as a Spiritual Path

“Time heals all wounds” is a misleading phrase.  It implies that when we are faced with pain, all we must do is wait and things will get better. These deceptive words soothe us with the false hope that time alone can provide the balm to erase the vestiges of life’s blows and relieve our painful memories.  They support our yearning to avoid a direct confrontation with the challenges of our personal history. They delude us into thinking that perhaps, if we hold our breath, things will be better. This contributes to a culture of denial.

Rabbi Ann Brener, LCSW
Rabbi Ann Brener, LCSW

But living things seldom heal in a vacuum.  Growth and transformation, rely on our ability to weather the passage of time as we learn to utilize the varying nutrients and energies that become available as the seasons change.  In this way we distill from time the healing that is embedded within it. We cease to be passive victims dependent on time’s grace and take an active role in learning to use time as a healer. We mark time, by the gifts received rather than by the losses endured.

The Jewish Calendar provides a road map for spiritual development and discovery. It provides monthly guideposts for the evolution of our feelings, insights and spiritual connections through their reflection in the changing organic world and in each month’s holy days of joy and contemplation. Each month gives us access to a unique face of growth and healing and presents tools for using time to align ourselves with  the Divine.  For those of us who number our days with more reverence, as the numbers grow larger and time passes more quickly, each month’s embedded teaching, provides a gateway into the heart of wisdom we cultivate in the harvest season of our lives.

Over the course of the next year, we will go through the months together with the goal of extracting insights to facilitate our continuing growth. We will explore spiritual practices that help us make the most of each month’s distinctive lessons.

It is appropriate to start this journey with Kislev, the month that contains the year’s longest nights and shortest days. We begin in darkness, like all of creation. With less brightness from above, we contemplate the essence that preceeded God’s command, “Let there be Light” when the Divine Mystery and darkness was all there was.

Twentieth and Twenty-first century humans don’t spend enough time in the dark. Because of the electric light, we have lost our organic connection to the flow of sunshine and shadow that shape time and which might teach us to be more accepting of life’s natural ebb and flow. We see all not bathed in brightness as aberration or failure. We live a life of denial, avoiding the more subtle wisdom of that which might be hidden or shaded. Our cultural pursuit of light can blind us to the fertility of mysterious, hidden spaces. This is especially true in the month of Kislev when there is a dissonance between our instincts and our imperatives. The organic world calls us to slow down and go inside- both physically and spiritually. but the social world is calling for more, more, more…more parties, more consumption, more activity, as we push ourselves to keep up with a social schedule that belies our deepest nature.

We are always looking for something brighter. When people pray for healing, they often pray for the light. Spiritual seekers aim for “enlightenment.” But what is often needed is what theologian Matthew Fox calls “endarkening,” for it is in the mystery of darkness that growth, change and creativity are rooted. Stem cells become organs in the dark cells of our bodies. Seeds germinate deep in the ground. Healing begins in dark mystery seemingly impenetrable to beams of brightness.

Chanukah, which begins in Kislev, comes in this dark time. Its message that we are to light candles below when the lights above are less accessible is an opportunity to explore the miracle of human empowerment. Lingering in the darkness, we meet the fears that our early human ancestors must have faced before they had conquered the enigmas of warmth and light- before they truly understood that the sun would rise each morning. It is also possible to discover in Kislev’s extended nighttime an innate comfort as we tune into the sensations of our bodies and the rising and falling of our breath. Meditating in the darkness, we contemplate a world in which human experience was more closely bound to the tides of day and night- a time with no artificial light or traffic noise distracting from the murmurs of creation. To listen to that wholeness is to hear the Shema uttered by the universe itself. It is to feel the mixture of fear and wonder that is held in the Hebrew word, “Yirah,” which is so often translated as awe. From this place, we strike a match and light the first candle of Chanukah.

Coming out of darkness to light that first candle is a profound act of faith. From our place below, wrapped in nocturnal sensitivity, we mimic the first act of creation. In Kislev we begin our journey of walking in God’s ways.

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