This originally appeared as part of the Daily Sip, a website from Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest who raises money for the homeless and lives on a horse farm in New Mexico with his dog Kai. offering daily meditations and reflections
This is my favorite tree on this New Mexican farm on which I live. It has a mystical quality like the one in that movie, Avatar, about the blue-skinned people and the tree of life. I weep every time I see it because I am so glad that there exists a movie in which Americans are not the all-perfect saviors of the planet.
This tree sits, majestically on the field of high grasses through which Kai-the-dog and I walk most days.
It looks so different in Summer than in Fall. But in Fall it reminds me that things end. Life ends. Seasons end. Callings end. Vacations end. Sabbath rest ends. Friendships end. Marriages end. Life ends.
Buzz-kill right!? But not really.
I quite value transitions and so when my new friend Saul told me about Havdalah, I became curious.
In the Jewish tradition there is a ceremony done about an hour after sunset on the Sabbath day – the day preceding the first day of the work week. Sunset is defined as that moment when the first three stars are visible. Four prayers are said. One is over wine and celebrates all that God provides. The second is said over fragrant spices (cloves or cinnamon or bay leaves) and represents the compensation of having lost the delicious freedoms and rest of the Sabbath. The third is a prayer said over fire – often a special double candle lit precisely because the lighting of a candle is not allowed on the Sabbath and so this ushers in the work week – and work. But it also defines difference. There is a liminal space between light and dark, between rest and work, between the bedroom and the study, between one thing and another. And the last prayer is said as an honoring of the separation of different things. When said, a drip of the wine from the first prayer is used to douse the flame in the last prayer.
Saul is my friend and so, of course I have love for him. But I also deeply respect him. He has a real desire to honor the rituals of his Jewish faith and loves to share them, while at the same time being a brilliant scientist and mathematician. (He tried to explain his work to me but I had to smile and pretend I understood until later when he can explain it to me slowly and with smaller words.)
I love rituals but am not crazy about ceremony. Mostly we do ceremony in American culture. But ritual is different from ceremony in that it is willing to go to dark places. Ceremony is celebrating a Veteran’s Day Parade – all happy, all positive, no dark stories. Ritual is honoring the bravery of veterans while also being willing to acknowledge both the light and the darkness of war and of nations at war.
Ritual in church would be honoring the beauty of the Church while also acknowledging the centuries of manipulation and torture it has imposed on the planet. Ritual at home would be to celebrate the love of a friendship while acknowledging the hurt we sometimes visit on those we love by things done and things left undone.
In the end, it is the same day with darkness and light. It is the same week with Sabbath and work. It is the same tree with Winter and Summer. It is the same Church which blesses and harms. It is the same heart which loves and hates. We do well to bless it all and hope, believe, that God will gather the wine, the spices, the fire and the differences into the fullness of time.