Kol Nidre

orange black and white butterfly on green leaf plant

In the spirit of a deep cleanse…I have learned to love this mournful evening, in these times of awe and wonder. It is such a rare place where you can bring the truckload of sorrow and remorse you’ve been carrying around, lay it down, and have it witnessed and blessed in community. And, hopefully, to collectively turn back to Life.

I am grateful to have had the time to rest and reflect this past shmita year. When you slow down, things come up. I’m just beginning to realize the toll these past years have taken. I’ve been confronted with some of my own weaknesses, failures, and habitual ways. I can see more clearly the unyielding cruelty, violence, and sickness of modern culture. I’m learning to hold myself and others more gently in kindness and compassion.  

I have come face-to-face with the rawness of the heart and the extent of the damage we have done. I hear the words, sixth mass extinction. I go numb. I cannot begin to take it in and experience the weight of it.

How do I/we ask the children of Uvalde for forgiveness and say it will not happen again? How do I/we make amends to the children of Afghanistan when they have no food?   

Last year was the year when I got clear that we, in wealthy countries, cannot  be bothered to even soften the climate calamity bearing down on the children.

I can barely stand to mention Line 5. You can’t make this stuff up. The U.S. military is understood to be the greatest polluter on the planet and now we have the Army Corps doing an Environmental Impact Study on the proposed oil tunnel, new fossil fuel infrastructure which the governor’s administration approved last year in an undeclared climate emergency. Two more permits are needed.

Meanwhile a Detroit-based business publication reported that the Army and the Michigan National Guard “are opening their training centers and military bases in the state to private industry, in a bid to advance new technologies on the battlefield and within the consumer marketplace.” What a relief to know that war is now simply an economic lever and business opportunity. No longer about bleeding bodies, severed limbs, cracking bones, fear, shock, dread, trauma. Camp Grayling, already the largest Nation Guard training facility in the country, may soon be doubling in size. Violence pervades every aspect of our lives.

I wonder whether the words I speak are too depressing, even inappropriate. To speak them feels like too much. And yet coming face-to-face with all this, I feel both free and ferocious, clear that my only allegiance now is to Life and to the next generations.    

These are the times of awe and wonder. Friends set up monarch nurseries where they shelter the rest of sleepy caterpillars. They show me photos of stained glass wings pressing against their cocoons. This tenderness and reverence is a quickening.     

A family from another place is being welcomed and cared for by this community and others in Ann Arbor. It is what hospitality and generosity look like.  Meanwhile, in El Paso, there are 500 – 1,000 people passing through the shelters daily. There are not enough volunteers to keep up with it all, so many people with their temporary papers are dropped off at bus stations and airports.   

I’m told we must be hopeful. I wonder what is this hope people speak of and hold with such a tight fist. There is a child running towards a busy street. You drop everything and scoop this kid back to safety. The most primal instinct to protect life just isn’t kicking in.

I wonder if it wouldn’t be more appropriate to take a break from hope to be able to see more clearly and feel more deeply. What is this hope anyway? Is it optimism, wanting to believe that everything is somehow going to be okay for us, and we can carry on as we have?  

Maybe hope is something grittier and more demanding, more luminous, and inexplicable. How could it be that people could walk to their deaths in Nazi Germany, praising Life? 

Framing these times in terms of a great transition, the end of an epoque of history, liminal times, and glimmers of a world that is possible is something I find useful.

I don’t know how this human project is going to come out. We’re already seeing increasing disruptions to daily life. Last I knew, a third of Pakistan was under water. I ruminate regularly on metaphors of transformation: the wandering of a people in the desert, the alchemy of turning base metal into gold, midwifery, and especially the metamorphosis of the butterfly. 

Lately, it feels like a time when surrender is called for. I don’t mean giving up. I mean sensing that powerful energies are adrift in the world and over which we have no control. I mean we may be entering a liquid state like the caterpillar whose immune system is overwhelmed by the imaginal cells that carry the blueprint for what is to come. It must literally die, its body turning to soup, in order for the beautiful winged one to emerge.     

In the meantime, let us kneel down together in humility, gratitude, and regret before the things we depend on for life – and turn back to tending, nurturing and watering this garden as if everything we love is at stake.  

–Deb Hansen