Re-Parented by Chana-Toni Whitmont
Our tradition suggests Psalm 27 as a daily reading throughout the month of Elul as part of teshuvah practice, which begs the question: Why Psalm 27?
I have tried to make friends with this particular psalm over a number of years, but until recently, I could never get past its confronting language - words such as devour, assail, enemy, dread, evil, foe, army. I have always been more comfortable with the version of teshuvah which is about about compassion and self compassion, about meeting what arises with loving curiosity. I am grateful to my chevruta partner Tamara who opened a door for me explaining that we can enlist that continual flow of Divine light and love which continually pours onto us to help us overpower any enemies that seek to devour and assail us, even when those enemies are the doubts and judgements about ourselves that we harbour in our own hearts. In fact, it is precisely because we are held in this light of compassion, that we can go about our teshuvah with the rigour of a military campaign, that we can follow the steps to lead us to what the Rambam calls teshuvah gemurah תְּשׁוּבָה גְּמוּרָה
Rabbi Shefa Gold devoted one of her extraordinary zoom chant shiurs to Psalm 27 during Elul last year (5780/2020). She framed it with the teaching that we can meet the external perils that combine to act as an unwanted force coming toward us with an equal or stronger force which we ourselves can radiate out. In other words, we can commit to a strategy to find inner radiance, to shine it out rather than be overtaken by the shadow of negativity. The psalm invites us to call up what we need in order to do our inner work. It certainly doesn’t ignore the dangers that are out there. Instead, it provides us sanctuary so that we can find within everything we need to face the challenges in the world. Elul, particularly in this chaotic time of pandemic, is the ideal time to turn to those inner resources, to find our resolve to not be the victim of circumstance but rather to find the Presence within, the Presence that is just waiting for us to to (re)turn.
The first step in Rabbi Gold’s four-stage process is called Preparation for Healing. She re-casts the first verse of the psalm to the second person, so that the chanter is directly addressing God (as the Mystery within), counter-balancing the "You" of God with the endless “me, me, me” of the ego. Opening to “You” is the first step in ending the separation that is “me”. And in stepping back from separation, there is the possibility of experiencing that “godding” through me as strength, light, life and presence.
The next step is to acknowledge our grief, to meet it and find within it, expanded awareness. Verses 9 & 10 acknowledges our abandonment - by “our parents” ie all the ideals and aspects of life that we previously thought we could count on. Seeing clearly (especially in the light of this current global crisis), so much of our former selves has already been stripped away. Things that we erroneously thought were holding us are proving to be hollow, AND, at the same time, we can lean into the support of a much greater holding. We can be gathered in to a Divine embrace, and from that place, we can receive the guidance to do what needs to be done in the world. Despite the fact that we have no control over our external environment, we can move through loss, to find ourselves being filled with strength and inspiration enough to step forward through Elul and on toward Rosh Hashana with the inner empowerment we need to respond from a new place.
Step three is a plea not to remain hidden from God. Here we are called to unmask ourselves, to dare to reveal our true face, our radiance, the fullness of our presence, the truth of who we are. For our true face is precisely what the world needs. Verse 9 speaks to our absolutely essential uniqueness, to the face we had before we were born as it were. And how can we even expect to see “the face of God” when we are keeping our own face hidden?
And finally, we come to the exhortation to each other to strength and hope (verse 14). When we remind each other of all the things that we would otherwise tend to forget, we embed in each other the strength and courage to grow from the inside out, to seek out that direct connection to Source (Interestingly, that first word, קַוֵּה, kavay has shoresh/root in kav - the word that is used to describe straight line of light that was first threaded in to create the cosmos).
Inspired by Rabbi Gold’s offerings on verses 10 -11 of Psalm 27, I created a collage last week which I call Re-parented. To create it, I drew on Elul teachings gleaned from Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein (Applied Jewish Spirituality) Kabbalah through the Calendar course, before spending some time in chant and meditation. I found several different translations of the psalm, including a zen-inspired one by Norman Fischer in his book Opening to You but the one that spoke to me the most was written by Rabbi Yael Levy so that is the one that I incorporated into the piece. I made the transparency print of the 72 letter name of God from an image I found years ago which unfortunately I am not now able to attribute. I chose strong and robust colours for the papers and inked flourishes because I felt that they matched the call to strength and courage. The flower image, with its muted palette, speaks to me of our own potential to blossom despite the dull conditions which often surround us.
Preparation for Healing
Atah Ozi, Atah Chayai, Atah Ori, Atah L’fanai You are my Strength, You are my Life, You are my Light, Ever before me.
(inspired by Psalm 27)
In the practice of healing we leave the “small-mind” place of fear and separation, and enter into the “big mind” place of infinite possibility, and gratefulness for the blessing that is already flowing. We take the journey from “small-mind” to “big mind” by addressing God as YOU. We must become calm enough and spacious enough to receive God’s presence in response to our invocation. When we are filled with that presence, then we can open to the healing power that flows through us.
Ki avi v’imi azvuni, Va’Adonai ya’asfayni, Horayni Yah darkecha
Though my father and my mother have forsaken me, God will gather me in. Teach me Your Way, Oh God.
This three part round is a three part process of first admitting the ways that your parents may have “failed” you. They may not have been able to give you the exact safety, encouragement, nourishment, guidance, or embrace that you needed. From your grown-up perspective now you can stop blaming them and instead cultivate compassion for their limitations and for yourself. They were really doing the best they could.
The second step is to turn to God, the Great Father/Mother and allow yourself to be embraced, gathered in, and re-parented. Surrender into the arms of that Divine Parent and let yourself be held, seen, known, and sent to your own truth.
And the third step is to open to Guidance, internalizing that Divine Parent as you connect to Wisdom in this very moment on your Life Path.
Al tastayr panecha mimeni Do not hide Your Face from me.
I begin chanting this prayer with insistence and passion because I long to see and know The Face of God in all things, in all people, in all places, in all blessings, in all predicaments. After a while it feels as if God is chanting these words to me, saying, “I have been here all along; it is you who have been hiding. Show your face to Me. “ And then I enter the subtle state that I call “The Holy Confusion.” Whose Face? Mine? God’s? Both? Neither? Or does God look out from my face? Or do I look out from God’s face?
If I chant long enough I may be able to rest in this holy confusion, and bathe in its questions and come to the state of Un-knowing that leads to Wisdom.
Turn your Hope to God
Kavay el Yah, Chazak v’ya’amaytz libecha, Kavay el Yah Turn your hope to God; be strong and be filled with courage; turn your hope to God.
Psalm 27, which is especially dedicated to the Tshuvah work of Elul, ends by offering us this visionary possibility. We can turn to God with all our yearning, all our dreams, all our highest and deepest hope. In doing so we will be strengthened in our work of coming close to God. We can also understand this line to mean that it will take all of our strength and all of our courage in order to turn our hope to God. The practice of this chant is to call up that strength, that courage, and use it to make that turning.
Chana-Toni Whitmont is a collage artist, crystal sound healer, creative, teacher and student whose practice and passions are born from her spiritual connection to her Jewish lineage and the ebbs and flows in the annual calendar cycle. She lives with her husband close to nature on magnificent world heritage Dharug and Gundungurra country (also known as the Blue Mountains of eastern Australia).