Sunday, September 23, 2012

Days of Awe: Each Our Own Life, Our Own Death

On Yom Kippur we pray the prayer U’Netaneh Tokef, attributed to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany, as related to Rabbi Klonimus ben Meshullam. Here is the most famous excerpt from that prayer:
On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. (Machzor)
Meditating on this prayer alone may help us review our lives, our actions, our hearts, our frailties, our vulnerabilities in the perspective of coming into the Presence, the One Without beginning and Without End.
And here is a companion prayer from Rilke, more interior perhaps, but also arresting, and in a modern voice that may also move us toward the perspective we need.
God, give us each our own death,
The dying that proceeds
from each of our lives:

The way we loved,
the meanings we made,
our need.
(Rilke's Book of Hours, Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, p. 131)

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