Counting the Omer in Funkytown

Today is the thirty-seventh day of the Omer, which according to Jewish mystical symbolism corresponds to the Divine attribute of Gevurah (“Strength”) within Yesod (“Foundation.”)

Looking for spiritually alternative ways to count the Omer? Click above to watch/listen to the great John Zorn Ensemble perform “Gevruah,” then below for Zorn’s “Yesod,” as performed by the Crakow Klezmer Band.

As you listen, read this rendering of Psalm 24 by Stephen Mitchell:

The earth belongs to the Lord
     and everything on it is his.
For he founded it in empty space
     and breathed his own life-breath into it,
filling it with manifold creatures,
     each one precious in his sight.

Who is fit to hold power
     and worthy to act in God’s place?
Those with a passion for the truth,
     who are horrified by injustice,
who act with mercy to the poor
     and take up the cause of the helpless,
who have let go of selfish concerns
    and see whole earth as sacred,
refusing to exploit her creatures
     or to foul her waters and her lands.
Their strength is in their compassion;
     God’s light shines through their hearts.
Their children’s children will bless them,
    and the work of their hands will endure.

And/or this excerpt from James Dickey’s poem, “The Strength of the Fields:”

Dear Lord of all the fields
                                             what am I going to do?
                                      Street-lights, blue-force and frail
As the homes of men, tell me how to do it
    To withdraw    how to penetrate and find the source
      Of the power you always had
                                            light as a moth, and rising
       With the level and moonlit expansion
    Of the fields around, and the sleep of hoping men.
       You?    I?    What difference is there?    We can all be saved
       By a secret blooming. Now as I walk
The night    and you walk with me    we know simplicity
  Is close to the source that sleeping men
       Search for in their home-deep beds.
      We know that the sun is away    we know that the sun can be conquered
   By moths, in blue home-town air.
          The stars splinter, pointed and wild. The dead lie under
The pastures.    They look on and help.    Tell me, freight-train,
                            When there is no one else
   To hear. Tell me in a voice the sea
         Would have, if it had not a better one: as it lifts,
          Hundreds of miles away, its fumbling, deep-structured roar
               Like the profound, unstoppable craving
            Of nations for their wish.
                                                      Hunger, time and the moon:
         The moon lying on the brain
                                                    as on the excited sea    as on
          The strength of fields. Lord, let me shake
         With purpose.    Wild hope can always spring
         From tended strength.    Everything is in that.
            That and nothing but kindness.    More kindness, dear Lord
Of the renewing green.    That is where it all has to start:
         With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less
             Than save every sleeping one
             And night-walking one
         Of us.
                  My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.

Countdown to Sinai: An Omer Calendar Sampler

Calendar for counting the Omer, Amsterdam, Netherlands ca. 1794

I recently received a lovely new Omer calendar, “A Journey Through the Wilderness,” in the mail from my dear friend Rabbi Yael Levy of Reconstructionist congregation Mishkan Shalom. I’ve practiced the ritual of Counting the Omer off and on over the years; her immensely creative new effort has inspired me to take it on again with renewed intention this year.

I’ll let Rabbi Yael’s own words describe this unique spiritual discipline:

The counting of the Omer is the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot, when it is the practice to stand every night and, in the midst of opening and closing prayers, count each day.

This counting began as an agricultural ritual. Our ancestors would pray for an abundant spring harvest by waving a sheaf, an Omer, of barley toward the night sky. Over time, this agricultural rite was replaced by liturgy and the counting became the way to mark the Israelites’ journey from bondage in Egypt to revelation at Mt. Sinai.

For the Jewish mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Counting of the Omer became a time of spiritual exploration and cleansing, a way for us to prepare our souls to receive the divine guidance that comes to us each year on Shavuot.

Counting the Omer is a 49-day mindfulness practice aimed at helping us pay attention to the movement of our lives, to notice the subtle shifts, the big changes, the yearnings, the strivings, the disappointments, the hopes and the fears. It is an opportunity for deep introspection, a call to notice our inclinations, our default responses, our reactions to shifting emotions and circumstances…

The mystical tradition teaches that these 49 days between Passover and Shavuot are divided into seven-week periods, with each week containing a specific spiritual quality. The qualities are by guided by seven of the ten sefirot, the Divine emanations through which, the mystics believed, God reveals Godself in the world.

Today, by the way, is the fifth day of the Omer, which corresponds to the daily sefirah of Hod within the weekly sefirah of Chesed. Rabbi Yael renders this formula “Presence Within Love.”  As she instructs us, this is the day in which we contemplate upon:

Being where we are rather than where we think we should be or where we wish we could be.

Cultivating the capacity to be patient with ourselves and others, knowing that we are all doing the best we can in each moment.

If you are interested in delving deeper into this practice, here are some other Omer resources you might check out:

– Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s  Omer Journal, which includes the eclectic wisdom of spiritual teachers such as The Ba’al Shem Tov, Franz Kafka, Rilke and Lao Tzu;

– Rabbi Jill Hammer’s “Omer Calendar of Biblical Women,” which thematically connects one Biblical woman to each day of the Omer;

A calendar created by Pauline Frankenberg of the University of Manchester Centre for Jewish Studies, who painted illustrations depicting specific plants mentioned in the Bible for each day of the Omer;

– And finally, a must-have for every Omer enthusiast:  the now-legendary Simpsons Omer counter known as “The Homer Calendar.”

Safe travels to Sinai…