Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and the holiest of Jewish holidays, begins Tuesday evening and lasts for the subsequent 25 hours. To honor the occasion, I share a Jane Kenyon poem that I found on Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s wonderfully named blog The Velveteen Rabbi. (I have shared one of Barenblat’s own poems in the past.) Kenyon’s poem is included in a Yom Kippur sermon.
August Rain, After Haying
Through sere trees and beheaded
grasses the slow rain falls.
Hay fills the barn; only the rake
and one empty wagon are left
in the field. In the ditches
goldenrod bends to the ground.
Even at noon the house is dark.
In my room under the eaves
I hear the steady benevolence
of water washing dust
raised by the haying
from porch and car and garden
chair. We are shorn
and purified, as if tonsured.
The grass resolves to grow again,
receiving the rain to that end,
but my disordered soul thirsts
after something it cannot name.
I can do no better than follow the lead of Barenblat’s sermon. What do our souls yearn for, she asks. Can we follow the resolve of the grass, accept the rain, and grow again? “Is there something you cannot name which pulls you forward, which leaves you wondering, for which you cannot help but hope?”
Rabbi Barenblat continues on:
Kenyon named her soul as “disordered.” I suspect that each of us has a disordered soul. Our spiritual lives are like kitchen tables which become piled with unopened mail. After a while we don’t even want to face the sliding stack of envelopes: there are probably bills in there, requests for things we don’t want to give. It becomes easier to just look the other way. But not today. Today is the day to sit down at that table, take a deep breath, and take inventory of what’s there. Today we put our souls in order at last.
Kenyon’s poem is set at the end of the summer, on the cusp of the transition to fall. The trees are sere; the barn is full. The harvest has been brought in, and though the grasses intend to grow, they are headed for their fallow time, their sleeping-time. In just a few days, at Sukkot, we will celebrate our harvest: and for those of us who no longer farm, who most likely don’t even make hay, the harvest must be metaphorical. What emotional and spiritual riches can we gather to salt away for the winter which is coming? What might we be able to harvest today, on Yom Kippur, from our time together?
“We are shorn / and purified,” Kenyon writes: the grass is shorn and somehow we come away feeling that our excess too has been trimmed away, that the falling rain has made us pure. What is shorn away from us on this day of atonement? What would it take for us to feel pure?
In her sermon Barenblat also has profound observations on Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” and Stanley Kunitz’s “The Layers.” Seriously consider checking it out.
A note on the artist: Malka Partouche’s work can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/MalkasArts.