Rosh Hashanah 5777 (2016)

Paying Homage

My father loved bridges, so on our family vacations we traveled to see every kind of bridge &mdash Beam bridges, Truss Bridges, Cantilever Bridges, Arch Bridges, Tied Arch Bridges, Suspension Bridges, Cable-stayed bridges, Double-decked Bridges, Covered Bridges. Each one filled him with awe and reverence. When my father died, I built him a bridge that spanned a narrow arroyo on my land in New Mexico. The bridge has a plaque that says “The Leon J. Katz Memorial Bridge,” and a bench that leans against the tallest Ponderosa Pine. I sit on that bench and lean back into the fragrance of butterscotch sap, thinking of my Dad and his quiet reverence for bridges. It wasn’t enough to love bridges, learn about them and admire them from afar.

From my Dad I learned that you must go and pay homage to what you love.

The dictionary tells me two definitions of that word homage. Originally to “pay homage,” was to engage in a “feudal ceremony in which a person pledges loyalty to a lord and becomes a vassal.” In the ceremony, you would put both your hands between the hands of the lord, giving yourself to the obligations of vassalage, while receiving the gifts of safety and sustenance.

The other definition is anything that “shows respect or attests to the worth and influence of another.”

I pay homage in order to acknowledge the gifts I have been given. This act of tribute actually allows me to integrate those gifts more fully, and weave them into the fabric of my being. Saying thank you for “the worth and influence of another,” completes a circle in a way that makes me feel more whole.

When I was 16, I became a vegetarian at a time when this was considered very weird. All my mother’s friends told her that I was going to die, for lack of protein. I wandered for a few years trying figure out a diet that was healthy, delicious and morally conscious. Then I discovered the Moosewood Vegetarian Cookbooks, and I was suddenly connected to an instant community who were living out the best of my Hippy dreams, merging compassionate politics, whimsical aesthetics, and creative cooking. I followed every recipe and then learned to improvise, anchored in the principles that The Moosewood collective espoused at its restaurant in Ithaca, NY.

So when I had the opportunity of finally stepping inside the hallowed halls of the Moosewood restaurant, it felt like there should be a feudal ceremony. I would have liked to have heard trumpets. I wanted to place my hands between the gloves of Lord Moosewood, and bow down in obeisance.

Everyone there was too busy to notice that I was having a religious experience, paying homage to the Mecca, to the Jerusalem, of a food movement that had educated and nourished me. Even though no one noticed, it was important for me to go there, eat lunch, say thank you, and honor the worth and influence that had helped to shape my life.

Sometimes we must journey great distances of space to honor a place that has influenced us. And sometimes we need to travel just as far through time.

My time-travel journey was inspired by an invitation to teach in Columbus, Ohio. I jumped at the opportunity. My parents met and courted each other at Ohio State, in Columbus. I wanted to go there and honor their young love. I had heard the story of how my father got sick and missed their first date, but brought a dozen yellow roses the next time and won my mother’s heart. Every year there were yellow roses on our family’s kitchen table.

My mother and father are both long dead, and my memories of them are marred by illnesses, both mental and physical. I wanted to meet them before they were encumbered by the complications of raising 4 eccentric children, before struggles set in and set up patterns of stress and conflict. Somehow I knew that if I went to the place where they had met, I would be given a glimpse of that “before.”

When I arrived at the campus, I asked around to find what was the same as it was back in the 40’s. I learned that the only place that definitely hadn’t changed was The Oval, a wide open green, crisscrossed by dozens of pathways.

So I stood in the very center of that Oval and opened my heart. I came to stillness at the center of all the bustle. I rooted myself there and found a sense of deep silence within me. Then I opened the eyes of my heart and saw the Oval in about 1943, students all around me, rushing to class, dressed in the fashions of the day, yelling to each other, joking, jostling, filled with youthful enthusiasm. I watched for a while till I spotted my parents. They looked so very young, so hopeful. They were laughing as they swept by me like a rush of Spring wind. It just took my breath away to see them so beautiful, so carefree.

I stood there in the Oval to pay homage to their love, their optimism, their adventure which would call me in and form the doorway for my miraculous life.

Now as we come together on Rosh Hashanah, we are also paying homage, pledging our loyalty to the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, The Queen of Heaven, the sovereign principles that rule our hearts and minds.

In Seasons of our Joy, Rabbi Arthur Waskow reminds us of the ancient roots of this Holiday:

… the successful conclusion of the Babylonian harvest was an occasion for pledging renewed obedience to the Babylonian throne. Learning of this custom of the Babylonians either before the exile or during it, the Jews both borrowed and transformed this coronation — lifted it on high to assert that only God is the True King, and that every year we recognize and celebrate God’s power.

On Rosh Hashanah, we hear the shofar, as a call to obeisance. We give ourselves to the obligations of vassalage, while receiving the gifts of safety and sustenance. In modern terms, we give ourselves to the obligations of embodying the highest possibilities of our Divine inheritance— kindness, compassion, patience and connection to all of Creation. We receive the miraculous gift of existence itself.

From my Dad I learned that you must go and pay homage to what you love.

Each year on Rosh Hashanah, we pray from the strength and inspiration that our love gives us. And we connect to the source of that love.

Over the centuries, Rosh Hashanah evolved from a day of rest, sacrifice and celebration to a time of deep reflection and renewal. We reflect on many dimensions of our lives, remembering what we love, realigning ourselves with our highest ideals, reprioritizing our time and attention, clearing away some of the clutter that has obscured our essential truth and goodness.

And we might take a journey through space or time or imagination, to pay homage, to thank, to acknowledge the gifts, the wisdom, the love that has nourished and blessed us and brought us together to this sacred moment of celebration.