8/29/2013—Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this coming Wednesday night. The Jewish New Year festival is not complete until the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on Saturday night, September 14. This information came to me this year as something of a shock. Because I no longer inhabit a Jewish world, I have completely lost the rhythm of a sacred calendar that used to be very meaningful to me.
Since I am studying Christian theology four days a week, I am still in contact with a sacred story of the universe. But I realize how little depth there would be in my life otherwise. One day would pretty much be like another. The rhythm of life would be set, and is set really, by secular events, such as the beginning of the school year, my neighborhood house tour, the local YMCA speakers series, Halloween and so forth.
There is nothing wrong with such a rhythm, but there is something missing. When I lived in a sacred space and time, even though I was really not a believer for much of my life, I was regularly confronted with questions that define a human existence: am I thankful for my existence?, what is the ground of existence?, what is the meaning of existence?, what do I regard as holy and apart from ordinary things?, what does history teach?, to what is my life dedicated?, and most important, have I been faithful to the promise that is my life?
That last question gets asked in secularism in a perverted way—have I worked hard, have I been creative, even have I lost weight? This does not capture faithfulness. The faithfulness question is this: have I retained reverence for the miracle of existence and have I treated everyone and everything around me out of that reverence?
The answer is no, of course. And that finally is the deeper meaning of a sacred calendar. That calendar offers the promise of renewal. That is what repentance during the Days of Awe—-the name of the Jewish Near Year festival-—means. That is what a secular life lacks.
I am fortunate. I still can remember what living within a religious tradition means. My children may still remember, to a lesser extent. Their children probably will not, or if they do, the children of their children, my great grandchildren, and following generations mostly will not.
What will happen then? To them and ultimately to humankind? A deeper secular life is needed. I believe that will happen. But only after the need for this is embraced. That is the task of Hallowed Secularism.