Praising the In-Between

Elul Day 26

We are always in between something. Beginning and ending. Day and Night. Birth and Death. In Judaism, the distinction between this and that has great importance, but so does the in-between. On Passover, we ask why this night is different from all other nights. At the end of Shabbat (the Sabbath) every week, we have the ritual of Havdalah, blessing the transition from Shabbat back to the regular work week, and honoring the distinction between darkness and light, between holiness and the everyday. 

We also have a piece of liturgy called the
Chatzi Kaddish that marks the transition from one section of the prayer service to
another. The Chatzi Kaddish is a prayer of high praise, of Halleluyah to
the One of Many Names. I cherish and applaud a spirituality that lifts up the
inbetween as worthy of praise. 

In our busy lives we are so focused on the finished product, on the destination, on winning, that often we miss out on relishing the time before the ending. I think about other inbetweens: courting, engagement, pregnancy, coming out, gender transition, traveling from one place to another, the moment before you open a beautifully wrapped gift.

Havdalah is a ritual of sensuality: we smell the spices, taste the wine, see the flickering candle, hear the sounds of our voices.


I actually experienced a "meditation of the in-between" when I walked a labyrinth for the first time. It was a beautiful outdoor labryinth, in the middle of a glorious garden. I went out one warm autumn morning, quite early, and I had the garden to myself. I brought only my journal with me and a bottle of water. 

I had no preconceived expectations of what the experience would be like. I had done walking meditation before, but had never walked the labyrinth. I began walking very slowly, very mindfully, focused on my breathing and on the sounds around me–the crunch of gravel and dry leaves under my feet, and the beautiful birdsounds in the garden. I noticed flowers I'd not seen before, and a few garden critters scurrying about.

I lost track of where I was on the path, as my attention was truly focused on the present moment. I felt astonishingly aware of my body as I walked, putting one foot down, then another, my arms swinging gently at my sides. 

I was simply present in the walking itself. I was in between the place I started and the center of the circle, which is not actually the ending. When I finally reached the outermost ring of the circle, and realized I was at the end, I burst into tears. Not tears of sadness, but tears of amazement, and tears of gratitude that I had not rushed my way through to the end. 

I sat on the bench under the oak tree for at least a half hour afterward, to savor the experience. I held my journal but didn't write because I didn't want to be distracted. I had no particular time constraints; I stayed there until I felt it was time to go, to leave this mystical experience behind and return to the rest of my ordinary day. 

The last prayer of Havdalah closes as follows:

Baruch Atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech Ha-olam hamavdil beyn kodesh l'chol.

Blessed are you, The Oneness, who separates the holy from the ordinary.