Prepare for the Unexpected

Elul Day 8

Today was Mikvah Day with my almost-married friend, and it was all that she'd hoped for and more. We had spent some time talking about what she wanted, and how to prepare for the experience, not only practical preparation but emotional and spiritual preparation as well. 

Many religious and cultural communities also have rituals of spiritual bathing and immersion, including Muslims, Native Americans, and others. (For more information, check out the book Spiritual Bathing: Healing Rituals and Traditions from Around the World)

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In crafting the ritual for her, I included some of the traditional blessings as well as a generous amount of time and silence woven throughout for anything she might feel moved to say or do in the moment.

Here is how we began:

Before immersion, some quiet time to focus your kavannah (intention).

What you want to let go of? How to be fully present now? Is there
anyone you want to bring with you into this room right now in spirit?

Breathe in and into the quiet that is in this holy place. Breathe the
Divine Presence that is here with us, that is inside of you.

Remember that this is a marriage of souls, of your soul with your partner’s
soul. You bring all of who you have been, are and will be, to this marriage, and underneath it all, your soul is pure. When you immerse in the water,
there is a Oneness with body and soul. 

Once she actually completed the first of three total immersions (i.e. dunking in the water and being completely surrounded in water without touching any of the surfaces), she was already visibly affected by the experience; I could see it in her face, her eyes, how she steadied herself in the water. 

After she immersed three times, I invited her to speak from her heart, and she briefly said something like, "I had no idea I would feel this kind of transformation at such a deep level. Who knew? I thought I was just going to the mikvah before my wedding!" 

Sometimes I think I know what something is going to be like, but I end up being completely surprised by what happens. This is particularly true if I'm doing something I've done before, and I already have a preconceived assumption of what will happen. I'm going to the gym, or meeting a new client for the first time, or visiting an old friend; I have conscious and unconscious expectations about how it will be. 

Occasionally there is the unexpected alchemy effect, a unique, compelling chemistry that happens in the encounter. Sometimes people call it deja vu, or coincidence, or tragedy. Regardless of what you call it, there is an unmistakeable feeling of transformation, just as my friend described in the mikvah.

Is it possible to prepare for the unexpected? It depends on how you define preparation. I like to be prepared for things, (early at the airport, keep an extra umbrella at the office) but I have also had a number of graced experiences that were completely unexpected, places I've been or people I've met who have profoundly impacted my life in ways I could not have possibly planned for or predicted. 

One of the local synagogues here has just published a new prayerbook for Shabbat that includes newly created prayers and blessings as well as traditional ones. One of the new blessings generated a buzz of media controversy:


In the dark, in a strange place, our father Jacob encountered a stranger with

whom he grappled all night. He never knew the stranger’s name, yet their

encounter was a blessing, which turned Jacob into Israel and made him realize,

I have seen God face-to-face.

Genesis 32:31

May this intimate time with another person be an encounter with angels that

allows us to both touch and see the Divine, in the name of the God of Israel,

Who created passion and wove it throughout creation, turning strange places

into holy ground and strangers into a source of blessing.

This blessing was harshly criticized by some for sanctioning casual sex, but when I read it, I see it as much more multifaceted. Unexpected intimacy might be about sexuality, but it might also be about the infinite and magical possibilities for divine connection, "turning strange places into holy ground and strangers into a source of blessing." 

Tonight is the beginning of this week's Shabbat, and today is the eighth day of Elul. As the sun sets, I want to breathe in and into the quiet that is in this holy place. Breathe the Divine Presence that is here with us, that is inside of you. 

May I open my heart to the unexpected in every moment.