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Wholeness comes when we stop running, know who we really are, Rabbi David A. Ingber says

“As children, my twin brother, Adam, and I were terrified of going to sleep. I mean, who wants to go to bed? So our mother would read us Ira Sleeps Over,” said Rabbi David A. Ingber at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4 worship service in the Amphitheater. 

His sermon title was “Evening, the Hour of Change.” The reading for the day was “Prayer for Evening,” from the Romemu Siddur, translated by Rabbi Jill Hammer: 

“Blessed be You, Weaver of Being, guide of the universe, / who brings the evening / who in wisdom opens gates / and with discernment changes times and turns the seasons / and orders the stars / as is the divine desire. / Cycler of day and night, rolling light away before darkness and darkness away before light. / Passing away the day and bringing in the night, dividing darkness and light. / The One who Holds Many are You. / You who live and exist in all things, always guide us on our journey. / Blessed be You, Summoner of Evening.”

In the book, Ira had a secret — he had a friend Foo Foo, a teddy bear who only came out at night. He and his next door neighbor Reggie decided to have a sleepover, and Ira wanted to take Foo Foo. 

He was afraid to bring Foo Foo because he was afraid Reggie might laugh. His mother and father tell Ira, “He won’t laugh.” His sister said, “He will laugh.”

Ira went to Reggie’s house for the sleepover and the boys had a great time. When Reggie’s father said it was time for bed, Reggie started to tell a scary story. Ira told Reggie that he would be right back.

The two houses were connected by a shared porch. Ira walked across the porch, into the house and up the stairs and got Foo Foo. On the way out, his parents said, “He won’t laugh.” His sister said, “He will laugh.”

Back in Reggie’s room, Ira noticed something sitting in Reggie’s drawer. 

“What is that?” Ira asked. 

“That’s Tah Tah,” Reggie said.

When Ira returned home the next morning, he said to his sister, “He didn’t laugh.”

“Ira was afraid to admit he needed a friend. When evening falls, what secrets come out? What keeps us from connecting?” Ingber asked. “In the dark, we find out we are not the only one who needs comfort.”

Light bulbs and night illumination are recent innovations in humans’ evolutionary journey. The pervasive darkness of millenia left a deep imprint on human psyches — the fear of unseen threats. 

The Aramaic word for creepy, crawly things and for night have the same root word. 

“Night is a creepy, crawly time, and children have an instinctive fear of it. My twin brother and I would hold onto each other in the night,” Ingber said. “The Divine One summons evening, the dark.”

In Judaism, the three daily prayer periods are dedicated to Abraham in the morning, Isaac in the afternoon and Jacob in the evening. 

“Why was night given to Jacob? Because he knew the power of the night. Life was one long night for him,” Ingber said. 

The story of Jacob and Esau begins in the book of Genesis, at the end of Chapter 25. 

“Esau was ruby red and beloved of his father; Jacob was beloved by his mother,” Ingber said. 

When they were born, Jacob had hold of Esau’s heel, and Jacob’s heels were always ready to run.

Jacob tricked his brother out of his inheritance, and then tricked his father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing. 

“Jacob wanted the blessing so badly, he deceived the one he loves, and says he is who he is not,” Ingber said. 

Jacob was running for many years before he came to terms with who he was. He had intended to marry Rachel, but married her sister Leah, in the dark, tricked by his father-in-law Laban. When he asked Laban why he had tricked him, because he truly loved Rachel, Laban replied: “How can a trickster come to a trickster now and say ‘How could you trick me?’ ”

Running away from Laban, Jacob was not yet ready to face himself. Finally, Jacob was ready to come to terms with who he was.

At Peniel, Jacob lay down after sending his family across the river Jabbok. He had sent out servants to search for Esau with presents of sheep and goats. The servants reported back that Esau had 400 men with him and they were armed.

“The rabbis said that God summoned the sun to set on Jacob (at Peniel),” Ingber said. “God had a plan for Jacob, and it was time to meet the dream, to come to terms with who he was, confront the shadow working in his life.”

He continued, “Jacob had to integrate all he had run from. This was his dark night of the soul. After 21 years, he was coming home.”

The things we have not worked through affect our children, he told the congregation. 

“As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, ‘Wherever you go, there you are,’ ” Ingber said.

A man had appeared at the river Jabbok when Jacob was there alone. He had angelic qualities. When Jacob wrestled with the angel/man at the Jabbok, they both realized that neither would win.

“The angel/man asked Jacob, ‘What is your name?’ What was frightful for Jacob was that he named his true self, Jacob. He was no longer a trickster. He decided to be who he really was and became new,” Ingber said.

He told the congregation, “We are not whole until we stop running away and become who we really are. ‘Hello, darkness, my old friend.’ Darkness preceded the light. The prophets see in the night. The dark place in the eye is called the pupil, and from there we learn.”

Night is the place to learn to become new. T. S. Eliot wrote in “East Coker,” part of Four Quartets:

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope / For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, / For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith /  But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. / Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: / So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

When Ingber was 20, he experienced an episode of depression he thought would never lift. 

“Everyday my sister, Amarah, would leave a little note on my door,” he said. “She gave me succor to live through the night. We have all known the dark night, and we might have learned to see in the dark to find strength.”

Ingber told the congregation that in every community and every country around the world, people need to learn to see in the dark, “to let the dreams catch us.”

When Jacob arrived at Peniel, he was a runner, but when he left he had a limp. 

“He arrived whole at Shechem: a wholeness that comes from injury,” Ingber said. “To make peace with our demons, we have to have the courage to bring Foo Foo and Tah Tah with us.”

He told the congregation that night teaches us a more profound way of being. 

“When God summons night, God invites us to learn to see in the night, to make it possible for us to bless the evening,” Ingber said.

Night is the time of dreams and integration.

“Blessed are You who teaches us how to bless the evening,” Ingber said. “We are all called to be divine pupils of the dark, students of what is invisible. We will each find the shards, speak the truth, wrestle with the divine. May God give you eyes to see in the dark.”

Renee Andrews, a board member of the Hebrew Congregation and the Ecumenical Community of Chautauqua and a member of the Chautauqua Choir, presided. Esther Northman, president of the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua, read “Prayer for Evening.” The prelude was “Al Shlosha D’Varim,” played by the Motet Consort, with Barbara Hois on flute, Debbie Grohman on clarinet and Willie LaFavor on piano. The anthem, sung by the Motet Choir, was “Sure On this Shining Night,” music by Samuel Barber and words by James Agee. Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, directed the choir, and Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, accompanied the choir on the piano. The postlude was “Evensong,” by Charles Callahan, played four-handed by Stafford and Stigall on the Massey Memorial Organ. Support for this week’s services is provided by the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy, the Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and the Edmond E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund. Unless otherwise noted, the morning liturgies are written by the Rev. Natalie Hanson, interim senior pastor for Chautauqua. Music is selected and the Sacred Song Service is created by Joshua Stafford. For PDF files of the morning liturgies, email religionintern@chq.org. 

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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.

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