Counting the Omer is the Jewish spiritual practice of noting the days (49) between the second day of Passover and Shavuot, the Jewish Pentecost.
The tradition is rooted in agricultural tasks of reaping and bringing barely offerings to the ancient Temple. An omer was a unit of measure, in this case, a measure of barely. Later, with the Temple destroyed, the counting of the omer took on a more meditative-prayerful flavor.
A few years ago, our rabbi at our local congregation added the traditional practice to Friday night Shabbat services and it left me cold; I just couldn’t figure out the point of the short prayer.
Enter two wonderful books that opened my mind to the value of counting the omer:
Karyn Kadar’s, Omer: A Counting and Yael Levy’s, Journey through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to Counting the Omer.
Both works discuss two features of this spiritual practice that underlie it’s benefits:
Counting as Following the Season – Judaism has strong underlying nature-based spiritual elements – a willingness to use the unfolding of the seasons, the cycles of nature, and agricultural practices as the grounding for spiritual exercise, holiday celebration, and rootedness in the world. The result is to find the sacred within the mundane.
Counting the Omer can enhance our experience of the unfolding of spring as we progress to the beauty and warmth of summer. Counting becomes a way of focusing on unfurling buds, flowers blooming, shoots emerging, and trees breaking into blossom. We grasp the spiritual metaphor – the blooming of the now free Jewish people on their way to the fullness of life (summer) and the reception of Torah at Sinai at Shavuot.
Counting as Listening – counting can put us in a meditative state, creating a heightened awareness and openness to the world. This awareness and openness can be harnessed for the purpose of listening to the world and Spirit that infuses and permeates it.
Counting asks us to take a few moments of each day to stop and observe. In these moments of stillness and silence, we can attempt to listen to the roar of the still, quiet voice of the divine energy humming throughout nature – in the change of the season, on the wind, in the growing warmth of the days, in the growth of vegetation, and in the breath taking flowering of trees.
What do we hear when we quiet our mind and sit still for a moment? I think we each encounter ourselves, our lives, our trajectories – and the inherent connectedness in it all.
I encourage you to take a look at these works. I also encourage you to try counting the omer. You can start today even – there’s no time like the present.