Bending Time, by Rabbi Deborah Glanzberg Krainin, Ph.D.

I just spent five days on an isolated lake in the Adirondacks with my husband, a canoe and a case of red wine. We stayed in a blinged-out yurt—with water, electricity, a comfy bed and a deck you could sit on forever. 

We climbed mountains, paddled lakes and read several books. We also spent a lot of time just sitting quietly looking and listening to the natural wonder around us. The hours and days rolled into each other, until time felt entirely different from the way it does in my real life. 

At home in the big city—with two jobs and three children—David and I don’t lose track of time. We don’t take naps whenever we want, have wine with lunch, or go skinny dipping at dawn. For five days in the yurt, time took on a different quality. It was fluid, soft and easy. Like the round yurt, it lacked the hard edges that shape time in our everyday lives. No alarm clocks, no lunch meetings, no bedtime. It was lovely and liberating, but I don’t think I want that rhythm—or lack thereof—on a regular basis.

And this brings me to the connection between my sylvan escape and some thoughts about ritual.

Ritual orders time. Whether it is the cycle of a day, a year or a life, ritual arranges our experiences so that we can fully inhabit them.  It helps us to take notice of what is beautiful, painful and wondrous in our world. We can engage in rituals as prosaic as a daily morning run or as extraordinary as welcoming a baby into our lives. The former grounds a day; the latter holds and marks a definitive moment in a family’s life.

Lighting candles separates mundane time from the holiness of Shabbat, hearing the shofar helps us herald in a new year. This kind of organization provides a rhythm that anchors individual lives and binds us together in communities across time and space.

Our time in the yurt was not ritual-free. We blessed our food and our surroundings. We even recited prayers associated with particular times of day. But because we felt so free and unencumbered, we also felt alone and disconnected. We had a taste of a disorganized life, and imagined what life would feel like without the complex web of rituals that shapes our existence and unites us with others.

It was a delightful interlude, deeply relaxing and mildly transgressive.  But in the end, we were ready to return to civilization. And we realized that—without many weeks of structured living—our foray into the wild would have been meaningless.

By Deborah Glanzberg-Krainin, Ph.D.