Counting the Omer is a 49 day ancient practice which starts tonight - the second day of Passover. Omer means sheaf, a sheaf of barley once ritually waved to insure an abundant harvest. In museums you can see elaborate and beautiful objects like the one above, to help keep track of the count. Omer counting evolved to keep track of the time from the crossing of the Red Sea at Passover until arriving at Sinai and experiencing Revelation on the 50th day (the Jewish holiday of Shavuot).
As a child I thought it was an archaic practice, perhaps still practiced by a few Orthodox folks - certainly no one I knew. Later I learned that in the 16th and 17th centuries it became a mystical seven week practice, with an elaborate system aimed at deep preparation for revelation. More recently I have come to appreciate the myriad ways the practice has been modified, elaborated, and modernized - made accessible as a spiritual path to many. There is even an iPhone app for counting the Omer!
In 2011 I developed the following visual journaling system to help me count.
Every evening the count is preceded by a prayer:
BA-RUCH A-TAH ADO-NAI E-LO-HE-NU ME-LECH HA-OLAM ASHER KID-E-SHA-NU BE-MITZ-VO-TAV VETZI-VA-NU AL SEFI-RAT HA-OMER.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the counting of the Omer.
I used a Strathmore journal of 140 lb. cold press watercolor paper because I chose to use watercolor. If colored pencils or markers are used, or other dry media, other paper would work. It was helpful however to have a binding that allowed the journal to be opened flat to be worked on.
The yellow circles represent the lower 7 Sefirot, or power points in the body that have certain qualities.
Each of the seven weeks is permeated by the quality of one of the seven Sefirot. This first week starts with Chesed (Hesed), or compassion and mercy. I chose to designate Chesed with a golden color, and because this is Chesed's week, that circle is larger. You can choose your own color system, but whatever you choose, it is helpful to stick with it.
The first day's quality is Love within Love, (Chesed Sh'b Chesed). Therefore the other circles are golden yellow mixed with golden yellow.
Follow my daily Omer Visual Journal posts and you'll see how the colors change from day to day and week to week, and which circle is the big one. The color system highlights which qualities are blended that day. It is a system that you are free to adapt to your own purposes in your own way. My journal entries are very personal, often quite mundane. When I made the journal I never imagined anyone would ever see it - it was just my personal aid for counting.
Now I am happy to share the journey. Posting daily for the next weeks will keep me counting and hopefully, with your comments and input, remembering why we bother to do this...