Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Difficult Path

from "The Dream and Its Resolution"
by A. D. Gordon
transl. by Katy Z. Allen

Gordon's words are pertinent across time and space.

Strange is the matter in which I am engaged, 
and deep and exceedingly wondrous. 
Difficult is the path I have chosen,
and remote 
and receding from the seer’s eye.
Those who walk the path of that life 
which my people walked, 
from a distance, stood opposite me, 
and no man with me, 
and many whisper to one another about me, 
and many flutter about me 
and have pity upon me, 
and many call to me from a distance: 
“Please, come, Wretched One! 
Is not your way a way of darkness, 
void and without order, 
Is not your direction backward and not forward! 
Or would you speak of changing the way of the world, 
to breach the natural laws, 
which cannot be broken?
Would you say to a person: 
A god you are, not a person, not formed from clay? 
Is not your labor in vain, 
for with vanity and emptiness you will end your power, 
see, after all, you are alone, 
and alone you will fall, 
despoiled in the bonds of your imagingings 
and your dreams."

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Eight Kinds of Light

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
(This post first appeared in Shalom Magazine.)

Each night for eight nights one more light is kindled, at the darkest time of the year, until nine candles burn brightly in our windows or on our tables. Candlelight is the heart of Hanukkah.

What do the eight lights over the eight days mean? What do they represent? What might be the meaning of the increasing light throughout the holiday?

The potential answers are myriad. One way to answer the question is to consider each candle as representing a different source of external light in partnership with a different aspect of inner light, creating eight pairs of physical/spiritual light to consider during Hanukkah.

Here’s one such set to consider:

First Lights: Sunlight and Gratitude (Hodayah)
The light of the Sun provides all the energy needed to fuel life on Earth. The light and heat of the Sun make it possible for all kinds of life—algae, grass, elephants, maple trees, humans, and everything in between—to exist and to thrive. That’s a lot to be grateful for!

Second Lights: Starlight and Faith (Emunah)
The Universe contains roughly a billion trillion stars (1 with 21 zeros after it!) that burn as fiercely as our Sun, or more so. The stars’ apparent tininess is a result of their distance from us, for many are far larger than our Sun. Stars are a reminder of the enormity of the Universe through both space and time. The candle burning in our window is but a blip on the screen of billions of years and trillions of miles. We are miniscule in comparison to the vastness of time, space, and substance that is beyond human comprehension. In this context, stargazing can bring forth a sense of deep faith.

Third Lights: Moonlight and Humility (Anavah)
Despite shining brightly in the nighttime sky, the Moon does not give off any light of its own. The moonlight perceived here on Earth is primarily light from the Sun that is reflected off the Moon’s surface, with a little bit of reflected starlight added in. We can learn from the Moon about moving away from the brightest spots in order to reflect light from others, fostering humility.

Fourth Lights: Firelight and Wisdom (Chochmah)
Fires can be lit intentionally or accidentally or can result from lightning strikes or lava flows. Fires burn hot and can be dangerous and destructive, but fire also provides needed warmth, as well as heat for cooking. Knowledge, experience and thoughtfulness wrapped up into wisdom can help keep the fires in our lives, both literal and figurative, within meaningful and safe parameters. 

Fifth Lights: Lightning Light and Strength (Koach)
Lightning is an electrostatic discharge that leaps from cloud to cloud or from a cloud to the ground, causing the familiar flash of bright light and deep rumbling sounds. Lightning is potent; it can split a tree or start a fire, and a single bolt contains enough energy to power about 50 houses for a day. Personal strength can come from many sources, some slow-moving and some sudden and powerful, like a lightning blot, and can provide the wherewithal to keep going through the myriad challenges of life.

Sixth Lights: Candlelight and Compassion (Rachamim)
A candle gives off very little light, but is usually kindled with intentionality and a search for meaning, comfort, connection, or inspiration. Even the light of one small candle dissipates the darkness. So, too, the compassion of our hearts can light up the dark days of those around us, transforming their experience and awakening them to previously hidden blessings.

Seventh Lights: Lamplight and Integrity (Osher)
Most lamps are fueled by electricity, and most electricity is formed through the burning of fossil fuels, extracted from beneath the surface of the Earth and then sending carbon into the atmosphere when burned. Awareness of the source of the energy for our lamplight can foster a sense of integrity as we become more thoughtful about the amount of light allowed to be given forth in our homes, cars, and businesses.

Eighth Lights: Firefly Light and Love (Ahavah)
Fireflies contain a compound in their abdomens that reacts with incoming air to create the memorable glow of a firefly. By regulating the airflow, these nighttime insects create a pulsating pattern. One function of the light is to signal a firefly’s search for a mate – a light-filled insect love message. We, too, can spread love when we allow ourselves to light up from within.

This is just one example of finding meaning in the Hankkah candles beyond what is readily perceived. What other external/internal or physical/spiritual light pairs are meaningful to you this Hanukkah?

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain at CareGroup Parmenter Hospice. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY. 




Saturday, December 24, 2016

How Being a Climate Activist Accidentally Prepared me for Election 2016

By Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman

I've said this recently to friends, and people have asked me to write it up. So here goes:

I've found that being a climate activist, and coming to climate activism as an act of spiritual devotion, prepared me surprisingly well for this election. If you are in the know about climate, if you read the books and understand what the science means, the news has been seriously grim for a very very long time. And while this president will make things a ton worse -- worse not only for climate but for so many people and justice issues -- another president wouldn’t have had the power to save the world from catastrophic climate change either. I've been living with that truth for a while, cycling through grieving over the past few years. Which made the grief on election day a little familiar. Things have felt hard and tragic for a while, and this is more of that.

But here is the thing:

We are fighting the battle for the climate on two fronts - the first is physics. We are seriously losing the physics front, and have been for years and, as far as I can tell from what I've read and seen, we would have continued to lose under any US president. It could have been a less bad lose, but we would have still been losing. Which doesn't mean we don't keep fighting like hell for every victory. But it does mean we know where we stand in relation to reality.

From when I was a kid until my late 20s I thought that physics was the only front that mattered - that unless my activism was guaranteed to bring down parts per million of CO2 it wasn't worth doing.

Now I understand that there is another front worth fighting on: the human spirit. And that one is winnable, and not dependent on whether or not we have outrageously unqualified, sick people in power. We are fighting hard for the human spirit, for communities to come together across difference to build resilience, for resistance against the forces that continue to destroy, for song, prayer, love and blessing, and for the fortitude and humility to see the God in everyone along the way. This election hasn't changed that we can, must, and will fight, pray, sing, and work at the local level for the human spirit, so that we can look at ourselves and show up to God and say we are living well and in our whole hearts no matter what. It's Wendell Berry's sound advice: Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts. And I don't remember now if it was Wen Stephenson who said it or someone he quoted in What We're Fighting For Now Is Each Other - but the line is we have nothing left to lose but our humanity. That is the place people in the climate movement have been for a while, and perhaps we can offer some of the wisdom of that place to those of us struggling to make sense of a new and scary reality in America.

Even the agreements of the Paris Accord, which is the best we’ve got, leaves the world in a desperate place in terms of warming. I have lived with that knowledge already. I have grieved deep grief over what has been lost to climate change and all that will be lost. But I have, for the past two years since finding this place inside me, tried to show up and do my best at what I feel God needs from me. Now that things look even darker and more desperate on the American political scene, with God's help I’m just gonna continue doing it.

Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman is the Assistant Rabbi for Engagement at Temple Sinai of Brookline. She is a leader in the interfaith climate justice movement. For more information visit www.rabbishoshana.com and www.clergyclimateaction.org.



Monday, December 19, 2016

A Simple Step

What do you like about Hanukkah?


Some possible answers could include 

potato latkes, 

family gatherings, 

lighting candles, 

kindling lights at the darkest time of the year, 

Hanukkah gelt, 

singing, playing dreidle (!), 

giving tzedakah....

....and...oh yes,

giving and receiving gifts.

With full credit to my friend Rabbi Judy Weiss, consider for a moment the impact of deciding NOT to give and receive OBJECTS this holiday season given that about 
two-thirds of our household carbon emissions 
are indirect, through the manufactured items. 

Just think how radically we could reduce our carbon footprints by:
  • re-gifting,
  • giving donations instead of things, 
  • taking kids for an experience (museum, play, etc.), 
  • re-purposing unneeded objects (here are a few examples), 
and otherwise refraining from spending money on material goods. 

In addition to helping the planet, we can be helping our pocketbooks and our spirits as well.

Think about it. 

Happy Hanukkah!

Rabbi Katy

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain at CareGroup Parmenter Hospice. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Being Peacemakers

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

We each have the potential to be a voice of peace. We each have the potential to be a messenger of peace. We each have the potential to create three feet of peace and to change the world.

You can read others' stories of how they are finding or creating peace. More importantly, you can create your own stories through your actions in and reactions to the world. 

Here are some thoughts about realizing your full potential as a peacemaker.

1. Listen. Listen deeply, allowing another to be heard. Listen especially to people who are different from you. Ask questions, clarifying, to help you understand.



When we experience being heard and respected we feel safer. When we feel safe we are more likely to be kind and generous.

2. Step back when you need to. If someone posts something inflammatory on your Facebook page or says something that is painful or frightening to hear, step back. Wait before you respond. Give yourself time so that you can answer from a place of stillness and reason.

When we respond to anger or hatred with calm and sensitivity, we start to break the cycle of verbal violence and begin to heal relationships.

3. Counter your fight or flight syndrome. Minimize retraumatizing yourself and others by refraining from reinforcing the dark emotions. Bring positive energy into your being. Interrupt your day with cute puppy videos, moments of meditation, walks in the woods or park, or playing with a baby. 



Our biology is designed to respond to dangerous situations in ways that don't match our 21st century lives. It takes an active effort to counteract that biology and pull us out of fear or anger and into brighter emotions, but we can do it.

4. Take meaningful action. Channel your frustration, fear, anger, despair, grief, or other dark emotion into making the world a better place. Reach out to others in need. Act to protect the planet. Join an organization doing good work and help them extend their reach.



When we turn our dark emotions into action, we can help to raise up someone in despair or heal a broken piece of the world.

5. Be a "gentle angry" person and sing for your life. Sing, draw, dance, write poetry, make music, plant flowers, and otherwise express yourself through creativity. Share your beauty with friends and family.



Finding an outlet for our creative energy relieves stress, deepens our understanding of ourselves and the world, and brings meaning to those with whom we share our efforts.

6. Hug someone you love. Send an unexpected snail mail card to a friend. Call someone just to say hi, you mean a lot to me.



We all need to know we are loved. It makes a world of difference.

7. Hang in there. Don't give up. Stay determined. Keep on working to make the world a better place. It's worth it.


PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) is not the only outcome from trauma. There is also Post Traumatic Growth. But the process takes time. Solidifying the three feet of peace around us is a lifetime journey.


May the sun shine on your life.
May you raise a mighty voice for peace. 
May you become a powerful messenger of peace. 
May you create a solid three feet of peace around you. 
May you help to change the world.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain at CareGroup Parmenter Hospice. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY. 



Monday, October 10, 2016

Time Is Running Out

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Time is running out.
They tell us that the Book of Life will soon be closed.
We'd better be prepared if we want to be written in it--
so we are told.


Strange idea, this book. It must be awfully big.

On the other hand, maybe the book isn't so strange or so large.
Maybe it looks something like my heart.
Or my soul.


Perhaps the question is actually:
This year, will I be connected to my heart and my soul?

Time is running out
for getting connected--
with myself, with those I love, with God
(which, perhaps, are all one and the same)--
on this one awe-filled day,
this Yom Kippur,
when for some mysterious reason
forgiveness happens.


The forgiveness is what is important,
not so much the book,
except that they are totally interconnected--
by forgiving myself,
I allow God to forgive me,
and once that fleeting moment of forgiveness has swept 
through my heart and my soul,
then I am connected to myself
and to all that surrounds me;
I am, for an instant,
unity,
and in that moment
I am written in that mystical Book.


Time is running out.
I have done all that I can.

I have cooked and I have cleaned,
I have spoken and I have written,
I have responded and I have planned,
I have arranged and I have gathered,
I have planted and I have weeded,
I have listened and I have heard,
I have cared.


There is nothing more I can do.
It is time to allow forgiveness to flow.





Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain at CareGroup Parmenter Hospice. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Shanah Tovah 5777

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

As you enter this new year
may distance bring clarity



and may the many shades of the forest
be clear to you 
as separate and individual colors
each unique in its own right


may the sky be ever visible to you 
between the leaves


 may you understand
that the leaves
the sky
and the tendrils
are all interconnected


 and when you cry out for help
may your prayer
be answered.


Shanah tovah,
may you have a good year.


Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain at CareGroup Parmenter Hospice. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 29: Hope Sprouting

by Rabbi Judy Kummer

When the world is whirling
and despair for the future begins to crowd in
I turn to growing things,
seeking hope. 

The sweet potato plant cutting I made last week,
Bereft of leaves but stuck into a vase to root anyway--
Just in case--
has now sprouted tiny purple and spring-green leaves,
against all odds. 

How did it know to grow, know it could grow?  What
generative force propelled it forward
into a future I sometimes cannot imagine?

In the garden
Swaths of bright blooms
Separate out into  a single glorious flower,
Beauty
against all odds. 

What force unfurled this flower to look just like its ancestors
But unique and different in its own right?

Peering inside
I see depths
Eternity
A mandala ready to focus me
If I am willing to stop
Pause and see
Stillness centering
Time paused
The whirling no more
The hope ready to sprout.



Rabbi Judith Kummer is the Executive Director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts.  A Boston native, she earned a BA from Barnard College in Environmental Studies and Urban Planning and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Rabbi Kummer is an avid organic gardener, potter, hiker and social activist.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 28: Our Repentance, Prayer, and Deeds of Righteous Action Will Stop Climate Change

by Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith

This year, as the sun sets on Yom Kippur, our prayers will reach a pinnacle of intensity as we recite the UnetanehTokef prayer:  “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.  How many shall leave this world, and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die, who in the fullness of years and who before; who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by a wild beast; who by famine and who by thirst…   But repentance, prayer, and deeds of righteous action, can remove the severity of the decree.”

The Unetaneh Tokef was written ages ago, perhaps as early as the first century, but it is eerily contemporary in the way in which it describes the life and death consequences of climate change.  Although climate change is a new cause of death, the ways in which human beings are vulnerable, suffer, and die, are timeless.  Death comes by water when floods result from devastating storms and rising seas.  Death comes by wildfire when drought is worsened by climate change.  Death comes by famine when rising temperatures turn farmland into desert.


The solution is in our hands.  “Repentance, prayer, and deeds of kindness can remove the severity of the decree.”  The Gates of Mercy are never closed.  It is up to us as human beings to exercise our free will to change the course of history.  The call to repentance, prayer, and deeds of righteous action, is a personal challenge to every Jew.

Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith is an environmental psychologist, educator, and activist.  Mirele created the Tikkun Mayim, a ceremony of repair for our relationship with water, and founded Jews Against Hydrofracking.  She directed the Jewish Greening Fellowship, a network of 55 organizations committed to sustainability.  She attended the UN Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen and was a leader in the Jewish mobilization for the People’s Climate March in New York City.   Mirele’s writings on Judaism and sustainability have been published in the Jerusalem Report, Jewish Week, Forward, Shma, and Huffington Post.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 27: Teshuvah in the Garden

by Maxine Lyons

My perennial love relationship with the earth is expressed most explicitly in tending my flower gardens. For me it is spiritual work, a way to respect the earth while feeling more mindful of how growth and change is an ongoing  process and mirrors the major themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The spiritual work of Teshuvah on the Yamim Norayim for me often centers on facing challenges, reviewing the aspects of my life that need changing and seeking new ways that I can re-commit myself to positive actions to bring about those changes. The natural world starts me on this path.  For example, the row of pine trees that form a wide spreading canopy over  my front garden presents a challenge as the shedding of needles change the acidic quality of the dirt; the large and hard roots threaten some new plants and choke others out. In response, I move plants around and encourage new growth and change in more fertile and inviting places. Another gardening challenge is spacing---learning  to place flowers in further proximity to each other and taking better accounting for the spread of  day lilies and others that stunt the growth of the colorful and more dainty astilbes.

Likewise, human growth depends on our own spacing--- how do we create the openness to pursue our activities and relationships that lead to positive  choices for the growth that we seek? Are some relationships choking our growth,  or can some of our old habits retard our ability to change? Are there other influences  to surround ourselves with- the  people who reflect sunshine and who most enrich us?

I see how each plant flourishes differently or perishes on the stem. Through regular watering, dead heading of flowers and moving around those  plants that need shade and others more sun, growth happens. Likewise, people need regular on-going practices to ensure growth and change. I have found that in this years’ approach to Elul- doing regular mindful living practices help me recognize ways  to change my negative reactivity patterns. I am also assessing my responses in times of adversity and challenge so that I can better contribute to the growth potential within me. Teshuvah is my effort to become my higher self, feeling a greater calm enriched by a weekly meditation sangha meeting and home practice that reflect those qualities that I want to cultivate. In Buddhist terms, planting and watering the seeds of compassion show me how to  deal with my own prejudices, flaws, and weaknesses. In specific Jewish terms, learning where I have missed the mark and how to aim more effectively in the right direction.


Teshuvah is a life-long pursuit, just as gardening requires attention and modifications during the planting season, so as I am working for substantial internal change I can also see the earth's capacity to cultivate growth. This metaphor works for me. Even though Rosh Hashanah demands a deeper focus on this awareness toward new change, I believe that adopting practices that nourish my feelings and behavior ensure that I keep on a spiritual track. With hope and resolve, I believe I can acquire more positive turning a little more each year.

Maxine Lyons is an active participant in an interfaith social justice organization, and assists several Jewish inmates who teach her a lot about the challenges of incarceration. She also does spiritual accompaniment with homeless individuals. In all of these pursuits, she is  humbled by and deeply saddened at the disparity between living a privileged life and knowing that many others cannot grow and change to their true potential without meaningful and constant support and positive opportunities for Teshuvah.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 26: You Were Wrong

by Ben Weilerstein

I

You were wrong about environmentalism, man, no that’s not what I think no, I’m not really an environmentalist because if I say I am you’ll say in your head I’m saying things you don’t think need to be said, out loud, at all so, no, I’m not an environmentalist and I don’t feel a rush of flight, of my heels lifting up off the ground when I recycle a plastic bottle not like I do when I recite over and over again until it doesn’t leave my head for years,  “stop! the! pipeline!”

or something like that, y’know my voice woven into hundreds and thousands of others because dammit this isn’t about me

this isn’t about me, maybe you can tell I’m tired because wouldn’t it be nice if I could just lie down and rest in a bed of moss like I liked to imagine when I was younger and

I wouldn’t have to keep telling you and them and everybody else that I’m not really into the environment and what even is the environment and I could stand on top of a wind-whipped rainswept mountain up north and let my heels lift higher than I thought they could and god please could I now

maybe I can’t tell you I’m tired because you’re tired of other tired people telling you what to do all day and shit, man, that’s tiring, too

II

maybe I didn’t listen enough

maybe I didn’t ask you to listen to me enough, not to my words, no, to me, because if I did I thought you wouldn’t want to and then I didn’t know how you would know you were listened to and heard and then I don’t know what you would do

maybe it’s hard to care and nobody cared to teach us how and no matter how high my feet fly it still won’t heal me

III

I’m writing this on a train after work.

After seeing a replica of my hometown where the football field was the same and the old train station and the new train station were the same and grass clippings still fresh and drying smelled exactly the same and if you just squinted the right way in the right corners the sunset could take your breath away, but those fields and lawns and the bodies among them were deep in a different nightmare where everything was poison,

where the streets were filled with poison and the shortcuts kids took to get to school, or even better, out of it, were covered in puddles of poison as colorful as the graffiti lining our shortcut but so much better at killing,

where many days many years ago a father came home from work at the chemical dye plant sweating in color, his body releasing the poison it absorbed that day,

where everybody knows somebody who died, preventably, of cancer.

I’m writing this on a train after work.

Two people were fighting and then hugging, and crying and hugging. They ran off the train together.

IV

I love you, I think.

I love you as much as any friend anyway

and for the sake of my heels I hope that’s a hell of a lot.


Ben Weilerstein is Toxics Action Center’s Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island Organizer. Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, the Greater Boston area became home for Ben when he studied at Tufts University. There, he spent some of his time completing a BS in Chemistry and most of his time organizing around fossil fuel divestment and other climate justice issues. His organizing experience also includes completion of a Climate Summer internship, during which he helped organize communities in Western Massachusetts to stop a fracked gas pipeline. Ben is currently a JOIN for Justice Fellow. Ben is based in the Boston and Providence offices, where he helps communities organize to protect their health and the environment.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 25: Bees, Fireflies, and Stars

by Ruah Swennerfelt

The bee was busy, humming around me and traveling from flower to flower, while I was sitting and weeding. I stopped my work to take a closer look and was amazed to see that, as the bee dove deep and touched a certain spot in the flower, the flower reached its stamen up to the bee’s butt and deposited some pollen. This interaction occurred again and again. I saw so clearly how the bee and the flower miraculously co-evolved for them each to survive. I stopped my weeding task and sat still, contemplating this complex planet of ours and the wonders of how all of life is interconnected.




I’m aware of how easy it is to be disconnected from the natural world since we are so busy in the human-built world. If we don’t stop from our busyness and step out into all the abundance that surrounds us, we forget that we are only here by the grace of Mother Earth. That experience of watching the bee helped me turn back to Earth and to give over my life to protect and embrace her. Although I was already an environmental activist and my paid work was for a Quaker environmental organization, the experience deepened my connection to Earth and grounded me.

Another experience that also shaped my life’s commitment to Earth happened on a June night before the moon rose. I noticed that stars were so bright and abundant as I was driving along my little road that I felt the urgent need to get out of the car, lights off, and look up to the sky. But my eyes were drawn to the fireflies that were also abundant in the field. As I slowly walked away from the car, I was surround by the fireflies and I couldn’t tell where the stars ended and fireflies began. I was floating in the universe and understood that, although I was just a speck in the whole, I was also an important speck, one that was connected to everything, one that had always been part of it, one that would always be.


These two extraordinary experiences remind me to regularly get out of the built environment, learn from nature, take an accounting of my mistakes, and take actions—both small and large—to protect all that is suffering on our beautiful planet Earth.

Ruah Swennerfelt is author of Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith. She is a Quaker and homesteads in Vermont. She is President of the Transition Town Charlotte board, serves on the board of Vermont Interfaith Power & Light, and is active with the New England Resilience & Transition Network and Transition US.



Monday, September 26, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 24: What Is Remembering?

by Steph Zabel

What is remembering?

As I’ve ponder this question over the past several days, the following thoughts have come to me…

Remembering is a return to wholeness and truth: a wholeness of self, of spirit, of place in the world. When we remember who we are, why we are here, and how we relate to the world around us, these remembrances — these truths — infuse our lives with richness and radiate outwards to all the lives around us.

I think that remembering must also paradoxically involve forgetting… For instance:

When we remember that all human beings, of all backgrounds and beliefs, deserve love, dignity and compassion, we forget why we would ever close our hearts to another, especially others in need.

When we remember that we are dependent upon all the resources given to us by the earth for our survival, we forget that we could ever do harm to the natural world.

When we remember that we are Beloved, we forget any sense of loneliness, unworthiness or fear.

How can we remember?

Our own personal remembrances must be felt and embodied for them to become true for us as an individual.

For me, remembering comes by being in nature. Remembering comes by being surrounded by beauty. It comes when I express my heart and when I open my heart to another’s expressions. Remembering comes in moments of stillness.

And with remembering comes the forgetting, where we can forget our old selves, old patterns and old beliefs that simply fall away. Remembering is a balm to the spirit that helps us find the way to our true selves, and our place of wholeness within the world.

I remember so that I can forget that which is untrue… and I forget so that I can remember that which is true.

Steph Zabel is an herbalist and botanical educator. Through her work she offers practical herbal classes and holistic wellness sessions. As the founder of Herbstalk, a community based herbal event, she helps create accessible educational opportunities for all plant enthusiasts in the Boston area, at www.flowerfolkherbs.com.



Sunday, September 25, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 23: Tandem

by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman



Biking home on Orchard Street
With the wind behind me, and Jamaica Pond
Wrinkled and clear beyond the houses,
A peregrine falcon winged down
A feathered grace, gliding on my right.

For a breath, two, we flew side by side.

My grief, of late, has become more precise.
There are worlds
Beyond worlds, the eons will stretch
Over bedrock and magma, blue and green.
There is life and Life and God unending
No matter what we do, where we are.
So I cry for us, for here, for what we know and love
And for the winged, hooved, scaled, wriggling, tender and fierce
Creatures who love it too, and live it.

In tandem with the falcon
Another neighbor
Traveling this beloved and troubled home.


Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman is the Assistant Rabbi for Engagement at Temple Sinai of Brookline. She is a leader in the interfaith climate justice movement. For more information visit www.rabbishoshana.com and www.clergyclimateaction.org.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 22: Earth Rituals

 by Molly Bajgot

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn't have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.  ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Elizabeth came into my life by way of the T.V. screen this past week. Her words remind me of my own spiritual practice, both looking to Judaism to provide a structure for my spiritual practices, and rounding out my own ritual needs by design Earth based ceremony.

This time of year, our Jewish tradition has ritual that takes us through an incredible process of taking stock of ourselves over the past year in order to bring ourselves fully to G!d. I feel thankful for this time and space because - as Elizabeth’s puts it - we need this ritual so we don't carry these feelings around forever. It’s difficult, to drop our emotions off, our misgivings and wrong doings, and leave them. I tend to let them shrink around in the corner of my shadow long after I’ve told them goodbye. I tend to treat them like they have permission to follow me. 

How can we truly forgive, others and ourselves, when healing may take more than a High Holiday season? A practice I’ve picked up in the last few years is one that gives my feelings away to the Earth. The Earth, her perfect systems, cyclical in nature and always regenerating, is a master of receiving and rebirth. Two years ago, I lead my Jewish Justice Fellowship through an exercise of trying this: sitting on the ground, hands planted in the Earth, and asking her to ritually safeguard our heavy things. To take these worries off our mind - the ones that float around and aren't moving right now. Carry them, and I will take them back, once you’ve done some of your cyclical magic; once they’ve had some space to breath, decomposed some. 

 We do this with reverence for Earth, her majesty; for the creator; for the amazing ability to rely on Earth with all our might. Not with a teenage attitude, dropping our backpack off at the door once we’ve come home. No, with respect for the Earth’s ability to hold and process so much of our human-ness. She can hold them. This trusting ritual helps me to round out the practice of teshuvah, turning and repentance, rounding out our time-tested ritual. I offer this practice to all who meditate, walk, and enjoy connecting with the Earth. May she be included in this practice - because we all have so much to carry. 

Molly Bajgot was born and raised in Sudbury, MA. She is a singer, songwriter, and has a big love to the out-of-doors and vocal harmony.