Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Earth Etude for 10 Elul

Holy Ground

"The place on which you stand is holy ground..." (Exodus 3:5) Even the great leader Moses needed to be told to pause and note the sacred in the world around him.

I have come out to wander in my garden in the freshest time of day, pausing to perch between orderly rows of eggplant, corn and pepper plants and my haphazard broccoli patch, where taller silver-green plants stand guard over tiny sprouts from last year's broccoli gone to seed. Squash plants, rampant, have burst out and flung themselves over hostas edging the walkway; profuse, they mix and twist with gourd vines storing sunlight as color for sukkot glory. Nearby, my improvised bean tower looms, lush and green, and several volunteer tomato plants arch in the bright light. The sun is warm on my face, the air indescribably fresh and the earth crumbly between my fingers. The greenery around me and even the soil give off heat they have banked. Time, it seems, has finally stopped. Late summer is breathing in, spilling out, and breathing in again.

And yet, even while I pause for this lovely moment in the middle of my garden to bask in the sun and the warmth and the bird-song fluttering through the trees overhead, I am aware of how very quickly this summer is winging by. "Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon," the poet Mary Oliver asks. How very hard it is to hold my attention on this garden moment, to keep the spotlight of my mind's gaze fixed firmly on the sproutlings at my feet. How hard to remember the warmth and bird-song overhead, even while I am still under their canopy. How much easier it is to allow my mind to jump off in another direction entirely, to worry over concerns for next week, next month, a half-year from now. I think of Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, un-anchored in time and place. I wonder why "there" seems so much more an appealing concept to the mind than "here, and now." If even Moses needed to be reminded of the sacred surrounding him, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I wonder at times if it is an especially Jewish sensibility not to trust that a moment of delight will last. Could it really be that this pleasantness, these sweet times, might continue? Doesn't the image of a cosmic foot ready to land at any moment hang fairly consistently over our Jewish heads? Does a people's historic experiences of repeated brutality -- slavery, expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms -- indicate future outcomes and conditioned responses?

As an educator, I have learned that what we remember ultimately from any experience is what we were inspired to think and to feel. In the end, will these emotional responses to collective tragedies be what will remain in our collective and individual memories? Will that cosmic foot of doom hang over our heads for all time?

As the new Jewish year approaches, I wonder if perhaps this year I might consider myself worthy of the best possible present: a sense of presence. I think of this in several senses, both in being in the present moment, allowing my soul to savor and trust in delight, and also in being aware of the Presence, the sacred and the miraculous, that can be with us at all times, if only we will allow it. Then, perhaps we can truly look towards a Shana tova, a good and a sweet year to come.

Rabbi Judy Kummer serves as Executive Director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts, and is an organic gardener and social activist in Boston. She delights especially in the richness of her compost and her relationships.

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