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.