Thursday, February 2, 2017

Our Spiritual Task

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Soon after the election last November, my friend Rabbi Shoshana Friedman wrote about how being a climate activist accidentally helped prepare her for the election. I have been on a slower journey to a similar understanding.

I've been involved with climate action for quite a few years now. I've heard scientists say we have a window of a couple of years (this number of years having by now gone by); I've read articles and books related to impending chaos and destruction of the planet and possible extinction of the human species as a result of climate change; I've watched the parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere rise way about the 350 limit from which took its name; and, in recent years I've begun to realize that climate-change-caused chaos is already happening, most notably the climate change roots of the Syrian refugee crisis. And again and again, I've felt pain and grief for this planet, often triggered by incidents close to home that are, relatively speaking benign, such as the leveling of trees or whole lots near where I live, or even just discussing buying something new.

Every time I've experienced a bout of fear and grief, I've eventually returned to the same place emotionally and intellectually. Which is: I don't know what the future brings. I cannot possibly know. But I do know, and I know this deep in my heart, that whatever our future holds for us, it really matters HOW we go through our days. It matters that we are doing something to try to combat climate change. It matters that we speak out and that we act. It matters that we work to reconcile our personal lives with our values for a future sustainable planet. It matters that we build community and connections to other people. It matters how we behave.

The same applies to the new reality of our nation.

I do not know if we are headed toward dictatorship and the breakdown of the post-World War II world order. I do not know if we are headed for massive loss of rights and widespread violence. I do not know if we are headed toward the end of our democracy. I do not know if we are headed for climate disaster. I do not know.

But I do know that it matters how we go forward. I do know that digging deeper to try to go beyond our fear is important. I do know that we need to be able to speak to our family members and our neighbors. I do know that we need to work as hard as we can to help our democracy survive. I do know that we need to speak up for those more vulnerable than ourselves. I do know that it is important to keep our hearts loving and compassionate, even when we speak hard truths.

What does it take for us to maintain loving kindness?

What does it take for us to be courageous in our actions rather than to respond from a place of fear?

What does it take for us to maintain compassion for those who are different from us?

What does it take for us to hold onto faith?

For each of us, the journey is different, but one thing is true for most (if not all) of us: we must take care of ourselves. In the midst of becoming more active and advocating more frequently, we sometimes need to stop and close our eyes and breathe. Perhaps we need to take time for prayer or meditation or silent reflection. We may need to get outdoors to absorb the healing power of the natural world. We may need to gather in community for song and reflection. We may need to go to bed on time. We may need to run ten miles or climb the nearest mountain. Whatever our most basic physical and spiritual needs are, we must meet them. We must take care of ourselves, because if we don't, we will burn out, and we cannot afford to let that happen. We must be able to remain vigilant and active and aware for a very long time.

It is possible that no matter how hard we work, no matter how much we protest and how many letters and phone calls we make, no matter how much money we donate, that our nation will fall apart. But we do not know, and so we must do this work. And we must keep on doing it.

And no matter what happens, if our hearts and our spirits remain strong, if our faith and courage run deep, if our personal connections are filled with love and caring, then on some important level, we will be OK. The world will not be OK, but we will know that we have done everything we possibly could, and that is so very important.

And so, we must take care of ourselves, even when we are not sure how. We must dig deeper, we must learn more about how to navigate through life, we must grow as human beings. That is the spiritual task before us.

And so, at those moments when you do not know how you can keep going, may you find the strength, the courage, the determination, and the love and compassion that you need. May you be blessed on your journey.

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, the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005. 

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