Multireligious Sacred Time:
Harvesting Prayer & Action To Heal Our Mother Earth
From the Wounds of Global Scorching
This fall, Sunday October 4 offers a remarkable multireligious sacred time to celebrate our Earth and take action to heal all her life-forms from the wounds of climate chaos. (Besides the photo above, there are two from a similar celebration on the banks of the Hudson River in 1998, with Pete Seeger, an Iroquois elder, and Rabbi Shefa Giold among the celebrants. See attachments when you open this article fully.)
October 4 is the seventh day of Sukkot, the Jewish Harvest Festival, when we build and eat in fragile huts with leafy, leaky roofs, open to the rains and winds and beauty of the world; when we ourseves become fruitful trees by shaking in the seven directions of the world branches of palms, willows, myrtle, and a lemony etrog.
And that day is also the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, who loved the poor and chose to leave behind his family’s wealth; who celebrated the sun and moon, trees and rivers; who in the midst of the Crusades traveled to Egypt to meet with the Sultan
to seek peace between Islam and Christianity; and who has become the life-model for the first Pope to choose his name, Pope Francis, who named his earth-healing encyclical Laudato Si from a phrase in one of St. Francis’ best-loved prayers.
For Jews, the seventh day of Sukkot has a unique ritual of seven processions with the Torah Scroll, chanting prayers for saving the Earth and human earthlings from drought, locusts, famine, exile. The prayers are called Hoshanot, “Please save!” and one of them ends, “Please save our planet, suspended in space!” (That was written centuries before anyone could actually see a photo of our lovely planet, suspended in space.)
And on that day we beat willow branches on the earth. Since willows need large amounts of water, the drumming of their branches reminds us and YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, to keep pure and abundant the waters of our Earth.
In 1998, The Shalom Center and the Elat Chayyim Jewish spiritual renewal retreat center co-sponsored a celebration of this day on the banks of the Hudson River, intertwining the spiritual celebration with calls on General Electric to clean the river from cancer-causing PCBs the corporation had dumped into its waters.
Among the celebrants were Jews from Kingston upstream to Manhattan downstream on the river (including rabbinical students from the Jewish Theological Seminary on the Hudson's edge); Rabbis Shefa Gold, Jeff Roth, & Arthur Waskow; an Iroquois elder; twenty Catholic nuns from convents along the Hudson River; and Pete Seeger, whose memory is a blessing.
For that moment, we dedicated the seven circlings of the Torah Scroll to the Seven Days of Creation. For each day we made a banner with a related color -- blue for the creation of sky and sea; green for the grasses; yellow for the sun, moon, and stars; red for the red-blooded life-forms of the Sixth Day; white for Shabbat.
And to honor that celebration, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi wrote a 'Please Save! /Hoshana!" in English –- keyed to Saving the special glory of each of the Seven Days and emulating the alphabetic liturgy of many of the Hebrew Hoshana prayers.
This year, the day has even more urgency and fullness of meaning. The Torah (Deut. 31:12) calls on all Yisrael, the entire Godwrestling folk, and all the "sojourners" who share the life of the land with them, to ASSEMBLE! -- HAK’HEYL! -- during the Sukkot after a Sabbatical/ Shmita Year. That year of restfulness for the Earth and human beings, a year of release from debts and from the grind of overwork, comes every seventh year.
According to the ancient count, this very year is the Sabbatical/ Shmita Year. So this coming Sukkot and its festival day of October 4 will carry even more energy than Sukkot does in most years.
On that day of Assembly, the ancient Israelite king read aloud crucial passages of Torah protecting the Earth and the poor and forbidding him to amass great wealth and power. Together, these passages are the Torah of eco-social justice. (Today, perhaps these "kings" include our Corporate Carbon Pharaohs.)
The Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calls for us on that day to Assemble to face the truth of danger from the climate crisis, and the simultanous truth that our deepening knowledge of Earth's web of life could bring us possible transformation into a world of eco-social justice.
Christians, Muslims, and others could join with Jews in honoring Francis of Assisi through commitment to his vision.
And so October 4 could become the beginnings of a SEVEN-YEAR PLAN, looking toward the next Sabbatical/ Shmita Year, which will begin on Rosh Hashanah in the fall of 2021:
As we move toward that year, what can we accomplish so that the Earth can actually breathe a restful sigh of spiritual and physical release, far closer to a full release from burning fossil fuels?
- Can our synagogues, churches, mosques, temples bring into being Solar Neighborhoods, where congregational members and their neighbors in many many communities are getting their electric power from each other through a wind or solar micro-grid?
- Can we by then wipe out epidemics of asthma in the low-income neighborhoods where coal plants now spew dust into the throats and lungs of the young – by closing the coal plants and turning to renewable energy?
- Can nonviolent prayerful multireligious protests during these oncoming seven years transform today’s paralyzed Congress into a body that will pass a strong Carbon-Tax-and-Dividend law (as the religious communities helped get Congress pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, 50 years ago)?
- Can we put an end to the Oil-Bomb trains carrying explosive fracking-origin oil through hundreds of our cities, hovering on the edge of derailments and explosions that could kill thousands? Can we end fracking?
These conversations and commitments -- covenants! --are the ways we could make October 4 a day to hold both Joy and Change alive in us, a day to pray with our words, our songs, our hearts, our hands, our legs. Our chidren, and their children.
The Shalom Center will bring you reports from several places where plans for October 4 are already well along. And we ask you to write us now, at <Sukkat Shalom@theshalomcenter.org> to let us know what you are planning!
We urge rabbis, priests, ministers, nuns, imams, roshis – to gather with the faithful to plan – to give our varied faiths their deepest, fullest meaning.
Please help us carry this work forward through your gifts -- at the Donate button on the left.