Mourning Mother Earth -- And Healing Her

This letter ends with a specific proposal for multireligious action on climate that draws on Tisha B’Av (a Jewish day of mourning, explained below, that can be universal in its meaning) to be held on Friday, August 9. Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action. And feel free to share this with others whom you think might be interested. Thanks and shalom, Arthur

Mourning Mother Earth -- And Healing Her

Dear friends, As I often do, I want to begin with the spiritual roots of a religious practice, and then move to the flowering from those roots in the form of spiritually nourished political action. In this case, action to heal Earth. Action rooted in Tisha B'Av, the sacred Jewish day of mourning/ healing.  

 That sad day flowers in healing Mother Earth.  And does it by bringing together the energy of youth and elders as the Prophet Malachi teaches -- together supporting the Green New Deal. 

The traditional Jewish day of mourning and fasting for the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem –- twice destroyed by arrogant empires --  comes on the ninth day of the scorching midsummer lunar month of Av. In Hebrew, that is Tisha (Ninth) B’Av.) This year, that day falls on Shabbat --  Friday evening August 9 to Saturday evening August 10. Since mourning is prohibited on Shabbat, this year the day will be observed on the following day --  Saturday night and Sunday.  But for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I suggest that part of the observance might happen the day before –- during the day on Friday, August 9.

There are two major aspects to observing Tisha B’Av: reading the Book of Lamentations (known in Hebrew as Eicha, which can mean “How!” or “Alas!”) and for 25 hours fasting from food, water, wearing leather shoes and other luxurious clothes, anointing one’s self with fragrance, joining in sexual pleasure, and learning Torah (except for sad passages and commentaries on Eicha).

At first glance, it would seem that Tisha B’Av is perhaps the most narrowly Jewish of all the sacred days. It seems to deal with a catastrophe that affected only the Jewish people. But an ancient rabbi, 2000 years ago, used a word-play in Hebrew to suggest that in some ways it could be seen as a profoundly universal experience. The rabbi asked, "When was the first Eicha? And answered: In the Garden of Eden, when God asked – –  ‘Ayekka, Where are you?’ “ The word-playay is that in Hebrew the two words have the same consonants, and are distinguished only by their vowels.

So through this midrash, almost a joking pun but very serious, the rabbi was saying that all of humankind went into exile from the Garden of abundance and delight. The original Temple of all humanity was shattered by our own arrogant action. (Notice that in this illustration, the human race is moving from a luscious Garden onto a harsh and stony path.) 

 

What was the arrogance of Eden? The sacred Voice, speaking on behalf of Reality, had told us that there was a world of extraordinary abundance; that we should joyfully eat of it; but that we must restrain ourselves, not gobble it all up. But we did not restrain ourselves, and so the abundance vanished and in consequence, we were to work always with the sweat pouring down our faces to make barely enough food for us to eat, because Earth would give forth mostly thorns and thistles.

So the parable of Eden was a warning not to gobble up all of Earth’s abundance, not to shatter the sacred Temple of all life forms, lest all Humanity become refugees. Exiles from Earth. 

What does this mean? That we are spiritual exiles, not only geographic refugees. We are alienated from our Mother, treating her like an object, not a beloved. Acting in I-It mode, treating her as It -- not a Thou of direct and intimate relationship. 

The human species has often ignored the teaching. Nine years ago, the oil company BP would not restrain itself in probing the Gulf of Mexico for oil. Its arrogance killed eleven of its own workers and poisoned many life-forms of the Gulf. 

 

And that was only one small piece of the devastation we are bringing on ourselves by burning fossil fuels, flooding our atmosphere with CO2.

 

Nine years ago, The Shalom Center joined with hundreds of people  on the steps of the US Capitol --  Jews, Christians, secular environmentalists, ordinary Americans aghast at the deaths imposed by BP’s arrogance – deaths of human beings and of fish and seabirds in the Gulf, economic disasters among the businesses and workers dependent on the Gulf’s abundance.  On the Capitol steps we chanted an English version of Eicha --  Eicha for Earth, we called it --   that The Shalom Center had commissioned Tamara Cohen (now Rabbi) to write. We sang songs from the Song of Songs, songs of love to Mother Earth. We blew the shofar (ram’s horn) of warning and alarm.  We wailed. We protested a government that had done far too little to prevent the disaster.

Nine years later, the present US government is not merely dragging its feet from protecting and healing Planet Earth. It is actively pursuing the destruction of our planet, in order to maximize the already Hyper-Wealthy profits of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas.

Whether in Washington DC or in the home offices of Senators and Representatives who are accomplices in the arson of Earth, or at the branches of banks like Wells Fargo that are financing Modern Carbon Pharaohs to bring Plagues upon us, or in the offices of Exxon and the other Big Oil pharaohs, we could gather on Friday afternoon August 8, the Friday before Tisha B’Av. Why then instead of Sunday? Because on Friday afternoon the offices will be open. 

We could chant Eicha for Earth and make a covenant with each other to work for the Green New Deal.  To work to restore the healthy, healing climate, the life-breath of our forebears. And wherever possible, to do as Malachi teaches -- turn the hearts of Elders to the Youth (Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion) and the hearts of Youth to Elders, working together "lest Earth be utterly destroyed. "

 (Some Jewish communities have chosen to focus this Tisha B'Av on the refugees whom our government is tormenting, not welcoming. An entirely legitimate midrashic direction to take this Tisha B'Av. They have chosen to enter into companionship with refugees. Both aspects of alienation and exile under pressure of tyrannical subjugation deserve attention and resistance this summer. The burning Earth has received less attention -- and I believe needs more.)

Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action.

Or if you can’t do a Friday public action, you might share these concerns with your friends, your congregation, in two hours together that Friday evening or Saturday that are the real Ninth of Av. Perhaps reading Eicha for Earth along with the Prophetic passage Hazon – Vision! – for that Shabbat. Sharing not the fast but our words, our breath, reading and speaking of the wounded, burning Temple Earth of our own time.  Of what we can do to save her.

Eicha for Earth and an entire service that celebrates Earth and mourns its destruction are at 

https://theshalomcenter.org/node/173

It begins this way:

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress. 

 Blue ocean, source of life --
Endangered and imprisoned.  

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

 Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

 Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed. 

 Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

 Wetlands sigh without their
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered. song birds,

 Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despitedestruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit. 

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

 Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path--
Help us, Help us, ,

Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make–new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action.

Please help The Shalom Center keep reaching out to you, with you, to help you breathe Spirit into Action, Action into Spirit. Please click on the “Contribute” button in the left-hand margin of this page.

May we in this way join our own breath with YHWH, the Breath of Life that is now gasping, “I can’t breathe!”--  to help us all breathe easy in the Shabbos breeze --  Arthur

 

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