I have kept trying to learn from my car-crash wounding and healing.
First, the bare bones so to speak: Turns out I will need an operation on my broken tibia bone, and then more time for rehab. The operation is to happen the morning just before Rosh Hashanah welcomes the New Year, and just as Ramadan is about to end and Eid Ul-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast, is just about to begin.
What an auspicious moment to rethink! (Rethink what? Rethink me! Rethink America! Rethink our planet!)
What has come to me is that I have treated my personal health as a "free good," for which I had to do nothing. Swimming might be nice, yoga might be nice, but I get my most fun from words - ancient words of wisdom, modern words of science, words of compassion and awe.
So I would fly to my pleasure and set aside the actual practice of health. For decades, it was enough. But now -- it is taking hard work to strengthen my arms and legs, serious time away from reading Isaiah and writing my hope. No free lunch.
And that is what America has done. We have treated the pleasures of coal, oil, a billion different foods cut to fit in a zillion shiny packages, as a free good. Free Lunch. (Free Lunch was what you got in a 19th-century saloon if you bought enough beer. Not so free. The dollars were the least of it -- the hangover, the beaten spouse and children - not so free.)
Now we are paying the price of the binge. Let the earth rhythmically rest, says Leviticus 25. If you don't, says Leviticus 26, it will rest anyway - on your head. Famine, drought, plague, exile. What we call a "depression." Or at least a "Great Recession."
And worse. Our fellow creatures start dying. The climate heats up. Polar ice and Himalayan snows melt. Water tables vanish. Hot grasslands turn to deserts.
The legs of society are broken. The ribs of society get broken, and it becomes a lot harder to breathe --- breathe YHWH, the Breath of Life.
What to do? The spiritual traditions teach us - surround every act with a pause, a breath, a reflection, a blessing. Let yourself rest. Let the earth rest.
Let me take what has become for me the clearest example: Going to the bathroom.
It used to take 30 seconds to leave my computer, go to the bathroom; 30 seconds to come back. Unthinking. Oblivious. A free good.
Now -it takes a whole complex plan. A wheelchair by my bed. The need of time to surround an urgency with time, wiggling my legs, ringing a bell, getting help. Minutes and minutes and minutes.
Jewish spiritual tradition had, has, a way to take that time seriously. To surround it with thought. An amazing prayer, Asher yatzar: "You Who shaped my body so that closed places might remain closed and open places remain open, I praise You and thank You, for I know that if one closing opened or one opening closed, I could not keep standing in gratitude before your Throne of Compassion."
Perhaps there is even a joke in there, a pun. "Kisei," the Hebrew for "throne," has become the semi-slang word for a toilet. Is the blessing saying, "For me to celebrate You, sitting on Your Glorious Throne, I must be able to sit calmly on my throne"?
Maybe not. But for me, that delicious sweet-and-sour dish to taste our world, a mixture of sunny+sardonic, is helping me through this process of unintended healing. Glorious blessing with a quirky grin -- my mirror for the world.
Now - what is the analog of "asher yatzar" and its cousin, the Grace over Meals, for a whole nation?
We take energy into our bodies: we say a blessing, it is a sacred process. We pour forth from our bodies what they do not need: we say a blessing, it is a sacred process. We and the earth are interwoven. The pause to celebrate is how we affirm the sacred interweaving.
The American ideal has been totally different: No time to pause, ever-higher productivity, ever- longer work hours, ever-bigger Gross Domestic Product. If that meant in the Great Recession more and more people without jobs, the cure must be more production. But even the mass media are talking about a "jobless recovery" -- meaning recovery for stocks and bonds, machines and products -- but not for workers. As the poet Carl Sandburg wrote,
"Jobs are property, yes.
Stocks are property, yes.
Jobs are property?
No, nix, nah, nah."
Something is wrong. Suppose we were to turn all this on its head, and said: "Jobs for all. A thirty-hour work week if that makes jobs available for everyone, at no pay reductions."
What goes down? Profits.
And what goes up? Time to pause. Time to praise. Time for family. Time to be neighborly. Time to grow a tree, and not to cut it down. Time to play touch football. Time to walk. Time for a block party. Time to paint a collective mural in every neighborhood. Time to "bless," in whatever form each person likes. Time to say, "Wow!"
What goes down? Profits. And that's no minor matter. As I keep living through my healing, I will ask what teaching points toward wisdom about profits.
I welcome you into this journey with me. Not the wounding - most of us are wounded enough already. But the healing and the exploration.
With blessings of shalom, salaam, shantih - Peace: