How do we endure? How do we persevere for the long haul, over decades? I remember how giddy I was during Earth Day 1990. I graduated from Michigan State with my brand new Bachelor degrees in Environmental Policy and Wildlife Ecology while at the same time, I saw Earth Day go mainstream! Newsweek, Time and dozens of other magazines had glossy covers with real information about the state of the Earth- forest, oceans, farmland, toxics, extinction and even climate change! In my euphoric haze, it seemed to me that environmental education was to the 1990’s as ‘plastics’ were to the 1960’s. Lists of simple changes were selling like hotcakes! The world seemed ready. I conveniently ignored my confusion when my Valedictorian speaker squawked excitedly about how she can now go out and buy all sorts of new things…stereo’s, clothes, cars…
Cognitive dissonance was easy- sure, no one paid much attention to the 50 difficult things to save the Earth list, however did that matter? After all, a certain prince, er, senator, wrote the truly smart and visionary book, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. He had entered politics after taking classes in divinity school and working as an investigative reporter! And then he actually became vice president and a heartbeat from the presidency! We were one step away from the Garden of Eden, weren’t we?
Needless to say, Mashiach, the Messiah, did not come. I find I am a sucker for leaders who espouse hope, and yet, when I allow my hope to take up residency inside their heart, I find myself eventually forsaken. Why is it so easy to deny our inner source of hope, (as easy as a hand blocks the sun says the Baal Shem Tov)? How do I learn to listen, as Emily Dickinson did, to the hope with feathers perched in my own soul?
Could the prayerbook be seen as a hope manifesto? A healing remedy for daily endurance and perseverance. After all, it is filled with gratitude, wonder, love, emotional honesty, interconnectedness, presence, silence, grief and a fierce yearning for personal and collective redemption. How does the prayerbook manage to send us into our days with renewed hope in our hearts? What does the prayerbook teach about hope?
Well, to open one facet of this diamond that is the prayerbook, have you ever noticed how the powerful images of past national redeemings are placed strategically? For instance, crossing the sea and becoming freed from slavery is placed in the redemption blessing that comes just after the Shema. When the grind of daily actions begins to overwhelm, our zeal begins to flag, and we think our days will just go on and on with the same old drudgery, the same old cranky conversations without ever getting to redemption, bam- the Rabbis remind us of the success of past redemption. It happened before and it can happen again.
Remember, they seem to say, that our world is a non-linear system, and our tomorrow can be very different from today. No one knew the day before the Berlin Wall came down, and yet everything changed. No one could predict a musical genius named Stevie Wonder would enter the world, and everything changed. No one could predict that the small shrew like mammals living under the feet of the dinosaurs would evolve into the robust bush of mammals we see today! Who really knows what tomorrow will bring? Netzach b’Malchut.
Reflection/Action: What redemptive memories do you carry that inspire you socially or politically? Reb Nachman of Bratslav asks us to also remember personal redemptions- along with redemption by sea…especially at Pesach. To remember and share personal stories about surviving a life-threatening illness, fire or other calamity. What stories of personal redemption do you carry?
For me, I remember being 17 and illegally riding in a camp car with 5 other camp counselors. It was during session break and no campers were around. We were driving 50 mph, which was way too fast for the dirt road we were on. The road turned left; we did not. Miraculously, we skidded off the road into the only open patch of field along that roadside- all the rest of the roadside was forest trees. Hope renewed. How about your stories of redemption? Here’s to the power of carrying on. Netzach b’Malchut.