This spring I bought flowers and grasses for our deck, where my family eats dinner in good weather. Part of me felt silly for paying money to have these lovelies in our space without planting the seeds and cultivating them myself. But to be honest, I don’t have the foresight to do all that on time (or much of a greenthumb, either) and their colors and textures add a bit of pizzazz to the deck area.
Ever since then, two quotes have been bouncing in my head. One is from writer James Baldwin’s description of his black childhood in Harlem and the other is from the ubiquitous words of Chief Seattle on street benches, totem poles, and bronze statues throughout the Pacific Northwest, where I grew up. They both speak to me of the folly of trying to buy a piece of the holy.
There is reason, after all, that some people wish to colonize the moon, and others dance before it as an ancient friend.
–James Baldwin, No Name in The Street
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of the Earth is sacred…. –attributed to Chief Seattle
We can’t own nature, but we can devote time and energy to appreciating it; there is beauty and wonder all around us all the time. Whether it’s wild or landscaped, animal, vegetable or mineral, it’s within all of us to experience the natural world in a mindful way. I do this by walking outside almost every day and by traveling to new places whenever I can. I believe in the importance of travel to find what only exists elsewhere, to meet people who live and think and worship differently than we do, and to simply hear new sounds and see new sights.
Just before Pesach, my dad and I traveled to Iceland on a week-long tour of Iceland’s unimaginably unique scenery. We saw glaciers, geothermal hot springs, waterfalls both flowing and frozen, lava beds, volcanoes, and beach caves. On our last night there, just before midnight, we boarded a bus that drove us to Yechupitzville (the Yiddish word for middle of nowhere–it probably has a different name in Icelandic!) The purpose of this midnight adventure was to see the Northern Lights, so we needed distance from the brightness of Reykjavik. We drove for about an hour, making several stops to scan the skies for grainy swaths of cloud. Oddly, whatever formations our naked eyes could perceive, our cameras captured their colored glow much better. (Please don’t ask me to explain the visual science behind this; my dad is an incredible photographer and understood it all for me.)
Now there is no way that a giant Hebrew letter Shin would ever appear in the sky over the park near my home in Bethesda. But without knowing in advance what we would see in Iceland, I had set aside the time for this trip and my dad had generously bought the tickets. And the amazing, near-holy thing about spending resources on travel is the chance to witness luminosity like this without the illusion that we own it.
Can we see what is at once there and not there? Can we seek adventure and also be satisfied with the familiar? When we pray from a siddur (prayerbook), can we also see the tree whose cellulose pulp forms the pages?
My friend Yoni just gifted me a little book called God is Here by Rabbi Tova Spitzer. This book invites us to reimagine our metaphors of God. We’ve all heard God language that invokes a kingly ruler of the universe. Embedded in our sacred texts, however, are also powerful descriptions of God as Water, Voice, Place, Fire, Rock, and Cloud. I read this book and asked myself how much our indoor sanctuaries and sacred spaces invoke awe in me versus how much outdoor experiences connect me to God. There’s no right balance, but asking the question feels important.
I hope we all find holiness in moments of deep connection to nature and to the Divine, wherever we find ourselves.
Want to chat about nature, travel, or holiness? So do I! Email me and let’s meet for a walk or coffee or sit on the comfy couches of The Soul Center!
Warmest wishes from my soul to yours,