More and more people around the world are learning that walking* in nature can be a spiritual practice. It was surely known to our biblical ancestors, and today intentional time strolling in nature has become an international movement known as Shinrin Yoku or Forest Bathing.
I treasure the late summer, just before the Jewish New Year, as a wonderful time to get out in nature, and I relate it to a Hasidic teaching. “The King is in the Field,” is a parable of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad Hasidism. He likened Rosh Hashanah and the Awesome Days through Yom Kippur to a time when a king is in the palace and it is very formal act to approach the throne.. But when the king is traveling to the palace anyone can approach him as he travels through the fields.
After the drama of the ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and receiving the Torah at Sinai, the Biblical book of Exodus turns to what seems a much more mundane subject: building the first Jewish temple, a portable sanctuary known as the Mishkan. Where do we find such sanctuary today?
When I get too wrapped up in my merely human concerns, all I need to do is to look outside my window or take a walk in the park to enter a different world, the world of birds that surround us everywhere. (In fact, I hear them chirping as I write this post). Here are a few of my favorite recent moments when I opened my eyes and ears to birds.
הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃
This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.
To me, greeting the moon is always a special thrill, like running into a wise and beautiful friend who communicates silently.
Seasons are very different in each of the places I have lived. In South Texas, a short spring quickly stretches into a long, hot, heavy summer, followed by a pleasant fall and mild winter. (more…)
In addition to affirming the goodness of seasonal rhythms, the Bible also affirms the seasonal rhythms of human life, as in the well known section of Kohelet / Ecclesiastes:
There is a season for everything, and a time for every desired purpose under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3 לַכֹּ֖ל זְמָ֑ן וְעֵ֥ת לְכָל־חֵ֖פֶץ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃
I love watching the interplay of light filtered through green leaves onto water, the sparkling diamonds of light on the gurgling stream. Light can only be appreciated as it balances and plays with darkness, with shadow.Our lives, too, have periods of light and dark. We go through dark moods of sadness, the valleys of the shadow (Psalm 23), the dark night of the soul.
Something about the atmosphere in Jerusalem makes me feel like my feet aren’t quite touching the ground, even when my sandals are covered with dust. If people are not looking I find it hard to resist the desire to take off with a few dancing steps. Maybe it’s the constant scent of pine trees, or the mountain air “clear as wine.” Perhaps it is the beauty of light dancing on stones or shimmering on olive bark.