In the beginning there was only the holy darkness.
In Jewish Kabbalah teaching it is called the Ein Sof, or the source of life.
And then, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand, thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident.
And the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand, thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events, and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Rachel Naomi Remen continues the story, “According to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world.”
I am a storyteller. And we need stories more than ever, because they are the indispensible fuel for our sanity. We have been empowered with the capacity to find the hidden light, in Hebrew, tikkun olam, to repair the world.
Here’s the good news. This is, and can only be, a collective task. Because it involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born.
So here’s the deal: We are all—every one of us—repairers and healers of the world.
Well. That’s a bit overwhelming, don’t you think?? The whole world??
Let me rephrase, tikkun olam is not about healing the world by grand splash or spectacle (say, parting the Red Sea). It is about repairing and healing the world that touches you, the world—the people—close by, the daily, those ordinary resting places for our heart.
As John Lewis asked, “What if the beloved community is already a reality, the true reality, and we simply have to embody it until others can see?”
This week I read Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise. And the story above is from her conversation with Rachel Naomi Remen. Krista told her 7-year-old son the tikkun story, about “sparks and the holy flying out.” He listened raptly and said, “I like that.”
Yes. So do I. Stories touch and connect with our humanity in a profound way. Speaking of stories and “sparks and the holy flying out,” I was lucky; I grew up in a home surrounded by books and a love of stories, including fantastical ones. As a young boy, afternoons entranced by The Count of Monte Cristo and Three Musketeers, the latest exploit of Frank and Joe Hardy, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
But let’s face it; there is a gap between who we are and who we want to be.
I will admit that because of anger, disquiet and anxiety, there are times I do not see light. And I don’t share light.
So yes, the accident part of the story resonates. I give way to those events in life that turn things upside down. And life feels heavy, alarming and nerve-wracking.
Here’s my question: How do we not let that be our narrative?
Instead, can we talk about sparks and holy flying out? I like it.
John Katz would agree. “I am very much drawn to this idea of the good deeds of the righteous. I am seeking to live this kind of life in a time of conflict and dehumanizing technology and great greed and callousness to the poor and the needy, who are given no hope and even turned away from our doors. I am not a particularly religious man but somehow, I have great faith born of despair, and when I am discouraged or feeling weary, I close my eyes and think of the light pouring forth from this idea of God, this energy and light coming from the good deeds of the righteous.”
We are born with the capacity to find the hidden light. So what does it mean to live as if we are repairers and healers of the world?
(Maybe we get to ride around in a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance limo? With Ghost Buster like weapons? That would be cool.)
Or maybe, this is about the script we buy. Not believe. Buy.
Okay, let’s use Plato’s verb instead. He said, “Whatever is honored will be cultivated.” Honored.
As in, what do we pay attention to?
The news cycle easily hijacks and derails our best intent. It’s not easy, is it? Because of a cacophony, we can live defensive and reactive, as if we are victims. (Okay, I can tell you that I do.) No wonder we feel stuck. We feel at the mercy of “the accident.”
As if we are not empowered.
As a gardener this makes perfect sense. It’s all about the dirt. Nutritious or nutritive soil creates and generates life.
Toxic soil does not. Fertility is stifled, because the nutrients have been leached.
Tikkun… to repair the soil of the world with nutrients: kindness, a balm of generosity, a capacity to accommodate fragility, and a softness of spirit. What Eve Ensler called, “The daily subtle simple gathering of kindness.”
In Wendy Holden’s Born Survivors (the story of three women who gave birth in concentration camps) about the power of ordinary grace in a very dark world. Toward the end of the war the Germans were almost depleted of aeroplanes and they chose to manufacture aeroplane parts in newly designated munitions factories, including one in Freiberg, SW of Dresden. The laborers? The healthiest women remaining in the concentration camps. Women who had already survived brutality, hunger, thirst, cold and degradation. So trains overcrowded with women left Auschwitz for Freiberg.
Stories keep my hope alive. When I concentrate on the light being quenched, I am easily dispirited. When I see the swell of smallness or cruelty, I forget that I get to say how the story ends.
One day in Freiberg, Klara developed a painful tooth infection. At first, nobody cared but a few days later one half of my face got so swollen and hard that I couldn’t see. Our Lagerkommandant took me to a dentist in town. I had to march ahead of him, he had a rifle with bayonet; people looking at us thought that he’d just captured the biggest spy in the world.
The dentist was told that as Klara was a prisoner he was only to do necessary work and not waste any anesthetic on her.
The SS officer wanted to watch but the dentist shooed him out, saying there wasn’t enough room for him to work. “I walked in, it was warm, clean and he was polite,” said Klara. “Tears came to my eyes and, when he asked me if it hurts that much, I truthfully said, No, the tears are because it has been a long time since I was treated as a human being.”
We are empowered to repair and heal the world where it touches us, the world—the people—close by, the daily, those ordinary resting places for our heart.
I had work cancellation this week, so time at home, to read and garden and try to swear off social media. It’s not very easy.
Each week in the garden, new pageants—holy flying out. Japanese Anemone, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Hollyhock, Hydrangea.
I had visitors this week. Two SM readers made a trip to visit the garden, their first to Vashon Island. Everytime I speak I extend the invitation. So if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, we’ll leave the light on for you.
Quote for your week…
One of the realities we’re all called to go through is to move from repulsion to compassion and from compassion to wonderment. Mother Teresa
Notes: thank you Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise and Wendy Holden, Born Survivors
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The Privilege Of A Lifetime
The Privilege of a lifetime is being who you are,
The goal of the hero trip
down to the jewel point
is to find those levels in the psyche
that open, open, open,
and finally open to the mystery
of your Self…
That’s the journey.
Joseph Campbell, Reflections On The Art Of Living
Loving God we offer you
Every flower that ever grew
Every bird that ever flew
Every wind that ever blew
Every thunder rolling
Every Church bell tolling
Every leaf and sod
Every wave that ever moved
Every heart that ever loved
Every river dashing
Every cloud that swept o’er the skies
Every human joy and woe
Watch over us today as we strive to understand your word of love