Friday, August 05, 2011

In the Garden of Spirituality – Pamela Greenberg


“We are not on earth to guard a museum,
but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

– Pope John XXIII

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on religion and spirituality continues with excerpts from an article by writer and translator Pamela Greenberg, whose book The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation was published earlier this year. Greenberg's article is from the Winter 2011 (and 25th anniversary) issue of Tikkun. This particular issue is full of insightful and inspiring "advice to the next generation of activists engaged in tikkun olam" (transforming the world), and Greenberg’s piece beautifully explores the truth that “the only way that those of us committed to a life of self-reflection and political change can create lasting transformation is to begin by transforming ourselves.”


Looking around the world these days it is easy to feel anxiety rising in one’s chest and throat. The forms of pollution and suffering are endless. . . . Looking around, it is easy to find oneself awash in fear, anger, and anxiety. But these emotions are paralyzing and rarely lead to real change in the world. Over and over, we must remind ourselves of the need to focus on the holy. Without it, we too easily fall into bitterness, a poison for the soul as well as for our work of healing and transformation.

But what is the holy? It is a concept hard to define. Its ingredients include wonder, joyful participation in community, beauty, and love. In its light, fear dissipates and what is left is forgiveness and strength, grace and hope.

The Torah tells Jews to “be a light to the nations.” The only way that those of us committed to a life of self-reflection and political change can create lasting transformation is to begin by transforming ourselves. I truly believe that others will see that light and eventually follow it. In truth, we all have a deep longing for holiness, even those whose actions seem to belie this need – those for whom words like community and justice have become distorted and degraded. It is only bitter disappointment in the absence of the holy that makes human longing turn to movements like the Tea Party, a movement clearly fueled by anger and divisiveness.

We must kindle our lights, and kindle the lights in one another. These are dark times, dangerous times, and at moments the global emergency room seems just around the corner.

Our light is kindled both by our longing and – importantly – our humility, our recognition that whatever we have to offer is both complete and flawed. In the song “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen sings: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything – That’s how the light gets in.”

I look forward to seeing the shining of that light, lighting whatever I can, and when my light grows dim, being lit by others, friends and strangers, whoever among us who continues to hold a candle in the dark.

To read Pamela Greenberg’s “How the Light Gets In” in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Bishop Spong on the Tea Party Movement

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

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