The Ocean of Humanity: 300,000+ call for Climate Action Now!

This photo by Jon Fein, echoing one of the prayers of Yom Kippur, shows Reb Arthur with Terry Kardos and her sign aboard Noah’s Ark at the People’s Climate March, 9/21/14]

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My heart is full.

Yesterday, the great People’s Climate March felt to me like Shabbat Shabbaton – –  Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath. Not a Shabbat of contemplation only,  but of contemplation and celebration woven of joy in doing the deepest work.

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I took joy in joining with more than 300,000 people  -- some mainstream media are saying 400,000! --  including my son and two of my grandchildren, to do what my heart, my mind, my body had been yearning to do for many many years. (The grandchildren are not incidental; I have them always in mind as I do this work.) That is, to awaken the Jewish people, all communities of faith and spirit, and all peoples to the truth that we are facing the deepest crisis of all human history and that our traditions, ancient and renewed, carry the wisdom of how to meet that crisis.

First came the emergence of a branch of the March for involving Communities of Faith and Spirit. Pat Almonrode of was crucial in bringing us together, and Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith was superb in guiding our planning. Mirele Goldsmith, director of Hazon's Jewish Greening Fellowship, joined with The Shalom Center to begin the organizing of the Jewish contingent -- which we grew into more than 80 organizations, ultimately including the Union for Reform Judaism,  its Religious Action Center, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Then a small subcommittee of us shaped an extraordinary prayer service. It began with celebration of our awesome Earth, continued with lamentation for her wounds, and went from there into active hope – – our commitment to act to heal our Mother Earth. The service was skillfully led by Fletcher Harper and was infused with music  — the world-renowned cellist Michael Fitzpatrick, gospel singer Roosevelt Credit, Peter Yarrow, Neshama Carlebach.

I had the role of chanting  an English-language lament for the Earth,  written by Rabbi Tamara Cohen  for The Shalom Center several years ago,  in the mode of the ancient Hebrew Book of Lamentations, mourning the Babylonian Empire’s destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 2500 years ago. That destruction was repeated by the destruction of the rebuilt Temple by the Roman Empire 2000 years ago.

I prefaced my chanting of the Lament first, as I always begin when I speak, by welcoming the gathered community  — ‘Shalom  — —  salaam — —  peace   —.”  The crowd responded  "Shalom  — —  salaam — —  peace   —.” And then suddenly it came to me to add something new: I added “Earth– – Earth– – – Earth– – – – “ and to this too, to each “Earth” with fuller force and energy, the assembled community responded “Earth!” I think I will be doing this from now on.

Then I  explained about the ancient Book of Lamentations. I said that it is the habit of great empires to destroy what is sacred in all worlds. I said that today we face Imperial corporations, corporate empires, that are wounding and destroying the One Temple of all cultures, traditions, all our communities, and all life forms – – the Temple of our Earth. There was a roar of response from our assembled community of worship when I said that.

I turned to the 30 or so shofar-blowers who had assembled at the foot of the stage. I called out "Tekiah!" and they blew the long blast of the Ram's Horn to say, "Sleepers, Awake!"  At the end of the Lament I called out "Tekiah gedolah!" and there came an even longer blast. And of course our whole March was a great "Tekiah!"

In the service, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling  led an an extraordinary moment of silent meditative visualization — for each of us, picturing of our most beloved place and time on Earth — the place we would most deeply grieve if we were to lose it as the Earth’s wounds worsen. Two minutes of utter silence of thousands of people gathered in the busy, noisy, hypermetropolis of New York City — an amazing moment Reb Mordechai induced!

And when our service was completed, the 10,000+ of us who had assembled on a long long block of New York City as Communities of Faith and Spirit joined the larger March. We were led by an extraordinary Noah’s Ark, built by students of the Auburn Theological Seminary under the leadership of Isaac Luria. I was able to join the thirty people who actually rode aboard the Ark. From that vantage point I was able to see the ocean of humanity that was pouring out to heal the oceans, the rivers, the clouds and mountains, the air and earth, the many many species, that make up the interwoven ecosystems of our planet.

I was able to see and often to reach out and clasp hands with people walking in the great March whom I had taught, whom I had learned from,  whom I love and who made clear that they love me. Jay Michaelson, who was also aboard the Ark, told me to look out upon my legacy. I laughed and quoted – – I think it was Muhammad Ali – – who said "I ain't dead yet."  But if I were, that extraordinary yesterday would leave me feeling well fulfilled.

My heart indeed is full.

But indeed I ain't dead yet, and my mind continues to stir forward into what we need to do. The March can become a turning point, but only if we make it that by our actions in the months and years ahead.

The day before the March, Phyllis and I took part in the gathering of about 250 religious leaders from all around the world, a gathering called "Religions for the Earth," sponsored by Union Theological Seminary, the World Council of Churches, and several other major religious organizations. The gathering was wonderful in making possible, both in formal sessions and in lunchtime shmoozing, the sharing of perspectives from the many traditions, both the "world religions" and indigenous peoples.

One aspect of it was disappointing. The original invitation had said the gathering would come forth with a call to the religious communities of all the world concerning the crucial international session in Paris at the end of 2015 at which all governments will decide or fail to take the steps necessary to begin the healing of our wounded Mother Earth. But it turned out that the effort to draft such a statement beforehand became, in the view of the organizers,  too complicated. So there was no way to come to a collective affirmation of what we need to do. The WCC did issue a statement and invite signatures, with a call for action by communities of faith and spirit, but without a clear plan or even suggested specific alternative suggestions for action.

Religions for the Earth also sponsored an evening prayer service after the March. It was held in the towering Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and about 3000 people took part. Its central theme was an individual and collective commitment,  a covenant among us to go forth and act. As a symbol of commitment, each of us was invited to pick up stone from a collection of hundreds that had been prepared ahead of time, and to then take our stone to a place of commitment, the stone a symbol that we were committed to act in accord with an intention that we had  placed upon the stone.

My stone was sharp and powerful, and what came to me was that with this stone, David slew Goliath. The young, small, almost naked shepherd boy destroyed the giant clothed in armor, carrying a giant sword. The commitment I placed upon my stone was to kill no human being, but to resist and dissolve those giant armored, beweaponed corporations that are wreaking havoc on our Earth. Despite the US Supreme Court, corporations are not persons. They were not created in the image of God, as human beings are. We must make them serve YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, and not destroy it — and those corporations that are irreparable versions of Pharaoh we must dissolve as Pharaoh’s Army dissolved in the red Reed Sea.

Yesterday 300,000 of us gathered unarmed, unarmored, open to sun and wind. We were, we are, an ocean of Davids. We celebrate the Breath of Life, and we must act to end its being choked and strangled by the burning Carbon Pharaohs of today.

The specifics of what we can do I will leave till tomorrow. Today — a time to kvell, to celebrate what we have done already.

Shalom, salaam, peace; Earth, Earth, Earth!  --  


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