Prayer Service because the Earth Really Matters

And We Hear the Trees Pray

Dear friends,  As we reported to you earlier this week, our Survey of your views showed that you wanted  us to send regular suggestions of actions for you to take, toward healing American society and our wounded Earth. 

Meanwhile,  the collapse of Trump-UnCare has shown that vigorous, persistent public action can thwart the cruel and destructive plans of even would-be despotic officials.

On health care and immigration, religious communities have indeed been vigorous and persistent in resisting cruel governmental action. On the climate crisis, there has been some religious action – but not as much, even though the need is dire and the possibilities wonderful.

This letter offers one such action  -- an Earth-centered prayer service. Others will follow.

 During the week from July 9 to 16, the nationwide Jewish network called  Ruach HaAretz (“Spirit of the Earth”)   held a retreat at the Stony Point Retreat Center in upstate New York.  I took part both in planning that retreat and in teaching /”weaving”a course through the week, entitled “Prayer as if  the Earth Really Matters.” As I did, I kept in mind The Shalom Center’s recent multireligious consultation to develop liturgy that can inspire religious action to heal the Earth.

The class planned and then collectively led a prayer service in which all the retreatants took part. The guidebook/ prayerbook  for that course follows below. I suggest that Earth-aware religious and spiritual communities might use it as a template for planning services – perhaps monthly --  that will help inspire congregants to take spiritually rooted action to heal the climate and the Earth. Each prayer group could of course modify this blueprint to meet its own needs and desires.

We believe that the spiritual depth of prayer is crucial, but not sufficient, to make change happen.

So the class also began developing plans for a “public action liturgy” that would call for renewal, restoration, and healing of the Earth and its climate. We will pursue those plans by long-distance Zoom meetings.

The class also urged that we develop practices – like a congregational or neighborhood solar co-op – that would become  “religious imperatives.” 

The service was held in a grove of trees in the retreat center. It was focused on prayer for a Jewish gathering, but with a few changes could probably be used by many other religious and spiritual communities and interfaith groups.

We recommend that if at all possible, this service be celebrated  outdoors and among trees.  The service was planned for and actually took exactly one hour.  We are glad to provide it to gatherings of any religious or spiritual communities.  We invite those who draw on it to help us continue to disseminate it and develop other Earth-centered religious practices by sending  a supportive contribution to The Shalom Center. Click on the maroon "Contribute" banner on the left-hand margin of this page.or send a check to 6711 Lincoln Dr, Philadelphia PA 19119.

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Prayer Service As If -- and Because! –-

 The Earth Really Matters

Sunday Morning Service, Ruach HaAretz,

July 16, 2017

Held during the week-long retreat at

Stony Point Center


Arriving chant: Modah / Modeh  Ani l’fanecha, Ruach chai v’kayyam. ["Thankful am I, facing You  -- Everlasting Breath of Life ”]

Interpretive Modah /Modeh Ani

"Modah/Modeh Ani" in rhythm with other creatures and living beings. All of our bodies move differently, so please do the kind of motion that works for your body. Stretch up your arms toward the sky like a tree. Twist like a willow. Move your arms like a bird. Invite group to name moves; then the group follows.

Morning Blessings

Baruch ata Yahhh, Eloheinu Ruach ha’olam…

[Blessed are You,  Yahhh our God, Breath of Life -- ]

Who opens our eyes to the beauty in the world,

Who opens our eyes to what is truly happening today,

Who opens our eyes to envision the future.

Who reminds us that each step we take connects us with the Earth

Whose Divine image is seen in all life.

Excerpts from Psalm 148 [to the melody of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”:

Praise God, sun and moon, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise Yah, you stars of light, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise God, you high heavens, Hallelu-Yah.

All that flows in all the world, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise Yah from the Earth, Hallelu-Yah.

You sea-monsters and all deeps, Hallelu-Yah.

Fire, hail, snow, and steam, Hallelu-Yah.

Stormy wind to do God's word, Hallelu-Yah.

Mountains high and tiny hills, Hallelu-Yah.

Trees of fruit and evergreens, Hallelu-Yah.

Wild beasts and quiet flocks, Hallelu-Yah.

Creeping bugs and winged birds, Hallelu-Yah.

Whole societies and peoples, Hallelu-Yah.

Kol ha’neshama t’hallel Yahh, Hallelu-Yah

Nishmat:  Breathing with the trees…

In this prayer that affirms God’s Name as Interbreathing of  tall life, we invite you to breathe with the trees. Chant (by Joey Weisenberg; to hear his melody, click to

<> We substitute “Yahhh” for “HaShem” to emphasize the Name as a Breathing. )

Nishmat kol chai t’varech et shimcha,

Yahh eloheinu, Yahh eloheinu

Yaidadai  Yaidadai …  

or Hallelu-Yah Hallelu-Yah … --

(English to same melody:)

The breath of all life

Praises Your Name

For Yahhhh is Your Name,

Whispering Life.

Hallelu-Yah, Hallelu-Yah,

Hallelu-Yah, Hallelu-Yah!

Preparing for communal prayer: Retell the Talmud story: “The Torah teaches that all human beings are made in the Image of God. What does this mean? --  When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When the Holy One puts the Divine Image on a coin [a human being and perhaps all life-forms], each “coin” comes out unique.”  So we will turn to look from face to face at each other, pausing at each face to say within ourselves – “This is the Face of God. And this, so different, is the Face of God. And this, and this  …” We affirm this with a chant and dance:

Hinach Yafa Rayati --  “How Beautiful you are, my friend” [Chant by Rabbi Shefa Gold] takes the place of Barchu as the introduction to communal prayer.] Dyads facing each other make up two concentric circles. After each recitation of the chant, each person in the outer circle shifts one person to the left – repeating this three or seven times. Then all  become one large circle again, facing each other for the chant, and then all turn to face the trees  -- nd chant once more.

Sh'ma  Slowly chant Sh’sh’sh'sh   Mmmm  Ahhhh, then:

Sh’ma Yisrael Yah Eloheinu Yah Echad.

The Sh’ma, A Jewish Invocation of the Unity:

An Interpretation for the 21st Century (by R. Arthur Waskow)  Recite popcorn style, each stanza said aloud by one person.Sh’ma for the 21st Century: A Jewish Invocation of the Unity

All together chant: ”Sh’ma Yisrael Yahhh elohenu Yahhhh echad.” Then, going around the room, each person reads one paragraph :]

Sh’sh’sh’ma Yisra’el –
Hush’sh’sh and Listen, You Godwrestlers –
Pause from your wrestling and hush’sh’sh
To hear -- YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh/ Yahhhhhh.
Hear in the stillness the still silent voice,
The silent breathing that intertwines life;
YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh / Yahhhh elohenu

Breath of life is our God,
What unites all the varied
forces creating
all worlds into one-ness,
Each breath unique,
And all unified;
Listen, You Godwrestlers –
No one people alone
owns this Unify-force;
YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh / Yahh is One.

So at the gates of your cities,
where your own culture ends,
and another begins,
And you might halt in fear –
“Here we speak the same language
“But out there is bar-bar-bar-barbaric,
“They may kill without speaking—“
Then pause in the gateway to write on its walls
And to chant in its passage:
“Each gate is unique in the world that is One.”

If you hush and then listen,
yes hush and then listen
to the teachings of YHWH/ Yahh,
the One Breath of Life,
that the world is One --
If you hear in the stillness the still silent voice,
The silent breathing that intertwines life --

If we Breathe in the quiet,
Interbreathe with all Life --
Still small Voice of us all ----
We will feel the Connections;
We will make the connections
and the rain will fall rightly
The grains will grow rightly
The rivers will run,
The heavens will smile,
The forests will flourish,
The good earth will fruitfully feed us,
And all life weave the future in fullness.
Earthlings / good Earth.

But if we break the One Breath into pieces
And erect into idols these pieces of Truth,
If we choose these mere pieces to worship:
gods of race or of nation 
gods of wealth and of power, 
gods of greed and addiction – 
Big Oil or Big Coal –
If we Do and we Make and Produce without Pausing to Be; 

If we heat the One Breath with our burnings -- 
Then the Breath will flare up into scorching,
Great ice fields will melt 
And great storms will erupt:
Floods will drown our homes and our cities.

The rain will not fall —
or will turn to sharp acid —
The rivers won't run —
or flood homes and cities;
The corn will parch in the field,
The poor will find little to eat,
The heavens themselves
will take arms against us:
the ozone will fail us,
the oil that we burn
will scorch our whole planet

The Breath, Holy Wind, Holy Spirit
Will become Hurricanes of Disaster.
and from the good earth
that the Breath of Life gives us,
We will vanish;
yes, perish.

What must we do?

At the gates of our cities,
where our own culture ends,
and another begins,
Where we might halt in fear –
“Here we speak the same language
“But out there is barbaric,
“They may kill without speaking—“
Then pause in the gateway to write on its walls
And to chant in its passage:
“Each gate is unique in the world that is One.”

On the edges of each Self
take care to weave fringes,
threads of connection.
So we end not with sharpness,
A fence or a wall,
But with sacred mixing
of cloth and of air —
A fringe that is fuzzy,
part ours and part God's:
They bind us together,
Make One from our one-ness.
Good fringes/ good neighbors.
Deep mirrors/ true seeing.
Time loving/ right action.
The Infinite/ One.
Connect what we see with our eyes

To what we do with our hands.
If we see that a day is coming
That will burn like a furnace --
Turn for our healing to a sun of justice,
To its wings of wind and its rays of light
To empower all peoples.

Then the rains will fall
Time by time, time by time;
The rivers will run,
The heavens will smile,
The grass will grow,
The forests will flourish,
The good earth will fruitfully feed us,
And all life weave the future in fullness.


Honor the web that all of us weave  -

Breathe together the Breath of all Life. 

[The community simply breathes quietly for several minutes, staying aware that each breath comes from all breath.]

[This mdrashic translation//transformation of the Sh’ma waswritten by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center <>
Sh’ma for the 21st Century



[The community simply breathes quietly for several minutes, staying aware that each breath comes from all breath.]

Mi Chamocha : As once we stood at the Red Sea which threatened to be our waters of death -- yet became the waters of birth for a new people --  so we stand here, watching our seas rise. Consider how we may act to change our seas from waters of drowning to waters of birth and renewal.

Silent” Amidah: As long as we are alive, there is no silence, as we are always breathing. The trees are breathing with us. For this breathing Amidah, we invite you to stand near a tree and breathe together. Hear the tree’s Amidah. Listen to what the tree is praying. [The people disperse to stand with trees.]

To call people back from Amidah:

Etz Chayyim Hi (by Hanna Tiferet Siegel)

She is a tree of life

More precious than gold

Hold Her in your heart

And you will understand

Etz chayyim hi

Her roots are deep and wise

Her branches full of light

And all Her pathways are peace

Amidah Sharing Popcorn style… share about your experience in Amidah with the tree. What did you hear in the prayers of the tree?

[Responses transcribed. We include these only to give a feeling of what can happen. In your own service, do not include these in your prayer-book. Leave this time open for the drect experence of the people.]

1. I couldn’t move out into the trees. I couldn’t understand why. Everyone else was moving out into the trees, and I just had to stand and connect with the roots, and then I realized how holy the ground is, and I removed my shoes.

2. The tree I befriended had prickly pine needles, and  I could hear it saying to me, ‘You who breathe me in and out, I am breathing out to you –- a prickly scent just like my prickly needles — a prickly scent to say to you, "Wake up!”  A scent of more than sleep. "Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Breathe with me. I may be in danger but my prickly needles, my prickly scent, I’m sending to awaken you."

3. My Daily Minyan is made up of trees, and when I say that I am made in God’s image, I imagine the Yod of myself and the Yod of the tree, the Hey of the branches and the Hey of me, the Vav of the trunk and the Vav of me, and the roots of my body and the roots of the tree.

4.  So all week we were living in the Maple Lodge, but now as we’re outside we’re in the Maple Mishkan.

5. My tree said, ‘You and I are safe here. Take care of our brothers and sisters . . .’

6. The bamboo growth was just really insistent and kept saying, ‘You know, we’re really hard to kill. We’re really hard to kill. Don’t despair. It’s really hard to kill us.’

7. My tree kept reaching up to God – a steady stream of energy reaching right up to God.

8. ‘My roots are wider and more intricately connected to everybody else – much wider and more intricate than you can possibly imagine.’

9. My tree spoke as a vibration, and as I felt closer to that, beyond words, I noticed that my molecules and its molecules were very happy to spin around each other.

10.  My tree said, ‘Take care of us so we can take care of you.’

11. My tree said, ‘I’m going to let the birds speak for me.’

12. Mine said, ‘I was your first friend, and I will be your last friend.’

13. Mine said, ‘Help, please help.’ And "I notice my bark is thick and hard to get to. It protects me, the same way your shells protect you. And I share your DNA. I’m your cousin. … help me."

14. My tree said ‘L’dor vador.’

15. My tree said, ‘Thank you for hugging me.’

16. My tiny green sprout on the sidewalk here said, ‘Notice me, touch me, I’m growing in the crack.’

17. I heard my son’s voice, ‘Mommy!’ whispering from the tree, and I felt the wind rustling the canopy of branches. And then part of me remembered how some trees are hurt because crowds of tourists walk over their ground, on their roots, they’re hurt. So I ask the trees’ forgiveness.

18. The trees showed me the diversity of their forms, their different greens. It was beautiful.

19. The branches of my tree began just barely taller than me. It was a young tree, and it spoke to me of the vulnerability of future generations. Concern.

20. My tree said, ‘Ahh, water! Ahh, air!’

21. My tree, I felt -- that tiny little one behind us, a very skinny little tree, not far away – and I touched it, and I felt it. We were feeling each other. I felt that it connected me to me, to the Divine. The Divine was stabilizing in me and the tree, but the tree . . .

22. I just want to add that I was so convinced by the bamboo growth that they were hard to decimate that I felt very safe in there, and I didn’t want to leave and come back into community. It was very, very difficult to leave the grove and rejoin the community of humans.

23. I had a different experience in the bamboo. Under my foot there was something that made it very hard to stand, and I looked down and there was bamboo – the one that had been cut, and I felt apologetic -- standing on a cemetery, on a grave.

24. Hearing that vision of the Yod Hey Vav Hey in the tree and in the human, what came to me was God's Name as a Tree, the Tree of Life: The Yod — tiny, a seed in the ground. The Hey — curvy, the roots growing out of that seed. The straight tall Vav, the trunk. The other curvy Hey, the leaves, the foliage, and in the foliage, hanging, ready to fall into the earth is the next generation, another seed, another Yod. So the real Name, the full Name,  is: Yod Hey Vav Hey Yod. And on and on: Yod Heh Vav Hey Yod. . . A spiral. Always returning, always becoming.

Healing Song (by R. Aryeh Hirschfield)

We ask for healing for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our communities, and for the Earth.

From deep within the home of my soul,

now let the healing, let the healing begin.

Ana eil-na r’fana-la
Ana eil-na r’fana-la

Heal our bodies

Open our hearts

Awaken our minds


Mourner’s Kaddish

As we enter into the Mourner’s Kaddish, we invite anyone to stand who is saying kaddish for someone, and if they wish, to say the name and the relationship with the loved one they are mourning.

Pause: Then:  We also invite anyone else to stand who would like to say Kaddish for any animals, species, bodies of water, trees, or the Earth.  In recognition of these, we end with “v’al kol yoshvei tevel –“and all who dwell upon this planet” (including all life-forms).

Oseh shalom bimromav,

Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu,

v'al kol Yisrael.

V’al kol  Yoshvei tevel

V'imru: Ameyn.

Closing chant: “Earth My Body” (access the chant by Kohenet Taya Shere. Item 3  at  --


Earth, my body   

Water, my blood   

Air, my breath      

Fire, my spirit             

Earth, Assiyah   

Water, Yetzirah   

Air, Briyah         

Fire, Atzilut  

Nurture your body

Heal your heart

Experience your breath

Open to Spirit.


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