In the Meantime,
In case you did not know, my personal spiritual life is as a non Jewish member of a synagogue. This has been part of my life for 22 years now, both in Grand Rapids and Brooklyn. That’s why I know so much (for a non Jew) about the holidays, which by the way are still under way.
Sukkoth, which means booths, is all this week. There are several meanings to the holiday, a solemn feast, but the key element is spending time, especially meals, in a rustic shelter (the sukkah). There are several reasons for this. One is to be reminded of their time in the wilderness, or when they tended the fall harvest and wanted to protect the crop from thieves, or when they went to Jerusalem and had to set up a temporary place to stay. What they all have in common is that the shelter is temporary, reminding them that all life is temporary, something heard in the recitation of Qoheleth, Ecclesiastes, which starts with the words, ha-vel, ha-valim, ‘vanity of vanities.’
This is a feast? Yes, because it is a harvest holiday, like our Thanksgiving, only with a gentle reminder that all life will run its course and be ‘gathered in’ in due time. It reminds us that we too are like the leaves and fruit of a tree, which have their season, as the tree endures.
What is your tree? Trees have turned up in my life several times – a pine I learned to climb when I was five, a mulberry whose scent filled the yard during hot Maryland summers, a flowering cherry tree whose blossoms barely lasted a week, a sugar maple I tapped to make a failed batch of syrup, the astonishing redwoods of Sequoia National Park whom I visited in 3 feet of snow, a great live oak in my Austin front yard, stinko ginkgos of Brooklyn Heights whose leaves are just about perfect, and the otherworldly baobabs and acacias of southern Africa that are the signature of our human homeland. These are just some of the trees that have marked my life. My time here in Arizona will allow me to add the palo verde and jacaranda as part of my spiritual forest.
My tree, If I had to choose one, would be the coastal redwood, sequoia sempervirens. In this I am not unusual. Once beheld, touched, they evoke awe without fear. In their shade one feels sheltered though the sun and sky are always visible through their delicate branches. They are the world sukkah, I think, reminding me of my very short tenure compared to theirs. And yet, in their presence I can taste something of eternity. Sounds like church, doesn’t it? – FW –