In recent months, I have been busy building out my morning rituals. I still begin with coffee & catching up with news (nothing new there.) I continue to work at strengthen my Mindfulness practice (most mornings.) It’s still somewhat new to me, but I have found it meaningful in these past two and half years of baby-steps. Recently I’ve added two more “practices.” Each came “on-board” separately, but around the same time. Each involves a short reading/reflection piece to help my mind, heart and soul focus on more than news and minutiae of my day. One, which came from a somewhat surprising source, I’ll share as part of tomorrow morning’s monthly Seeking Shabbat. The other was occasioned by the publication of Erica Brown’s newest book, Take Your Soul to Work: 365 Meditations on Every Day Leadership.
I’ve shared teachings from some of Erica Brown’s other books over the years. Erica spoke here several years back with former Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, on the occasion of the publication of her book Happier Endings, which I’ve yet to read. Ironically, it was only the very week of the publication of this most recent book that I had the chance to meet and learn from Erica Brown at a CJP-sponsored workshop held here at TS in early December. She is a marvelous teacher. I look forward to bringing her back to TS so we can all learn from her.
Each morning I sit with Erica’s Take Your Soul to Work, which she encourages that the reader consume in small doses, ideally just one a day. I admit, sometimes I sample 2 or even three selections. They are short, but powerful.
There are some times when one simply has to scratch their head and wonder about randomness and coincidence in life. For me, yesterday was one such morning. I sat down with my coffee and the morning’s news (I’d say the Globe – but, well, you know, that’s not a pretty story these days.) Soon enough I’d consumed both the coffee and more than enough news. Now you have to understand that my Thursday morning of any given week (often earlier) my mind is already wrestling with what I might teach at Minyan Torah Study; what I might offer in what I strive to write weekly for our blog Divrei Shalom (I’m a few weeks behind at this point); and if it’s my turn to share some words at Kabbalat Shabbat, what kernel might inform those words. I’m always mindful of the week’s Torah portion, as well as other bits and pieces from what I’ve studied during the week as well as the calendar and the world in which we live. I set down my iPad and picked up Erica’s book which usually lives right next to favorite reading spot at home. I opened to the next offering, in this case Day 37, entitled “On Connection,” in which Brown quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1967 Christmas Eve homily in which he says: “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.”
I sat sit still for several moments. As is often the case, I was moved by Erica’s teaching. As is her intention, her offering gave me pause to reflect. I was as taken by what I’d read Thursday morning as I was by the happenstance that I’d read her offering even as I was already contemplating words to share as we embrace Shabbat, and this weekend of remembrance and reflection on the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This Shabbat’s Torah reading brings us to the final showdown between Moses and Pharaoh as Pharaoh relents finally allowing our Israelite ancestors to depart from slavery and degradation in Egypt. It’s a story we know well. My intention had been to make what seemed to me a relatively simple, yet important, connection to my belief that in our day, we are still bound. In 2016 we still enslave ourselves and others: to fear, prejudice, racism, hatred, bigotry, and to a stunning narrowness of mind that divides us – within the Jewish community. On this weekend, I am even more troubled as our nation is roiled by hateful rhetoric and disturbing discourse which to me drive us further apart and further from the core values upon which our nation was founded. On this Shabbat and this MLK weekend I am deeply disturbed by the reality that as a nation we are still divided, enslaved, fragmented, less than whole, distant from Shalom as violence and hatred still live vibrantly in our streets, communities and cities and in the political discourse of our would-be leaders.
Erica Brown’s sharing of MLK’s words struck me quite powerfully: “”I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself . . . and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.” I hope you will join me in taking some quiet moments beyond tonight’s gathering to reflect on Dr. King’s words and our painful, noisy divisions; the hatred that passes for political and civil discourse. Let his words, and this weekend of remembrance lead us to living our values – Jewish and American, as we take our steps into a new week in a world that is still enslaved to too many of the ancient world’s divisions. In his talk in 1967, Dr. King states: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.” We must awaken our hearts and souls, our ears and our minds to his truth. It must become our truth if we are to survive as a society rooted in justice and freedom.