By Marianne Marstrand
The Rabbi Who Love the Earth
We first met Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in Boulder, Colorado in 2008. We sat with him in warm and cozy surroundings, a home filled with books and handmade things, a place unfettered by excess. We had come to convince the Rabbi to participate in a think tank of America’s spiritual teachers that would meet at the Aspen Institute. “What is your agenda and what outcome do you hope for?” he asked with serious and kind eyes. “Well…, we have no agenda and we have no idea what will be the outcome.” I imagined by his expression that he was thinking we were very naive. “Ah, I see. You will leave space for divine spirit to enter the room,” he replied. “Then I will come!”
Reb Zalman had lived a spiritual life with a gusto and love for people and their beliefs that is uncommon in even the most open of religious leaders. He believed that the many streams of worship were each a unique flavor belonging to a “region” of the world, to the soil and the people that inhabit a specific place. For Reb Zalman, spiritual life was anything but boring. He could recite Sufi poetry without a halt or a stutter, and was even initiated into a Sufi lineage. He chanted with Hindus in Sanskrit. He knew history and politics, ways of indigenous peoples and sweat lodges, the beliefs of the Buddhists, Christians, and the Muslims. From the way he lived, it was clear that he cared, with all the patience of a loving grandfather.
He longed for the day when we would tell our religious stories a little differently, not in a triumphalist way, but each finding a cosmology and way to understand reality that our “Mother the Earth” would want us to have, a story that would see to the needs of the Earth as more important than the growth of our business. He compared each tradition to a vital organ of one body. If we want to contribute to the healing of the planet, each tradition had to make sure they were healthy in order to heal the Earth.
When he was young and waiting for his “papa” to come eat at the table, he tells, he would observe the tiny droplets of schmaltz that floated on top of his chicken soup. With his spoon, he would pull them together into one big circle of glistening fat. “The only way we are going to get it together, is together,” was his expression.
Last year, at a gathering at Naropa University, he spoke to a room of spiritual teachers: a colorful variety of characters that could only be found in America. We did not know that we had come to listen to parting words of this wisdom-keeper, who was now almost 90. Serious meditators, we listened with ears wide open, hoping for secrets of “truth,” or at least, a few reassuring words from this honored elder. “Our mother the Earth is calling to us. The spiritual tank upon which she was nourished is empty, it’s running on fumes,” he said. This tank was once fed by our songs and chants, the rituals and prayers that marked our day, that we have forgotten as we speed through life. These particular words stirred the room. He had difficulty breathing, but whatever the air was that sustained him, it was pure. It was the oxygen of another atmosphere, a unified ground of being where there is so much love.
This post was originally published by Creator at We Work June 2015