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Friday, November 22, 2013

Bridging the covenants, naturally

Catholic ecologists often quote Hebrew Scriptures. We do so to demonstrate how divine truths are united with the created order. Whether we realize it or not, in quoting these texts we are also building vital bridges of dialogue, understanding, and love with our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Three recent encounters—two virtual and one in person—have had me thinking about all this.

The most recent occurred last night at a talk by Rabbi Michael Klein-Katz, who spoke at the Dominican Order's Providence College for their fall semester’s Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews. Rabbi Klein-Katz, who had ministered in New York before moving to Jerusalem in the 1980s, is currently the Scholar-in-Residence at Temple Sinai in Cranston, Rhode Island.

The rabbi spoke powerfully to a group of Christians, Jews, Muslims, students, professors, and guests. His talk, “A Rabbi, a Priest, and an Imam Walk into a Room: The Victories and Challenges of Interreligious Dialogue,” included a good measure of humor, which always helps unite a room.

What struck me about his talk was its reminders of all that Jews and Catholics share. I also was struck with how important it is for such dialogue because there is so much about each other that we don’t know. Still, what we have in common is significant, such as the creation accounts in Genesis—of the very goodness of creation—and of the longing for God to heal all that is broken when humanity’s free will chooses wrongly.

All this resonates with the second encounter that has had me thinking of ecology’s place in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. This is an interview with Rabbi Lawrence Troster, a member of GreenFaith: Interfaith Partners for the Environment. Rabbi Troster offered his thoughts to Dr. Robert Brinkmann of Hofstra University, who had also interviewed me in his series on faith and the environment.

This interview gives us much to consider about the Jewish perspective of ecology. I especially appreciate the rabbi's answer to how the Sabbath relates to all creation.
The Sabbath liturgy is filled with references to Creation as its origin was in the creation cycle of the 7 day week that was central to the theology of the Priestly School of the Temple in Jerusalem in the First Temple period. Thus on the Sabbath we can focus on Creation and also step back from our everyday activities. The traditional rules that govern the Sabbath are meant to do that. But there is also a great celebratory aspect in the traditional practice of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath we are supposed to let Creation be, and utilize our time in relaxation, communal prayer and study and family celebration. By stopping as much as possible our usual activities we can get ourselves out of normal time and enter into a different spiritual place. Again, as with all prayer, it can help us to appreciate Creation and not take it for granted. I believe that Abraham Joshua Heschel once said (in his great book on the Sabbath) that on the Sabbath, because we cannot pick the flower, the flower becomes like us and we become like the flower—each with its own undisturbed place in Creation.
This is great stuff! Indeed, these words made all  the more impact on me given that for us in the United States, Hanukkah is the earliest it can be this year, beginning on Thanksgiving Day, a day that we pause as a nation and give thanks to our Creator. This Hanukkah-Thanksgiving link will not happen in tens of thousands of years—if at all.

The third and last encounter is not nearly as profound as the first two—but then perhaps, in a way, it is.

Odd as this may sound, the topic of Rabbi Klein-Katz’s talk and the words of Rabbi Troster’s interview resonated for me with (of all things) a trailer for a motion picture that stars Russell Crowe. The trailer is for the motion picture Noah and (don’t laugh) it stirred within me a cosmic reminder of God’s love for all living things. Watch for yourselves.

The movie, to be released next spring, is directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel. Crowe stars in the title role. Yes, it is rather Hollywood-esque. Its effects, music, and drama seem well aligned with the bombastic mode of contemporary movies. And while I am not sure of the filmmaker's desire (or ability) to teach sound theology, from what I saw in the trailer they do underscore (at least visually) one important element of Genesis: that God seeks to save all creation. 

Of course, Noah is not the only flood story of the ancient Near East. Whatever actually happened in human, planetary, and/or climatological history, it seems reasonable that some sort of flood impressed the ancients. While many cultures told (or borrowed) this story, for the Nation of Israel its meaning goes well beyond God’s vengeance against wickedness. Rather, the authors of Genesis use the epic to tell of God’s love for creation and His mercy towards it—and us, which makes it a lesson about loving our neighbor. For Jews and Christians, Noah is a story of redemption and of relationship.

When I first saw the trailer of Noah, I thought about the ecological links but I did not appreciate how its “God loves all creation” narrative brings Christians and Jews together.

Then I read Rabbi Troster’s interview and listened to Rabbi Klein-Katz. Because of them, I am reminded of how important it is for Christians and Jews to share this ancient epic and all else that connects us in love with each other, with all life, and ultimately with God.


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