Shabbat in Nature
On two consecutive Saturdays in August, members of Congregation Beth El in Sudbury were invited to experience a spiritual adventure in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, led by their rabbi, David Thomas. “Some of us feel closest to God in Beth El’s sanctuary, singing and praying with our community. Others experience God’s presence at a waterfall, in the fragrance of a beautiful flower, or in the sound of the wind blowing through a spruce forest,” he wrote in his invitation to the congregation. Those who took part in the adventure, were able to capture this experience in its fullest sense.
Some chose to leave Sudbury the evening before, staying overnight in lodging closer to the Livermore Road Trailhead. Others left at 6:30 a.m., arriving by 9 a.m., no worse for the wear. Rabbi Thomas’ pre-planned five-mile hike of moderate difficulty was geared toward adults and children over 10 years of age, who were “physically fit and [filled with] a sense of wonder and a spirit of adventure.”
Exercises designed to bring participants into the present moment, to focus on minutiae, perspective and the miraculous, brought each individual into his or her own awareness of the spiritual through all of their senses these exercises made everyone feel as if it was perfectly natural to sing the Sh’ma (the centerpiece of Jewish prayer services) accompanied by the sound of a burbling stream, to spend several minutes in silent observation of each individual natural sound one heard, and to be led by others with eyes closed to a place where a tiny natural wonder could be observed.
One of the highlights of the walk were “erratics”, large boulders brought to the area by glaciers millennia ago. The haphazard placement of these enormous rocks amidst the diverse flora of the area added to the sense of awe each person experienced. As one climbed through and over the rocks, there was an appreciation of being part of it all in a different and more fundamental way. The more muscle required, the less talk, and the greater connection to the whole.
This first “Shabbat in Nature” will undoubtedly lead to more experiences together in nature for congregants of Beth El – what could be better?