Thursday, September 25, 2014

Picking Up the Pieces

"Olive Branches"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

I just read a "letter to the editor" in our local paper. The writer of the letter declared that, when it comes to world events, this past summer was the worst he could ever remember -the recent air strikes into Syria capped off a whole string of violence and bloodshed, death, disease and destruction that has been rocking nations all over the globe for the past months. The letter concluded with a lamentation: "I'm glad summer is over but I think our problems have just begun, I feel as if the whole earth has been shattered into pieces." 

As I was thinking about that image of the shattered earth- broken into pieces, I remembered that today is "Rosh Hashanah," the Jewish New Year, and I immediately called to mind the ancient Hebrew mystical wisdom known as "Kaballah." According to this tradition, the world was created in perfect harmony, flowing with and bathed in the light of "God."  However, that perfect peace was shattered and the world is now broken - peppered with broken "shards of God"- pieces of light scattered everywhere.  

Kaballah wisdom teaches that, rather than just wring our hands and bemoan the brokenness of the human condition, we can actually do something about it.  Human beings can (and should) engage in the practice of "Tikkun Olam," translated as "mending a broken world." Every act of kindness, every act of forgiveness, reconciliation, and compassion, big or small, performed by any single person is an act of Tikkun Olam." Whenever such an act is performed, a few pieces of the shattered light are pieced back together again, and more light is shed on a world of darkness. 

I find this beautiful wisdom to be especially poignant in these times when it may seem as if the earth has been "shattered into pieces." 

There is little or nothing that I or any single one of us can do to control world events. I can't stop radical terrorists from beheading innocent victims.  I can't stop rockets from firing or bombs from exploding.  And yet, while I can't control  these "earth shattering" events, I can personally respond to them by the way in which I choose to live in my everyday life. 

Saint Francis of Assisi once prayed:

Make me an instrument of peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is discord, union
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy

On this day of the Jewish New Year, I commit myself to engage in the sacred work of "Tikkun Olam, " to pick up the pieces of shattered light by doing my best to be an instrument of peace in my everyday life. And I do believe that, when I see hatred and sow love, when I replace injury with pardon, and when I bring joy to sadness, I am indeed "mending a broken world."

The Buddha taught:

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle
and the life of the single candle will not be shortened.
Happiness is never decreased by being shared

Happy New Year!


  1. In truth your solution is all most of us can do. Nurture the kingdom of God nearby us. The principalities and powers that govern society have their own agendas and will carry them out regardless. However in our little place we can pick up the pieces.

    1. Exactly..I can lament all day long about the problems of the world but if I then go out and live a life of selfish narcissism, I am actually contributing to the problems.

    2. True. If you can't make peace in the mid east make peace with your neighbor instead. Even if the impact on the world seems small since this is a spiritual reality we are talking about the effect of intertwining kindness into daily activities has a great beneficial effect on the spiritual side of life.