We breathe in, and breathe out, thousands of times, every day. We don’t have to think about it. Our bodies do it automatically. Prompted by a complex physiology of which we might be dimly aware, our chests rise and fall – our lungs inhale and exhale, expanding and emptying – oxygen is absorbed into our bloodstream, carbon dioxide flows out of our nostrils.
As humans, we can live for quite some time without food, much less time without water; but for mere minutes without breathing. Quite simply, it is necessary for us to breathe in order to live.
We breathe in, and out, until we don’t. Breath is ever-present, until it isn’t.
Seared into our collective consciousness now are the last words of George Floyd, ‘I can’t breathe’ as his life was brutally ended on an ordinary day in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Just as Eric Garner’s life ended, his breath taken away. As it has been for tens of hundreds of thousands of men and women whose lives have been brutally taken from them, the same words cried out or silent. Now those words are repeated by millions around the country who march and chant, fists raised in the air.
I can’t breathe.
Marchers wear masks, so what is breathed out doesn’t become what the person standing next to them breathes in. Because we are in the time of a pandemic, when anyone might, at any time, be contaminated; be a toxin to the stranger or lover a few inches, or feet, away.
But you have to breathe to march and chant. You cannot hold your breath.
One can go to the dictionary to find out what sugar is and how it is used. That is the first (Sharia) Gateway to knowledge. One feels the inadequacy of that when one sees and handles sugar, which represents the second (tarikat) Gateway to knowledge. To actually taste sugar and to have it enter into oneself is to go one step deeper into an appreciation of its nature, and that is what is meant by (marifet) experiential knowledge. If one could go still further and become one with sugar so that they could say, “I am sugar,” that and that alone would be to know what sugar is, and that is what is involved in the final (hakikat) Gateway to knowledge.
The following is a typical encounter with a non-Muslim who discovers that you are fasting for the month of Ramadan. At first there is a general reaction of incredulity – a mix of amazement and skepticism.
“You don’t eat anything?” No.
“All day from sunrise to sunset?” Well, actually we stop eating just before dawn prayer (sometimes you have to explain that dawn is before sunrise, i.e. it is the morning twilight when it begins to get light but the sun has not risen yet which adds more than an hour to the fasting day) to sunset.
“For a month?” Yup – from crescent moon to crescent moon.
“You must drink water then?” Uh, no.
It is about here when the restriction of drinking water is understood, especially in the summer months with their long, hot days that a variety of responses emerge somewhere along the following spectrum: “Bit extreme isn’t it?” or “That can’t be healthy?” or to the more sarcastic ones “Oh, that must make you very holy?” (wink wink) or …. At first, I would explain to the person astonished by Muslim fasting practices, that Ramadan is a time of increased prayer and reading of the Qur’an, and self-restraint both physically and emotionally (it is easier to lose your temper and get annoyed with people when hungry). By the looks I get sometimes you would think I’m speaking a foreign language. I’ve had eyes roll, smirks given, and an occasional “that is very interesting” and frequent and matter-of-fact statements like “I could never do that.” However, when I mention empathy with the poor, their interest is sparked and yet I find little in the tradition that expresses the depth of that connection.
Over the years of fasting and reflecting on poverty and hunger during Ramadan, I have begun to respond to remarks like “that can’t be healthy” or “that’s a bit extreme,” with “Absolutely; It is extreme and it is not healthy.” A month of fasting can in fact have its health benefits, but prolonged and especially unwilling hunger and thirst do not. It is with the intent of making the connection between fasting and justice for the poor and hungry more clear that I write this piece called “A Taste of Injustice.” Poverty and hunger in any community is more often than not evidence of broader systemic, communal, and personal injustices that we only can address in the way of God, The Just (Al-Adl), with any lasting consequence.
 Even if the person is Christian and may have performed a forty day Lenten fast, thirty days is little consolation especially when they learn about the part about not drinking water.
With recognition for all the ways that climate change increases injustice and decreases food security, we give our thanks to Dr. Melinda Krokus, PA IPL Board Secretary, for sharing this reflection as we approach the eve of Ramadan 2020.
Our traditions refer to trees as rooted-and-reaching symbols, as wise teachers, or as important and respected resources. We have so much to learn from them. In this post you will find several tree resources. We’d like to do an additional post around our secular arbor day, so please share your favorite tree poems or stories (even if you’re sure we must have them!)
We begin with a poem we shared as the meditation at the end or our Sustained Advocacy call near Tu B’Shvat 2019, and continue with hands-on work PA IPL groups are leading, and two learning and worship resources.
I go among trees and sit still. All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water. My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle. Then what is afraid of me comes and lives a while in my sight. What it fears in me leaves me, and the fear of me leaves it. It sings, and I hear its song. Then what I am afraid of comes. I live for a while in its sight. What I fear in it leaves it, and the fear of it leaves me. It sings, and I hear its song. After days of labor, mute in my consternations, I hear my song at last, and I sing it. As we sing, the day turns, the trees move. —Wendell Berry
Tu B’Shvat is a minor Jewish holy day that, in Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s words, “celebrates the bare beginnings pf the reawakening of trees in mid-winter, and was seen by the 16th-century Kabbalists as the rebirth of that Tree of Life that has its roots in Heaven and its fruit in the existence and creativity of us — the whole of life.”
The festival itself and its amazing Seder come at the full moon on the 15th day of the Jewish lunar “moonth” of Shvat, this year from Sunday evening January 20 through sundown Monday January 21. That means it falls this year on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday.
Consider registering for the Shalom Center’s Tu B’Shvat webinar (webinar on January 9, 2019; Tu B’Shvat begins the evening of January 20, and is January 21this year — there are also webinars preparing for earth-climate-justice rooted Passover celebrations as part of their Sacred Seasons for Sacred Earth series. The webinars include tools for holding your own celebration.
Martin Luther King’s birthday (and birthday-as-observed) are always close to Tu B’Shvat on the calendar, but in 2019, they fall together. While we focus on the struggle for civil rights for people of all races in our celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King and his work, in fact, the larger trajectory of his work was justice. In 2014, Rabbi Daniel Swartz, then a board member of PA IPL, wrote this piece about the connections between the two holidays.
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade left Pennsylvania when she took a job teaching at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, but we remember her well, and are pleased to share this 8-week devotional connecting trees and faith “Healthy Trees, Healthy People, Healthy Faith”
Each spring and fall, the Germantown Tree Tenders plant and tend urban trees in publicly-available space from sidewalks to houses of worship. They do so in community, and often include opportunities to offer blessings and dedications (and sometimes chances for shared food together)
In Central Pennsylvania, under the energetic leadership of Greg Williams, groups of community members, the 3rd Way Collective from Penn State, congregants, and Central PA IPL regulars have been joining for work parties to clear space for native trees and tender plants to thrive, adding diversity and resilience to our forest systems. Much of this work has been removing invasive plants and staking out the beginnings of the native seedlings, but the have also done successful bareroot tree plantings, live staking (along the Juniata River), (over 600 trees in 2018!), as well as native wildflower meadow plantings. Over time, inspired by a Joanna Macy practice called Honoring our Adversaries, they have challenged themselves to recognize and honor the tenacious and exuberant qualities of the very invasives they are working so hard to hold back so the diverse native plants can thrive.
We’ll close with this browsing link on tree writings over at Baha’i Teachings.
The National Religious Partnership for the Environment and Creation Justice Ministries will co-host a Superfund Prayer Tour in the King of Prussia area northwest of Philadelphia. If you will be in services on Saturday, or you cannot get to King of Prussia, please join in prayer, and let us know that you will be doing so.
RSVP to Shantha Ready Alonso at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn much moreabout the sites.
(Especially helpful for those praying from afar.)
The tour will begin with a briefing at Valley Forge Acres Park regarding Superfund sites in the area. We will then view the Stanley Kessler Superfund Site, and the Crater/Keystone Superfund site. We will be led in prayer by Deacon Sergei Kapral of the Orthodox Church in America.
Masks will be provided for attendees to mitigate smells and limit dust inhalation.
Please join us for this important prayer event as we highlight the need to protect communities from toxic pollution and urge Congress to fully fund the EPA and its Superfund Program.
$20 fee covers lunch and snacks. If this fee is a barrier to your attendance, please contact us at PA IPL.
Join us on the afternoon of October 30 for our 2016 statewide annual conference, An Environment of Justice. Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome of the Kresge Foundation will offer the keynote presentation, as well as one of 9 remarkable workshops. She has shared her keynote teaser and workshop objectives with us, and we’re pleased to share them with you (title above, more on the conference page.)
Skip straight to registration: REGISTER NOW
Click through to read more, get sharable fliers, and then register.
WATCH — it’ll take you 78 seconds. Share the link to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SjEOe-48aY
Sunday, October 30th
1:30 PM-5:30 PM
(Green Fair Reception and registration begin at 1:00) at the Church of the Good Shepherd
867 Grays Woods Blvd, State College, PA 16870
PRE-registration is now closed, but you can REGISTER AT THE DOOR ($20)
WATCH — it’ll take you 78 seconds. Share the link to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SjEOe-48aY