There are times when you are not at prayer, but nevertheless you can feel close to God, and your mind can ascend even above the heavens. There are also times, in the very midst of prayer, when you find yourself unable to ascend. At such times, stand where you are and serve with love.
– The Baal Shem Tov
Our theme seems particularly appropriate to this year. If ever we were called to be our best self, regardless of circumstances, surely it is this year.
We’ve all been there: the beautiful sunrise, delight in the company of friends and family, the graceful swoop of a wild bird, and our hearts leap with joy and we know that we are truly blessed, truly in tune with the transcendent. We’ve all felt those moments of affirmation and alignment with a larger whole that lead our souls to sing.
But this year seems overrun with their opposite, an abundance of moments of sadness, of anger, and of frustration. This year has had more than its share of loss – for me personally, for our country, and for the world. It has brought us more than our share of sickness and death and a large helping of natural disasters. We face a long-delayed racial reckoning accompanied by civil unrest. Our great national embarrassment continues, and last night, we suffered the loss of a great woman, a loss that will reverberate for decades to come. It is easy to stare into the abyss and believe that there is nothing out there but darkness and silence, or to believe that which we call God is indifferent, distant, other.
Good year, bad year. It doesn’t matter. There will always be shadows in and on our lives, in and on our world. Here we stand, because we can only stand where we are, there is no other place. We are tempted to see the darkness, and to turn once more – because, of course, we have been here before – to sadness and despair. Across time, the Baal Shem Tov calls us to “Stand where you are and serve with love.”
With love, because without it, you cannot truly serve. With love, because without it, you will have no light in the darkness. With love, because.
We have a choice. Between light and darkness, between life and death, between serving and not serving, between love and not loving.
Seek the light in this darkness. Create joy. Work for change. Lift up the world and yourself. Say with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
September 19, 2020