On a sunny Fall day in New York City on the eve of Yom Kippur it occurred to me to get my run in early as fasting would certainly make a later effort a bit challenging. My usual trail is a 5-kilometer stretch through the woods of Van Courtlandt Park in the Bronx. Arriving at the starting point I encountered a kids track team warming up, acres and acres of grassy fields before me, and the rolling forest line a few hundred yards out. Crisp air and a gentle afternoon sun entered my legs through the gates opened by a warm-up stretch and my eagerness grew to get under the trees where the sounds of birds and messages of the changing seasons could cleanse my being of anything still held back inside.
The first few minutes are always a challenge, out in the open on the well-tread track, but then a turn into the forest blends the road into softer dirt and as my lungs grab the moist air – eyes catch the glint of changing Fall colors, hints of yellow leaves as nature’s sleep time begins. It reminds me of the harvest, thoughts of orange, red, speckled corn to come, apples, and the teachers that remind us that, “we reap what we sew”. I’m in a different place.
About 20-minutes in I start catching a stride, my consciousness still marveling at the miracle of the body, turning food into running, the changes in my being, as worries sweat themselves out, and stresses and truths become more clear, their vice of fear and the unknown fading as understanding is illuminated by endorphins. I feel the tough places too, the poor sleep and heavy food from the night before, the negativity I’d offered myself and others in recent days, and fortunately, hope and room for improvement, the lessons that say devotion and listening to the heart is the best way to live. I see all of this painted before my mind’s eye and somehow, still, there is a quiet part of me watching the breath, watching the trail, watching all of the little flutters and sounds and wisps of green and squirrel and footfall around me. And every time I remember, though I later forget, that where I am is a temple.
The sages of American environmentalism, Muir, Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Berry, have all spoken of the power and grandeur of being in the Creation, be it from the perspective of God’s work or scientific process, the wonder and grandeur is no less. The Lion of Tzvat teaches this as well, as there are some whom as part of their Shabbos practice walk outside in appreciation, and almost all of us practice smelling a sweet scent as the last lights of the holy days fade away.
Holiness is everywhere and the synagogue exists within the heart, the built temple, and the world. The Name is said to have shaped creation the from Torah. Wrapped in scrolls is the bark of a tall tree, the red of sunset holy ink, the wind a cantor singing the oldest songs. Every step we take is up to the bimah, for all is holy ground and the great ark can be found just as well in the glen as in the shul – and I see it as a blessing to find beauty in both. When I run through those woods in the Bronx, I’m reminded that to practice Judaism we likely need no more, and no less.email print