“Tikkun Olam: Healing Our World”

“Tikkun Olam: Healing Our World”

This week we explore the wonderful concept from the Jewish mystical tradition of Tikkun Olam, or healing our world. What does that look like for each of us, right now?

Speaker: Rev. Melanie Eyre

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When available, a revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings, and songs from this week’s service are also provided below.

Community Circles – Are you left with questions after a talk, or did an idea so resonate with you that you want to explore it further? In our Community Circles, we build relationships with others, share ideas and insights, and support each other as we apply these principles in our daily lives.

Our focus this evening is healing our world, or Tikkun Olam – imagery taken from the Jewish mystical tradition. What does such healing look like for us, individually and in community? If you were asked to list five areas of our world, or our communal life, that most need healing from your perspective, what would they be? Let’s share our wisdom and experience on this very timely topic, tonight at 7:00 p.m. Many thanks to Michael Roussell for leading this evening’s discussion!

Wednesday August 25, 7:00 – 8:30 pm ET. Community Circle Zoom Meeting/Discussion.

Please join us on the Zoom link below.  I look forward to seeing you!

Zoom link here. Request login information here. Find discussion questions here.

See you at 7!

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Opening Prayer

A Gatha

Waking up this morning, I smile.

Twenty-four brand new hours before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment

And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Community Prayer

The Spirit of God is Always with Us at This Time, in This Place

We awaken in our time to a Universe which is holy, to creation which is not an event in the past, but a living event of the present.

We enter a new mode of human presence where we are not merely observers, but where each of us is a participant in this moment of evolution.

Like all other creatures, we carry with us Wisdom and Values, the dynamics of the Universe. But unlike other creatures, we must choose whether and how we will live in harmony within this sacred web of creation.

May we be open to the Source of All Being, Our God within and among us!

We have the capacity to wonder, and to celebrate this great mystery of existence within such a magnificent Universe!

In us the Universe enters into a great celebration of itself. We are part of the Dance, the Great Work, the Great liturgy which is the Universe unfolding.

This great Liturgy finds expression at this moment in us, gathered here with listening hearts, loving spirits and a holy wonder.

May the sacred web that unites us with each other, our God and all creation, ignite communities of light and hope throughout the Earth.

May we be open to the Source of All Being, Our God within and among us!

~ Author Unknown

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Talk Transcript

Healing Our World

Welcome, and thanks for joining us. So far this month we’ve been exploring the theme of healing – personal healing; sacred, spiritual, and holistic healing. Today, I’d like to widen the circle and explore the opportunity we have to heal our world. In the Jewish mystic tradition, this idea is called Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, and it is a call to each of us.

We are here for a purpose.

 As an interspiritual community, we have the joy of exploring many faith traditions for the wisdom each gives us. Through story, metaphor, imagery, legend, each conveys the truth that we are here for a purpose, to bring our gifts to make this broken world whole, to lift up and heal each other. They tell us also that we do not make this journey alone. We are accompanied by the holy at every step, if only we are aware.

In recent weeks and months, we have seen, and lived, so many calls to come together to heal our global community. From the heartbreaking news coming from Afghanistan, where so many now live again in fear, violence and uncertainty, to the wildfires that continue to burn out west, to drought and food shortages in so many parts of the world, to floods elsewhere, to melting glaciers and warming oceans threatening such profound changes for all life on our planet. We live in the midst of so many calls for healing, and so many opportunities to make a difference, large or small.

“Well, why doesn’t God just fix all this stuff?”

I was on a Zoom call last week and we were discussing some of the troubles in our world, and one of the folks on the call asked “Well, why doesn’t God just fix all this stuff?”

What’s your answer to that? Why doesn’t God just fix it? She’s God, right? The God of miracles? Move mountains, part seas, stop the sun in the sky God? Why doesn’t God fix all our problems, and hand us a world new and shiny clean?

Your answer may be a lot similar to mine. I don’t think that’s how God works, at least not in my experience. There is no faith tradition I can find that tells us to sit back and wait until God cleans up our mess, no matter how much we might wish that was the case. They tell us that we are called to healing, ourselves. We are given guidance, inspiration, hope even, but then we have to get up and take those steps. In my life, I have found that healing and renewal come when I am able, whenever I am able, to take those first steps myself even if I can’t see the whole path. Sometimes all we can see is that next step.

We start where we are.

And often it’s uncomfortable and way inconvenient. One of my favorite authors, Ann Lamott, put it this way:

          “But where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening? We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering. I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me. My friend Tom goes through the neighborhood and picks up litter, knowing there will be just as much tomorrow. We visit those shut-ins whom a higher power seems to have entrusted to our care – various relatives, often aging and possibly annoying, or stricken friends from our church communities, people in jails or mental institutions who might be related to us, who benefit from hearing our own resurrection stories. My personal belief is that God looks through her Rolodex when She has a certain kind of desperate person in Her care, and assigns that person to some screwed-up soul like you or me, and makes it hard for us to ignore that person’s suffering, so we show up even when it is extremely inconvenient or just awful to be there. [1]

One goal of our spiritual practices – they give us tools to get up and move when God’s Rolodex brings up our name. It’s not always fun, or convenient.

The focus is on how we live right now; how we lift each other up, heal and restore.

A couple of years ago, Rev. Sydney Magill-Lindquist and I taught a class on world religions to a seniors group called Seniors Enriched Living in Roswell. We had a fabulous time. When I was preparing for the class on Judaism, I called up my friend and former rabbi Mitch Cohen and asked him for one takeaway he would like to give to a class of Roswell seniors, mostly non-Jews, exploring Judaism. He said, “You want to me to take a tradition of 4000 years with complex political, religious and social currents running through it at every level, and sum it up in a phrase?” I said, “Well, yeah.”

Mitch is always up to the task. He said, “Okay, when people ask me this, here’s what I say.” This is what he said:

“Judaism is a religion sourced in history, teaching us to live in the here and now based on deeds and actions, with little or no emphasis on the hereafter.”

The focus is on how we live right now; how we lift each other up, heal and restore.

What heals us?

Every faith tradition asks the fundamental question of how we best live – what brings us fulfillment, wholeness, renewal. What heals us? What leads us closer to becoming clear channels of the divine? There are different answers to this question – some advocate sitting on the mountaintop, laying aside all the detail and the stuff of this world.

The Jewish tradition says no – we live a holy life, an awakened and meaningful life, by showing up right here and right now, as fully as we possibly can. By picking up the call when God picks us out of her Rolodex, even though sometimes (to continue the metaphor) all we want to do is let it roll over to voicemail.

Our purpose, the very source of our joy and meaning, is to heal ourselves and our world

Our purpose, the very source of our joy and meaning, is to heal ourselves and our world by bringing our full humanity to it. Every moment gives us this opportunity. Our spiritual practices, our daily practices, help to bring us closer to our humanity – our vulnerability, compassion, hope; bringing the holy presence each of us can be into the mix of this messy and too often heartbreaking world.

Jewish mysticism, the tradition called the Kabbalah, has a wonderful imagery for this concept. ‘Tikkun Olam’ – healing the world.

According to this tradition, the creator, or Yahweh, designed creation so that we, human beings, can bring about the wholeness and unity that was lost at the beginning of time when Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden and humans were expelled into the world. At that time, the primordial light that was gathered into that place shattered, and millions of holy sparks fell all over the universe, into all events, circumstances, people.

There is a holy spark in every moment, every person, every opportunity.

The human task, Kabbalah teaches, is to find and recover the holy sparks present, yet hidden, all around us. There is a holy spark in every moment, every person, every opportunity. Our job is to find it and restore it, with love and discernment, and by so doing contribute to the healing only we can accomplish.

The concept of Tikkun Olam began with the belief that this task, to gather and restore the world to its original wholeness, was given only to the Jewish people. However, later sages and teachers point out that indeed it is given to all of us. Author Howard Schwarz wrote in 2011:

“In our own time we should be able to read this myth in a more universal sense, about God having created all of humanity to gather the sparks. The goal, to restore the world, is obviously critical for future survival. It can only be fulfilled if all of humanity collaborates on this endeavor.”

What is the problem here?

So we ask ourselves in each task, each person, each situation – what is the holy spark here? There is one. What is my task here? I have one – to restore what is holy right here.

What is the problem here?

We doubt our ability to make a difference. We believe someone else can do it better, smarter, more able. We undervalue our gifts; we protest we cannot rise up to the challenge.

We focus on our brokenness and neglect our strength, resilience and wholeness. If you read the Hebrew Bible, you’ll see that every time a prophet was approached with a call from God, what did they say? You must be joking – not me.

None of these people thought they were up to the job.

Moses is tending his father-in law’s-flock, and he observes a bush that is blazing but is not consumed. He goes closer and God speaks to him, telling him that he is being sent to Pharaoh to free the Israelites from the grip of the Egyptians.

Moses does what most of us would do. You must be joking. In biblical language, he says, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?

In the Quran, when the angel Gabriel appears to Muhammad on Mt. Hira on that night in 610 and tells him “recite” – Muhammad said I cannot recite; no. He does this three times. When he awakes from the state into which he had fallen, he runs home and throws himself into his wife’s lap, telling her that he had lost his mind

God approaches Jeremiah at a young age and tells him he is to prophesy. He protests he is too young – he cannot do it.

None of these people thought they were up to the job. But they were the ones called to do it. Even though they apparently believed their gifts were not enough, they were wrong. We just don’t know, until we get that call, take that step.

But I like your company and the sound of your voice.”

To make it more uncertain, we don’t know how our gifts will be received. Doesn’t matter. Author Wayne Mueller tells the story of the time he went to visit his friend Simon, who was dying. Simon was frightened and alone and he didn’t understand what was happening. Wayne spent much of the time speaking with him and trying to give him some spiritual inspiration – telling him about feeling the rhythm between sadness and joy, and not getting caught in the reasons why. He sensed that Simon felt lighter and he was glad his insights had brought some healing.

Just before he left, Simon said, “You know Wayne I really don’t understand most of what you say. But I like your company and the sound of your voice.”

Wayne wrote that all the time he thought he was being inspirational and wise and the truth was Simon just liked his company and the way he sounded – that was the gift. Sometimes we just don’t know when, or how, we are gathering up sparks to make our world whole.

Where do you see holy sparks?

Where do you see holy sparks? They are all around us, sitting next to us, right outside the door, on your calendar for tomorrow and next week.

So, despite all the problems we see, this is not a time for despair or resignation. We are, each of us, a channel for the holy acting in this world, and we will be given opportunities to serve. In so doing, we heal our communities, our world, and ourselves.

Author Miriam Greenspan writes:

“We each have something to contribute to the global healing process, a particular gift or vision, skill or song. Individual healing has a lot to do with finding this gift and using it for the world’s sake, finding our song and singing it out. … When we find a way to manifest our gift and give it to the world, no matter how small or large it may seem, we are made whole.”[2]   

All we need to do is say yes,

All we need to do is say yes, even if, like the Hebrew prophets I spoke of above, we’re not sure we’re the right pick.

Interfaith Chaplain and mindfulness teacher Marita Anderson wrote an essay last year about the story in Exodus chapters 6 – 9, in which God first appears to Moses and convinces him, despite Moses’ doubts, to travel to Egypt to liberate his people. She wrote it in the context of the challenges that today’s immigrants and refugees face as they seek a place they can call home, finding rejection and refusal far more often than they find solace and help. However, her inspiration and imagery applies to so many more situations in our lives.

In the story of Exodus, God has heard the cries of his people in bondage, leading him to summon Moses to the monumental task of freeing his people and leading them home.  

Another example, in answer to my friend’s question, of God simply not reaching out to fix. God reaches out to us.

God is not a fixer.

For Anderson, the Exodus story has so many layers of meaning. (One of the gifts of scripture: the richness it brings to us.)

She speaks of the flow of communication between God and Moses, writing, “the flow of communication, the very act of listening and speaking, becomes a pathway toward freedom.” As they find the courage to move forward, Moses and Aaron discover that, through their actions, they become the bridge between God and his people. You can see that she imagines that we all are called to be such bridges.

The story inspires Anderson to wonder how God hears the cries of those who suffer. She writes:

“I wonder if the way God hears is through the human bridges: the clergy willing to listen, the volunteers visiting prison booths, the pro-bono attorneys at the borders, the grandmas showing up at bus stops with supplies, the friends pooling together for revolving bond funds, the simple moments of sharing between strangers, the whispers between people.”

God is not a fixer; God empowers us to be bridges. 

Make what is hidden visible and repair that too.

The task of tikkun olam is not just to repair those injuries that are most apparent. Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz teaches that tikkun ha-olam, repairing the world, is similar to tikkun he elem, meaning to make what is hidden visible and repair that, too. He writes,

“Our job is not just to repair the world, but to make what is hidden visible and repair that too. This includes the suffering of invisible people – those vulnerable people who go through life without the concern of the broader populace.”

There are so many – we are surrounded by them and yet don’t see them. We must begin to see them, and work toward healing.

We start where we are and do what we can.

This sounds like such a tall order, and a full time job. But, as Ann Lamott wrote, we start where we are and do what we can. You’re not doing it all yourself – you’re doing a part, your part.

We offer small things – a kind word, a card, a hug, a simple meal. We give from what we have. Mueller writes:

“If we have good humor then laughter is our gift. If we can cook, then food is our gift. If we can make music or hold a hand or listen or build or love well, these are our gifts. The currency of our kindness flows from what we are, what we love.”

We think it’s a tall order, but miracles happen when we just begin.

Thank you.

[1] Ann Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow

[2] Miriam Greenspan, Healing Through the Dark Emotions

About Rev. Melanie Eyre

Rev. Melanie Eyre is an ordained Interspiritual Minister and long-time student of the world’s many diverse faith traditions. She has served as One World’s Spiritual Director since 2015 and is the founder of the North Fulton Interfaith Alliance here in Georgia. Outside of One World, Rev. Melanie has a beautiful family and enjoys officiating traditional and non-traditional rituals and other special ceremonies that mark important life transitions – weddings, baby blessings, and celebrations of life.

For more about Rev. Melanie and her practice, visit her website: Memorable Services with Heart.

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This service aired on August 22, 2021

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