Carrying Light into Dark Times:
A Greeting to Graduates
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi * *
Reverend colleagues of the clergy, Mme. President and Administrators of Oberlin College, academic colleagues, Graduating Students and their celebrating parents,
For this moment, which we got to live, to experience, and to celebrate we give thanks: Shehechiyanu!
This is how you sing to God a thank You song.
You join the symphony of the whole Earth
In your gratefulness you meet Him,
voices echo joy in God's halls.
In giving thanks we engage Her blessings.
We meet His goodness here and now,
Her encouragement from generation to generation.
You are filled with joy serving God's purpose.
You sound your own song as you do it.
Certain that God is Be-ing,
we know that we are brought forth from Her,
- both God's companions and His flock.
Enter into God's Presence,
Singing your own song
in grateful appreciation.
Thank You God, You are all Blessing.
In this world You are goodness, Yes, Grace itself.
This is the trust we bequeath the next generation.
The psalms have a hope for us
as we find ourselves in a dark tunnel,
There are many sore places of the planet.
Our mother the earth needs healing
from her ecological wounds.
From clear cutting, strip mining,
damage to the ozone layer,
monoculture of crops
to the polluting or soil, air and water.
he social fabric of our culture
is brittle and short fibered.
Intimate relationships are sustainable
only with intensive and serious maintenance.
Our government has turned against the poor
while lining the pockets of the rich.
Lavish budgets are invested
in what they euphemistically call
" national de-fense"
investing more than any nation
in building armaments of mass destruction
while education, health and welfare
The tax burdens are being shifted
Onto the shoulders of nearly bankrupt states.
The road ahead is not smooth.
And still we are now celebrating a graduation.
Barya my son,
I talk to you and your colleagues
I wish I had those optimistic words
usually offered that send you off
into a world where all is waiting
for your advancement and success;
a world where the graduate scholarships
are waiting for you
to develop further
and live the good life.
Instead I see immense burdens
of student loans
in a sparse job market.
It is not encouraging.
There are some good things awaiting you
but they are not pleasant
and you and your cohort
will have to prepare yourself
for the tasks ahead.
Here I have only one counsel to offer;
Kindness to each other,
to your own self
and to those with whom you will interact.
There are examples
of countless unsung people
who daily practice
random acts of kindness,
who are gentle
even with those
with whom they have differences,
There are people
who advocate and practice
there are those
who embrace voluntary simplicity,
who remove the calluses
from their hearts
and keep them open
to feel the pains of others,
Seek them out I urge you
and join them
in their compassion.
This is not the worst of all times
but it certainly is not the best.
When I grew up in Austria
I heard the Nazi boast after the "Anschluss":
"Heut' gehoert uns Deutschland
- morgen die ganze Welt"
"Today Germany, tomorrow the world."
Other nations perceive
in our financial-corporate capitalistic oligarchy
a plan to dominate the globe.
We are not welcomed by them to do this.
The Founding Fathers of this country
had a different vision,
many were Free Masons
who had spiritual insight
in "nation building":
Look at the emblems on the dollar bill.
E Pluribus Unum
the hope that we will work in concert
and become "Out of Many, One"
The hope that a good Providence
would favor our endeavor:
"Providence has Favored Our Undertakings"
and beneath the unfinished Pyramid...
pointing to the constant effort
to bring about under God's seeing eye
"A New Order of the Ages"
Novus Ordo Saeclorum .
They worked to create
a social template that would maximize
and the pursuit of happiness
and they did not mean
the possession of ever more
that deplete our material and natural
irreplaceable resources a
and become toxic landfills,
You will need to do
the almost impossible -
gradually changing the tires of this country
while the car is running.
Not by violent revolutions
but in patiently working
on the matrix of our society.
You will need to do your healing work
while still more poisonous stuff
is released into air, water and soil.
You will need to earn a living
and at the same time
in recovering the silenced voice
of the people for the people
in the midst of the din
of the dissembling media.
You will have to hold
a clear, unsullied awareness
despite the ever-entrancing attack
of the aggressive marketing forces.
You are the ones
who with others
will have to heal America.
I, who came here
as a 16 year old refugee
fleeing from Hitler
have each year devoutly celebrated
the 4th of July.
What a haven it was and still is
for the "tired and the poor".
What hopes were kindled in us
when we first saw the statue of Liberty,
-- and this wonderful land.
Instead of what they have called
the Patriot Act,
a measure repressive of our vaunted liberties
- let us act as patriots
who love this land
and want to heal it
as the great nation it can be.
God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control
Thy liberty in Law"
So we hope and pray for our country,
But don't forget to also be
Matriots, of our mother the Earth,
people dedicated to prevent a planeticide.
Look from time to time
at that image of the planet
taken from outer space,
one blue, living world in the cosmos.
As our liturgy has it
Sustain the world
which Thou hast founded,
yea, save our Earth
suspended in space - Amen.
Who are your possible allies?
After all we are now here in the chapel,
in the special presence of God
in this sanctuary.
We are a diverse group,
with different denominational labels,
commitments and creeds.
But we are also of aware
of a caring Providence,
the God beyond triumphalism.
No longer do we each claim
that at the end of days
only our own religion will be vindicated
while the others are infidels
who are eternally damned.
We all share our world
and our core values.
We are aware
that the heart of our commitment
is to be good,
to cherish the sacred and the truth,
and to work for the good
of all sentient beings,
I suppose the good of all sentient beings
is what they at one time called "salvation."
In our emerging reality map
we see not a mechanistic Cartesian clockwork
but Gaia, our planet
as a living biosphere
an organism of which we all are cells
making up organs.
Each religious tradition and community
is like an indispensable organ
within the greater organism
of the world life.
No longer can any tradition claim
to be the sole source of truth.
We each are cells
in a vital organ of the planet.
The liver cannot lord it over the kidneys,
nor can the brain over the heart.
We are all integral
and essential for the planet,
organically interdependent and connected.
This we can all affirm
and create cohorts of helpers.
In each of the traditions
you will find
committed and concerned co-workers
who will share the burden
of working for healing,
motivated by their sense
of being deployed by God.
Make friends with them
in all their diversity.
Grieve with them
over what afflicts us -
get to feel it and to own it as well
and then celebrate together
the privilege of being alive
and of serving in the sacred task
to restore our ailing planet to health.
You and your friends
are alas on your own.
Those who are entranced
by the media
and are content to remain
will resent you.
You will need to make your coalitions
with likeminded people.
You cannot rely on the public arena
to urge you to do this work.
Your spiritual get go
has to be energized by yourself
and on your own.
In an almost desperate plea to you
I urge you to take this to heart.
It is your world
and that of your children.
When some day
you will be in the place of your parents
at the graduation of your children
may you see more light and joy
as you send them on their way.
Alumni and parents!
Be available to share
of your life experience
with the graduates!
Make your insight accessible to them
but do not force it.
With open hearts and ears
be present to them
as they wrestle in their souls with
What is worth and what is pressing
What is indulging and what is worthy of exertion
What makes for complacency
and what makes for heroic virtue
What is expedient and what is valuable
What is trivial and what is significant.
Your heart-full witness
will make you good and appreciated mentors
and neither you
nor your young friends
will feel lonely and abandoned.
You installed mind operating systems
in your students.
You did well -
I go by what Barya
has enthusiastically reported of you,
I plead with you to be available
and answer the help lines
to upgrade these systems
when the students write, call or visit.
You are alive in them
when you remember them
offer a little prayer on their behalf
and send blessings their way.
keep in contact with the teachers
who led you
to light, truth and discernment,
whose values you have installed
in your own ideals.
Call or send them a note
when something you become aware
that you appreciate
that in your life
which connects you
to your Oberlin Experience.
Let them hear from you.
I am a teacher -
I know how much this means
when someone from my past
appears and shows gratitude.
I pray every day
and I urge you
to spend some time
and to consult
your values and ideals.
This is one of the best daily meditations.
Sit and allow action directives
to come down from the Greater intelligence
and bring them into your lives.
To maintain your own inner health,
you need to become
stewards of your own time.
While you have to work and earn a living
and need to interact with the engine
that drives commodity time
don't take up your residence
in that pressure tank.
Your home and soul time is organic,
regulated by heartbeat,
breath, sun, moon ,
the seasons and the tides.
I quote from the Prophet Isaiah 58: 13:
Leave your busy habits behind
Don't do your business on My holy day
But evoke for yourself the delight of the Shabbat
And hold precious what is sacred and divine
How do you honor it?
Not running your errands
Not making deals
- Yes then you will be in God bliss
and as you sit on top of the world
I will feed you
Jacob's endless bounty
This is God's promise.
Remember the Sabbath - time out
and keep it sacred
to pamper your souls on it,
to cherish love and friendship,
to access the Original Blessings
of a caring creation.
Take a quiet walk
in what is left
of unspoiled nature,
It will re-calibrate
your reality expectations
and open your heart.
As our Native American elders
have taught us
to remember our connection
with all our relations,
the two and four-leggeds,
the flyers, the swimmers,
the trees and the water.
I do not ask you
to spend your spiritual practice time
in passive contemplation.
But to be receptive
to what you can download
from the web of life.
God is accessible on the inner-net
- keep logging on.
- And keep the hope that it will be better
- - when you work for it.
(A psalm for all the peoples of the planet)
God, bless us with grace!
Let Your loving Face shine on us!
We want to get to know Your way
here on Earth,
Seeing how Your help is given
to every group of people.
Oh, how the various peoples will thank You,
All of them will sing and be grateful.
Many people will be joyous and sing
When You will set them right with forthrightness.
And the peoples, as You direct them, will cheer You.
Oh how the various peoples will thank You
All of them will sing, be grateful.
The Earth will give her harvest.
Such blessings come from God, Yes from our God!
Bless us God,
All the ends of the Earth will esteem You!
May the blessings of God rest upon you
May God's peace abide with you
May God's presence illuminate your heart
Now and forever more.
* This talk was given by Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, "Reb Zalman," who as one of the earliest teachers of Jewish renewal set forth the fruitful hypothesis of a deep paradigm shift in Jewish life, at the graduation ceremony of Oberlin College in June, 2003, in which his son was one of the graduates.
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