Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
First, let me thank my friends who now live in Florida and called me after the recent snowpocalypse in the Northeast to ask about my welfare -- and to tell me that, by the way, it was 80 and sunny there.
Probably because I did not lose power during the storm, I'm in a more generous and reflective mood than I was after Hurricane Sandy. Nonetheless, I think of winter snow as a spiritual invitation.
Snow reminds us to look deeper into the truth of things. The trees that look barren and dead are not dead at all, but rather are preparing their buds to open in a few weeks with the first breath of spring. Similarly, in the green lushness of summer, the trees are really storing their sap and strength for the fall and winter to come. The truth of trees is always the opposite of what we see.
God called Moses by presenting him with the miracle of a bush that was burning but was not consumed. Think about that sign. It took Moses time to see that the burning bush was not being burned up. The truth was not the fire but the overcoming of the fire, and it took patience to see the truth.
All that the doubters could see at Jesus' crucifixion was his painful death, but the truth for real Christians was the opposite of death. So it is with life. What we see in life is often the opposite of the truth of life.
Finally, I think of snow and winter as a metaphor for the seasons of our own lives. I think of lines from a poem by Barbara Crooker: "For we are here not merely to bloom in the light, but rather, like trees, to be weathered: burned by heat, frozen by snow, and though our hearts have been broken, still, we put out new leaves in spring, begin again." My wife Betty's wedding ring is inscribed inside with the Hebrew phrase, "yafot itoteha," from a poem by the Hebrew poet Leah Goldberg. The words mean, "Beautiful are all of her seasons." So my snowy prayer is: May all your seasons be beautiful, even if they're sometimes very cold.
From a reader responding to my request for popular songs that seemed like modern Psalms came this heartfelt reply:
Q. Throughout my life, I've had unexpected traumatic situations to deal with. After one such incident, I was at the point where I didn't care if I lived or died. A close clergy friend of ours asked me to think about this question: "What is it in this world that you can be absolutely sure of?" I told him that the only thing in the world I could absolutely be sure of was that the sun would rise and that the sun would set.
"Yes, that's very true," he said, "but we can also always be sure of God's love." I'll admit that his words were a letdown until he invited me to sing along with him the following words to a song: "He's got the whole world in his hands." We sang a few verses together, and then I realized that, yes, God does have the whole world in his hands, and is with us always, directing us from on high. Whenever I feel hopeless, I sing this song, and it always puts perspective on even the worst of things, and I then am able to place my trust in him and move on.
-- J., via email
A. My reply: The song you mention is a great one, but even more important is the question from your wise clergy friend: "What is it in the world that you can be absolutely sure of?" Your response reflected a trust in nature, but nature, let's not forget, is amoral and often brutal, or as Wordsworth wrote, "Nature, so red in tooth and claw." God's love for us, by contrast, is moral, embracing and abiding.
The Hebrew word for faith, emunah, means trust, not certitude. Faith is not about what we know, but what we trust. What I trust varies day by day depending upon how I am challenged and uplifted by events. Recently, I officiated at the burials of a 24-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman. On the days of those funerals, I tried my best to comfort the families and friends by sharing with them what I trust in the depths of my soul: We will not be separated forever from those we love.