The Minyan of Creation by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

By stained-glass Judaic artist and scholar Revital Somekh-Goldreich (http://www.lettherebelightjudaicart.com)

“The Torah portion this coming Shabbat is called “Va’yera” after its first word, which means “was seen” or “became visible.”  The opening sentence (Genesis 18:1) reads like this:

“Now YHWH [the Interbreathing Spirit of the World] was seen by him [by Avraham} in the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance to his tent at the heat of the day.”

 First let me say, “in the oaks of Mamre” is an unconventional but utterly reasonable translation of “b’elonai.”  Most translators say “by the oaks” because they want to point to three men who are about to appear as messengers of God, making God visible, and they are uncomfortable with the notion that God may be visible in the trees themselves.  But most of the time in the Bible,” b’” means “in.”

How could God be visible in that forest? If “YHWH” is the Breath of Life, the Wind of change, the Spirit of the world, then the rustling of leaves in that forest, blown by the Wind, would make visible the Wind that is about to change the life of Abraham and Sarah and the world.

 Secondly, in our own generation the scientists at last have taught us– – and perhaps long ago wise human beings knew the deep truth – that trees use chemicals to communicate with each other, that they help each other when some of them are in danger, that they breathe out the oxygen we need to breathe in and they breathe in the CO2 we breathe out.

When in Deuteronomy 20:19 Torah asks, “Are the trees of the field human?” we thought the question was tongue-in-cheek and that the answer was obviously No. But perhaps if being “human” means communicating wisdom across generations the answer is obviously “Yes!” (Consult Richard Powers’ insightful novel The Overstory.)

I have several times led prayer circles where I have invited people as part of the service to seek out a tree and listen to it breathe, then hear the tree’s own prayer, then come back to the community and share the tree’s prayer. When a dozen people do this, each prayer is unique, the prayers are as different as you can imagine — and profoundly “spiritual.”

Finally, how many of us have seen God become visible in a forest, a river, a bird, a cloud of fireflies? Time for us to welcome these bearers of life into the minyan, the quorum that makes prayer possible. Indeed, there could be no minyan without them.”–Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

Mural at Christ in the Desert Monastery

The mural above is found in the refectory at Christ in the Desert Benedictine monastery near Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Rubilev's Trinity

Based on Rubilev’s famous Trinity icon, it depicts the Sarah and Abraham welcoming the three angel guests at the Oak of Mamre.

“The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day”–Genesis 18:1

In the center of the Christ in the Desert mural is a large scale version of the Rubilev’s icon of the Trinity, represented by three angels, seated at table.

To the viewer’s right is Sarah and to the viewer’s left is Abraham. Behind Abraham is St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Juan Diego, Mary, and the Burning Bush.

Behind Sarah is St. Scholastica, St. Clare, Blessed Kateri Tekatwitha, St. John the Baptist, and an “Agnus Dei” representation.

California activist-theologian reflects on “Abraham under the ‘teaching oak’” saying:

The real plot of the Bible is about the liberation of both humanity and nature from our folly. God’s voice does not come through the centre of civil power but from an imperial defector in Moses, through a burning bush and from a dissident prophet Elijah in the wilderness. These ancient traditions portray a God who needs to be encountered through nature. The Bible also offers numerous peons to creation as a mirror of the creator’s glory. There is a lot of talk these days about our need to rediscover enchantment in nature. Let us take Abraham’s first encounter
with God which occurred under the oak tree of Moreh, an “oracle giver” which taps into an apparently universal tradition of the Tree of Life. Then God appears to Abraham as certain strangers under the oaks of Mamre; and later in Judges, the warrior Gideon is given courage by an angel under the oak at Ophrah.

At Christ in the Desert monastery the electricity and water-pumping at the monastery is solar-powered, as sunshine is plentiful throughout the year.

The mural art reflects a tradition now set in the context of the Chama Canyon wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, but the monks whose quiet cenobitic lives are shaped daily by the art also vitalize the mural through their own daily desert encounters with angels, trees, rivers, saints, bread, wine, work, and surprise.