This is Corona Arch in Moab, Utah, where The Adventure Rabbi Jamie Korngold and 186 of her closest friends will gather for the first Seder of Passover on Saturday evening.
Does this sound a little crazy?
Well, think about this for a moment: What kind of a landscape do you envision was the spiritual home of the earliest stories in the Bible thousands of years ago?
That’s what this brilliant new voice in Judaism, whose first book debuts just in time both for Passover and Earth Day this year, is trying to say to Jewish people — and to non-Jews as well — about the need to step outdoors to recapture the true roots of our faith.
Her story is a perfect transition from our Earth Day coverage Monday and Tuesday this week — into a special ReadTheSpirit observance of Passover.
Passover formally begins after sunset on Saturday, but families already are preparing for this ancient festival. We’ve got a marvelous, diverse array of voices, stories, multimedia, prayers and news for you stretching all the way through Passover next week.
Please — stay with us even if you’re not Jewish — because we think you’ll be amazed by some of these stories and inspired by others.
FIRST — before we talk with The Adventure Rabbi: If you enjoyed the Monday and Tuesday Earth Day reflections of Sister Mary McCann, a member of the pioneering Catholic religious order of IHM Sisters, we’ve got two more gems for you today!
Click here to read her “Glimpse of Geese“.
Click here to enjoy an inspiring “Meadow Moment“.
Both of these pieces may reshape your reflections as you prepare for Earth Day this week.
WELCOME to Passover at ReadTheSpirit!
DAVID: Rabbi, many of our non-Jewish readers may not be aware of this — but the Passover Seder is more than traditional readings, prayers and songs. It’s also an occasion when households talk about oppression and the need for liberation in our world today. So, what will your Seder guests talk about this year as they gather around your table?
JAMIE: Well, I’ve got to explain about my Seder, because you don’t understand how we do it out here.
DAVID: You’ve got guests coming, right?
JAMIE: I’ve got 186 guests coming! We had to cut it off at that. We’ve got a waiting list, too, and we had to cut off the waiting list, because it’s clear that we don’t have enough room. We’re full. We’ll have 186 people coming with me to Moab, Utah.
We’re going to hike a mile and a half over red rock up to what’s called the Corona Arch, this huge stone span. We’ll be seated underneath the arch. We have two guitar players and a mandolin player. We’ll read the actual Exodus story from our backpack Torah.
What’s the discussion going to be like?
My goal is to help people see that the spiritual experience they hope to have — is right there inside of them already.
DAVID: Explain that a little more, because you write about related themes in your book. What do you mean when you say: What you’re looking for is right inside of you?
JAMIE: Think about the way we check our Email every day. Think about how, at the end of the day, we may have worked really hard at clearing out the Email In-box — and we want to move on and do something else. But we keep checking the Email — as if we’re hoping that something better is going to come along and drop into our In-boxes.
It’s as though we overlook all the stuff that fills our lives right now — hoping for something better on the horizon.
What I ask at my Seder is: What do you feel like right now?
You don’t have to go off to an ashram somewhere in India before you answer that question. Your spiritual experience is right inside of you. What we have to do is carve out a time of peacefulness so we can experience what’s right there already.
DAVID: You’re saying there’s danger in becoming junkies for the next new thing. It’s sort of a Dorothy realization in “The Wizard of Oz.”
I’ve got to tell you that, in your book, I was impressed that — yes, of course, you talk about scriptures and the great sages like Maimonides, but you made room for some wisdom from “The Wizard of Oz,” too.
JAMIE: The lesson that the characters learned after their adventure in Oz was that the things they were hoping for were really inside of them all the time. That’s an important lesson.
We need to go deeper into who we already are.
DAVID: But obviously you’re not telling people to sit at home. You’re becoming famous as The Adventure Rabbi through your Web site and now this book. There are people who travel a long way out to Boulder, Colorado, just to hike with you or ski with you on one of your outdoor experiences. You want people to get outside, right?
JAMIE: Yes, we need to make some space in our lives.
Think about this: Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and Moses was up on that mountain for 40 days and Elijah goes out like this, too. These weren’t weekend trips. They needed 40 days to decompress, to be fully present where they were until they met God.
Our lives are profoundly more busy than their lives were — and we don’t have nearly the connection to God that they had — so one weekend trip isn’t likely to get us anywhere near where we need to be. We need to begin making space in our lives for this kind of reflection.
DAVID: I like the chapter in your book in which you actually say to readers, “Stop trying so hard!” There are a lot of books out there about becoming spiritual warriors and turning our religious lives into daily disciplines of religious fitness, until —
JAMIE: — until we’ve tried so hard to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish things that we’re exhausted. People need to slow down.
DAVID: But I’ve got to challenge you on that: You’re saying this to readers? You? You’re the rabbi who describes, in this book, trying to complete a 100-mile marathon run that nearly killed you.
I don’t even want to let some of my friends in Michigan who are addicted to long-distance running read that section of your book, because it would be like giving them crack cocaine — to read about this high-altitude challenge you took on, running 100 miles. I can see running junkies just drawn to that idea like moths to a flame.
JAMIE: Well, I don’t recommend it. I write about that experience to point out how warped it was.
DAVID: In the book, you write about how, on this particular extreme race, you’d been running for more than 27 hours, your lungs were filling with fluid and, despite all that — despite all that, you were mentally calculating how you could keep running the final six miles of the race and, even if you did collapse, there was a chance they could revive you.
You write, “How did this come to be normal? Why do I and people like me feel the need to push the limits to such abnormal extremes?” You call it a “warped state of mind.” I think it’s one of the fascinating points you make — that you’re all about high adventure and you’re all about reconnecting with the natural world — but you’re really talking about not pushing our lives to extremes.
JAMIE: That’s it. Running like that almost killed me.
I’m telling people: You don’t have to make every single day count. You don’t.
There was one person who thought they had found a typo when I wrote: Stop getting the most out of every day.
It’s really exhausting trying to get the most out of every day. It’s what our culture tells us to do over and over again — but it’s one of many little sayings we hear every day that actually aren’t too healthy for us.
I’m trying to tell people that we need space in our lives, that we’re not going to make ourselves perfect, that we don’t need to try to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish all the time — and it’s right there in our tradition and its right there in the natural environment.
DAVID: Well, as a person who’s the first to admit my own flaws, your message feels like the lifting of a huge weight. You write about how Moses was a deeply flawed person, yet God chose him for some very important work. If so, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us poor, flawed folks.
JAMIE: What I’m trying to do in this book is to use both the Bible and the natural environment as role models. Moses wasn’t perfect. Just as there are no perfect people in the Bible, if we go out into nature, we find there’s nothing perfect in nature. Nature is not trying to be perfect.
Nature’s not even in balance. There are lots of imbalances in nature.
DAVID: Some of your most challenging passages in the book zero in on this point.
You write, “Our culture’s pursuit of perfectionism is one of the major stumbling blocks between us and contentment. We divorce our mates, fire our rabbis or ministers, and change our children’s schools, all in search of something better, which we are sure is right around the corner. Yet somehow it never is. Each new situation brings its own disappointments.
“It’s almost as if we believe that we are entitled to perfect lives. If we could just get it right, then perfect jobs, perfect homes and perfect partners would be within our reach.
“How did we come to even think that perfection was a possible goal? Perhaps it began with our ability to have dominion over the earth.”
Thats where you connect the dots most powerfully, I think.
There is a direct relationship here, you’re arguing, between our desire to control everything, our over-stressed lives — and the way we’ve been treating the natural world.
I liked what you gave us in the Afterword of the book: the 20 Commandments of Conscious Consumption.
JAMIE: To me, that last chapter was really the most important one. The editors said it should be an Afterword, because it seems different form the rest of the book. And I agreed to that, but here’s how I see it: In the rest of the book, what I’m saying about the wilderness, the outdoors, is that it holds these spiritual portals for us.
I tried to make this book appeal to Jews and Christians because I think the issues I’m dealing with in this book really are from our shared tradition. My thesis is that religion began in the wilderness for a reason: There are certain spiritual realizations we just get better when we make some space for ourselves there. When we stay inside, we lose track of those portals.
So, if the outdoors holds these spiritual portals, then we have to protect the wilderness. We have to take care of it. That last chapter is the Al Gore chapter — all about the things we have to do — and we’re talking about our spiritual and moral mandate to do that.
This is really something the evangelical community has gotten on board with, too, and I’m glad we’re seeing that because, for so long, the Bible was misquoted and misused. A lot of people who read those words about God telling us we have dominion over the Earth and should subdue it — a lot of people used that as an excuse to use up the Earth.
I think, ultimately, the planet’s not ours. If you want to be a literalist about the beginning of the Bible, then it’s God’s planet and we should take care of it.
DAVID: I love the prayer at the very end of your book.
You write, “May we have the wisdom, the tenacity, and the fortitude to help God’s garden endure. In the words of the Psalmist:
“How many are the things You have made, O Lord;
You have made them all with wisdom;
the earth is full of Your creations …
May the glory of the Lord endure forever.”
(And so ends these highlights from our Conversation With the Adventure Rabbi.)
Want to read more about her — perhaps check out her 20 Commandments? She’s got the Commandments and lots more material on her Web site for The Adventure Rabbi and this new book.
Want to see her in action? Click on the Video Screen below to watch a TV report on Rabbi Korngold, produced by a local news crew. If no video screen is visible in your version of this story, then visit YouTube directly to watch the video on Rabbi Korngold.
Want to know more about Corona Arch and this stunningly beautiful area of Utah?
The U.S. Department of the Interior maintains a nuts-and-bolts site about this region.
But my personal favorite, searching the Internet for a site that captures the grandeur of the region, is Utah Red Rocks, a beautiful site built by hiker and photographer Robert Riberia.
PLEASE, Tell us what you think! What are you planning for Earth Day or for Passover this year? Where are you focusing your prayers? Your preparations? What memories can you share? Do you have tips for other readers?
Click on the “Comment” link at the end of the online version of our story. Or, you can email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm directly.