Earth Etude for 3 Elul – Paying Attention to Roots
by Maxine Lyons
Being a passionate gardener, I have been tending several gardens in my yard as well as many flower pots on our large deck so my hands are in dirt quite often these days. I have been transplanting yellow primroses, succulents, day lilies and sunflowers, focusing on the integrity of the roots, noticing how each root system is different. For example, some plants require a full root for transplanting while others need a partial root to survive. Succulents do not need roots at all; pieces can be immersed in dirt and re-establish their roots in soil in a short time.
So as I begin the long internal process of preparing for the holidays, I am considering the meaning of roots in our lives–when we are transplanted (as I was from the west to the east coast), would roots remain intact, and I pondered, could I plant them deep and securely enough to thrive and not merely survive the changes? I moved with my husband and two young kids, truly uprooted from my family and age-old friends and all that was known and familiar. With a lot of determination, I found that the most tenacious roots assisted me in establishing my new grounding.
What are those elements that enhance the possibility of roots taking hold firmly in new ground? I believe that we need a full root base to nurture us. I was deeply rooted in my Jewish upbringing. I went to weekly Shabbat services with my family, I attended with great delight Hebrew school, confirmation classes, and the inspiring, call-to-action in the words of the prophets, which were reinforced by our Reform temple's explicit social justice emphasis (that led to my involvement in civil rights work and anti-war activities in college). As these roots spread out, I explored my options as a spiritual seeker, going from Reform to Conservative Judaism, learning and teaching yoga, then to Jewish Renewal, and now, a combination of JewBu(ddhism) and interfaith work. My underlying support was my father's influence on my growth and development as he modeled empathy, tikkun olam, and our responsibility to be charitable in word and deed to help others. Sharing common ground with my caring, loving and supportive husband and two creative children enabled me to establish the firmest of roots.
Reflecting on the meanings of roots brought me to teshuvah. I feel a connection with plant roots. Roots are anchors; they absorb and conduct water and nutrients, storing energy for later use. This is analogous to our human needs for roots; we also need to absorb and replenish spiritual sustenance to store for use with family and friends and in all meaningful pursuits in our lives. My intimate friendships are the other anchors that also energize my life, enabling the expanse and growth of my roots. This focused awareness of opening my heart and making regular contributions allows me to continue tikkun olam, which, returning to those core values of empathy, connections and helping others, are particularly important now. Teshuvah requires that I become ever more mindful of my behavior. With ample "fertilizers" of compassion, caring and open heartedness, I can start the annual journey preparing for the Yamim Noraim in my daily practices now and throughout the year.
My father was a humble person, and his expansive root system, like those of a sturdy tree, lay underground but the tree, his personhood, flourished, benefiting everyone who was blessed to know him. I pray that his legacy will continue to influence me to grow as I tend to my gardens and reap the benefits of the abundant colorful flowers– petunias cascading, and morning glories stretching heavenward, spiraling on tomato plant stakes. (This is dedicated to the memory of my dear dad, Alex Schoenbrun, on his fifth yahrzeit).
Maxine Lyons, retired community educator, is currently CMM (Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries) board member and co-facilitator of CMM's RUAH Spirituality Programs,
active participant in the ALEPH prison pen pal program ("connecting Jews on the outside with Jews on the inside"), member of Temple Beth Zion, Brookline,
and joyful wife of 36 years and mother of two accomplished and wonderful thirty somethings.