Earth Etude for Elul 16: Choosing Again to Be Good
by Joelle Novey
~I had the opportunity to sit with good folks of many faiths over the last year as we studied the words of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si.
Also this year, I had many moments of feeling overwhelmed by the bad things in our world that seem so much bigger than any one of us: the irrevocable and global suffering already being caused by our damaged climate; the harm being done to black bodies and spirits by the pernicious persistence of racism; the unrelenting meanness of this year’s presidential campaign rhetoric.
What gives me hope as we enter a season of reflection?
I’m turning to Pope Francis, and to the paragraph (#205) of his encyclical which never fails to give me a jolt of hope:
“Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom.
“No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.”
Where does the Pope find some hope for all of us?
He finds it right in the place where the shofar finds us, where that still, small voice is heard — he finds it in our hearts; he finds it in our own individual capacity to know what is good and to make choices.
The world is full of terrible things much larger than any of us, but we do have the freedom to make choices — and in that freedom lies the possibility of our redemption. We can choose, and so: we can change. And so can everyone else. And so can our world.
We can choose how we get our energy, how we invest our money, what we will buy, what food we will eat. We can choose to examine our own role in the fossil fueled economy, the part we play in the evil of systemic racism, and, come November, we can choose what kinds of leadership to exalt with our votes.
I’m letting Pope Francis set my kavannah for this season of repentance. He reminds me that all is not lost, because we can still decide to choose what is good.
The dignity to engage in tikkun this Elul is ours. It is our liberation and our highest hope in these times. And no one can take it from us.
Joelle Novey directs Interfaith Power & Light (DC, MD, No. VA), which engages hundreds of congregations of all faiths from across the DC area and Maryland in saving energy, going green, and responding to climate change: www.IPLdmv.org. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and davens at Tikkun Leil Shabbat and Minyan Segulah.