Updated: Mar 9, 2022
By Rabbi Nathan Martin
I recently went to Washington, DC, and marched with 300 other clergy to the White House to collectively raise our voices to push the President to take a more active stance to stop all fossil fuel extraction on Federal Lands and declare a climate emergency—steps that don’t require congressional approval to move forward.
Aside from the marching and singing, one of the most powerful moments for me occurred in the night’s preparation before the march. As a couple hundred of us gathered, we were welcomed by an indigenous leader from South Dakota who offered a prayer. Her words centered around gratitude—gratitude for all the marchers, gratitude for all who help sustain them, gratitude for the offerings of the earth that fed us, gratitude for the water that nourishes us, and gratitude for the voice of divine mystery we hear in the winds that guides us. A second indigenous leader picked up on this theme and directed us to act like human lulavs and offer prayers of gratitude for the wisdom we have inherited from our elders and for our hopes for the next generation. We bowed in all six directions.
This deep connection to the earth exists in our tradition as well. Even as we read in Genesis the saga of Jacob and his transformation from trickster to clan leader, we can see the importance of his tie to the earth. After fleeing his outraged brother, Jacob ends up in the dark of night sleeping on the ground with rocks as a pillow. He dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder and wakes up to rename the place Beth El, the house of God.
In reading the narrative it struck me that were Jacob not connected to the earth, were he not inclining his ear to the stones under his head, he might not have received the important divine revelation that he would be cared for in the future.
Like the rock that whispered to Jacob, these leaders were channeling the voice of the earth in their prayers. They were offering us the gift (and perhaps the revelation) that we too can slow down, connect to one another, and truly appreciate the natural world and the divine spirit that infuses it. Like Jacob of old, the indigenous prayers and rituals were inviting us to see that our planet is indeed Beth El, a house of God, an awesome and sacred place worth maintaining.