Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion will be holding its third annual Nature Shabbat this Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m., at the Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.
Cantor Julie Green explained one reason she leads this Minyon or service in a setting where the grass grows 12 feet high, butterflies flutter in and out among the worshipers and birds sing along with the chanted prayers is to remind her people why setting aside one day a week for rest is so essential.
“I’m thinking of the control we all feel we need to have over every aspect of our life,” Green said, “whether it’s e-mailing or text messaging or doing work. When you really let go of all that for a day-when you let go of the wheel and let it spin-it forces you to really look at who you are. I think that’s what Shabbat should be, and being outside makes it easier.”
The Nature Shabbat service on Saturday will include an easy 45-minute walk along a path in the restored prairie and a service on the porch of a small house inside the preserve.
“You stand there in the shade of the porch,” Green said, “and you look out over this astounding prairie. It’s just wonderful. So many of our prayers have to do with God being the creator of all of this. Prayers for peace. Prayers for strength.”
One of Green’s favorite Midrash texts interprets the passage in Genesis which states that God rested on the seventh day as really meaning God created rest for humankind on that day. To her, nature is a wonderful setting for appreciating the real meaning of a day of rest. “It’s so hard for us to rest,” she said. “Everybody is saying you’ve got to achieve. You’ve got to have a product at the end of everything you do. Shabbat is praying and giving yourself time to just be in the world. Shabbat is not necessarily easy.”
A second purpose of holding the Nature Shabbat, according to Green, is to remind people of God’s command to be stewards of creation. She cited another Midrash in which God shows Adam around creation and says to the man, “Look at everything I’ve made for you. Take care of it because if you don’t, there won’t be anyone after you to repair it.”
Many who were raised with the Bible know that the first chapter of Genesis talks about God giving humankind dominion over creation. Green prefers the term “stewardship” over dominion-i.e. God gave humans the responsibility of taking care of creation, “to walk lightly on the world.”
The event begins at the corner of 31st Street and Wolf Road. The Minyon will be the traditional service with a few appropriate readings from the Midrash mixed in. For more information, call 386-3937.
Green acknowledged that Nature Shabbat forces some of her people out of their comfort zone.
“This one time a year,” she said, “we take ourselves out of our ‘natural’ habitat of house and office. You take yourself out of the place where you’re comfortable, and if you’re able to let go, you can really look at where you are and where you want to be.”