In the last few years we have been trying to find opportunities to gather as a community outdoors on Shabbat (Hebrew for Sabbath) we started with “Shabbat at the Shore.” For “Shabbat at the Shore,” we gather at Riverside Park in one of the pavilion to offer Shabbat prayers and use outdoor activities for Torah study. Over the years we have made cork and pin magnets, play dough, ice cream, and sifted sand looking for God’s foot prints among other activities. I found activities that were messy or less formal that were easy to outside and illustrated or engaged the stories and values of Torah in ways we could not do easily inside.
In May of 2012 after a hiking experience with the Adventure Rabbi in Boulder, Colorado, I added a new element to our outdoor Shabbat experience. I realized that while we were doing a wide range of activities, we were still sedentary for the most part. As important as it was to give different spiritual experiences by moving outside, adding motion – walking or swimming or jumping waves – provides a different avenue for folks to connect with the Divine. While we don’t have mountains like the Adventure Rabbi, we could have a similar vibe by “hiking” the beaches. Thus, our Shabbat Triathlon, a little walk, a little sit in the sand, and a dip in our beautiful ocean was born.
One might think that is new age, earthy crunchy religion stuff. However, this is actually an ancient wisdom. From Abraham going forth to define his covenantal relationship to God (Genesis 12:12) to David’s declaration in Psalm 23 that we must “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” we see that there is spiritual expression and experience in the motion. The rabbinic commentators, ancient and modern, extend this perspective as they interpret and reinterpret Abraham’s Lech-lecha (go forth) moment. As much as Abraham is physically leaving his father’s house and his homeland, he is spiritually departing from the theology and ritual practices of those places. He is engaging God as he travels. Likewise, Rabbi Harold Kushner points out in his commentary on Psalm 23 that the verb in the verse is valuable. It doesn’t say sit in the valley of the shadow of death. Instead, this psalm of David instructs us to walk. We are to be in steady motion as we work through the challenges of loss and darkness. We can find God as we keep moving.
This is not an either-or but rather a both/and. As I have written on a number of occasions, it is important to gather as a critical mass of sacred community at regular intervals. Something powerful happens when we sit in the presence of a group of people and engage in worship. The rituals of motion are necessary counterbalance. Ecclesiastes 3 declares that there is a time for every experience under heaven and offers so many polarities. This is yet another one. While we have to make time to gather in Minyan connect as community, there is also a time to be in motion, to walk out our worries. This motion allows us to gather our strength, to dissipate our frustration, a chance to stretch out and get unstuck. We get to see ourselves, God, our world from a different perspective. Even if we complete our walk in the same physical spot where we started, if give these steps spiritual intention, we can truly find ourselves in a higher and holier place.