In springtime it’s hard not to feel Nature singing God’s praises…in the birdsong, the breeze, the fragile and brilliant blossoms that suddenly burst in my garden, even the tiny tomatoes that are finally appearing. The medieval Jewish classic, Perek Shira, Chapter of Song, captures this life-giving song— its editors place short biblical praises of God from across the Hebrew Bible into the “mouths” of stars and beetles and horses, among other wonders of the natural world. I have celebrated the birth of my first grandchild by creating an aleph-bet picture book that adapts Perek Shira into a celebration of the environment and its Creator for children of all ages, All the World Praises You! an illuminated Aleph-Bet book, appearing July 15. Honeybees for my name, and dahlias, for my granddaughter, lead you on a wild ride through our precious environment, replete with non-denominational Jewish spiritual joy and environmental ethics. This essay is the first in a series that I’ll post over the next few weeks, presenting art and ideas drawn from this celebration of nature in the Jewish soul.
The earth says: The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds, the world and its inhabitants. (Isaiah 24:16)
The verse highlighted in this painting is drawn the book of the prophet Isaiah, who lived in the Kingdom of Judah during the second half of the 8th century BCE, around the period of the attack on Judah by the Assyrian King Sennacherib. The book of Isaiah was written over the course of many years; the prophet criticized Judeans’ immoral behavior and hypocritical religious habits, and offered both sharp political advice for Judah’s rulers and ecstatic evocations of divine rewards for Israel’s devotion to God. Isaiah’s wonderfully lyrical poetry continues to resound throughout western literature. In this verse, Isaiah, who loathed violence, and sought peace and life for his country, reminds us that everything on Earth came from God.
I wrapped Isaiah’s words around a painting of our Earth surrounded by the night sky. The Earth is turned to show Israel, where Isaiah lived and wrote so many centuries ago. The painting of the night sky, however, draws directly upon modern astronomy. This is a photograph of the “Ultra-Deep Field” of space made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. The Hubble Space Telescope includes a series of “detectors” that capture photons (light particles) emitted by different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, to enable astronomers to view the universe using different kinds of light (for instance, ultra-violet, heat, optical, radio-wave, x-ray, gamma-ray). Presenting a view of the “extreme deep field” of space seen by many of these detectors, this photograph shows galaxies across the universe, from as long ago as a few 100 million years after the Big Bang, that is, shortly after the gigantic explosion from which all space, time, and matter in the entire universe developed, 13.7 billion years ago. The theory of the Big Bang is thoroughly supported by astronomical observation and astrophysical analysis, and is now considered authoritative in the astrophysics community. Click here to see an amazing one-minute video that imagines the world from the Big Bang to our own modern civilization!
You will see this image of the Ultra-Deep Field again in this work, as in much of my work, symbolizing the all-suffusing presence of the Divine in the material world.
The poetry and painting lead us to muse about aspects of our own lives, our relationship with God, and how we relate to the natural world in both our mundane and our spiritual lives. For instance, consider
- If you were at the window of a space transport vehicle, gazing out at the Earth and the stars, what would you think about?
- The prophet, Isaiah, lived long before science began to show us the long and complicated process of the evolution of life on earth, however his message about the connection between ourselves, our planet and our God endures. How do you think Isaiah wanted us to think about our relationship with all the rest of the world, outside of ourselves? About our relationship with God?
- Look at Braishit/Genesis 22:17. Abraham has just shown God that he loves and trusts God so profoundly that he would even sacrifice his precious son, Isaac, if God asked him to do so. Then, God tells him: “I will place My blessing upon you and make your children as many as the stars of heaven and the sands of the seashore…” What does that promise tell you about how God will care for all of Abraham’s children, and what God wants from us? Do you think that God’s promise gives humanity a special responsibility in the world?
You will find the painting, and more information on All the World Praises You! on its webpage. Another version of this essay, suggestions for related reading, along with materials for elementary-school age and bar/bat mitzvah age readers— rich discussions of the paintings’ meaning, the letter itself, explorations in environmental science, and even links to “citizen-science” programs— are available at Diving Deeper! Enrichment Materials for All the World Praises You! Enjoy!
More to come!
All the World Praises You! is available (shipping July 15, 2018) wherever books are sold in the USA, and through Amazon.com across the world. Please see www.AlltheWorldPraisesYou.com for more information. The notes above are adapted from Diving Deeper: Enrichment Materials for All the World Praises You: please click on the link above for more. You’ll also find there another version of this essay, along with enrichment materials for elementary-school age and bar/bat mitzvah age readers.