When Rhonda and I visited Las Cruces in late March of 2011 (to interview for the position at Temple Beth-El) for the first time, I realized that I hadn’t ever really been anywhere with similar scenery, except, perhaps, Israel. I told one of my congregants-to-be who had lived in Israel that Las Cruces reminded me of Beersheva. Never mind that I haven’t been in Beersheva since 1977. The memory was still there, and something resonated from the appearance of the terrain, especially with desert all around us in this area that we began to explore on that trip.
I have vague memories of a 1963 trip with my family through New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Carlsbad) that led to a stay in El Paso and walking across to Juarez. My midwestern “perch” in Kansas City, marked with rolling hills and tree-lined streets, hadn’t included the vistas that we enjoy here in our shared region along the border.
I look out our window every morning towards the northwest, seeing not the sunrise but the effects of the beginning of a new day on the area around us. In the evening, if there are clouds in the sky, I am prepared to take at least one sunset photo with the mountains across town dotting the horizon.
We are amazed at the brief periodic flourishing of Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens, so they say) and the surprising blossoms that appear on various cacti. The infrequency of rain in our area makes it seems all the more precious to us when it comes.
During our autumn, there are not many trees that lose their leaves, like our experiences with a burgeoning collection of large sycamore leaves in our yard when we lived in Kansas. There are no changing colors as we witnessed in September/October in New Hampshire. There are, enough leafless trees, though, to remind us that winter, with it own unique character here, will ultimately arrive.
Every year, a major reminder of the change of seasons for us is the Jewish calendar, and when it comes to nature, Chag HaSukkot connects us, wherever we are, to the cycles happening around us. If we didn’t notice it before, building the Sukkah and praying and eating and spending time in it, waving the Lulav/Etrog, reciting blessings of the season and beholding our harvest symbol for a week highlights for us that we live in nature’s time and God’s time.
Even the celebration of Simchat Torah, which provides with an opportunity to rejoice in the opportunity to hear God’s voice through the the text and to study with each other, touches upon creation. It ends with the passing of Moses, a treasured teacher and leader who guided the Israelites through many years living in a challenging natural setting while learning to become a community. And then, the Torah begins again with the creation of the world. After commemorating creation on Rosh Hashanah, the Birthday of the World, we have a second chance to marvel at the process of creation that has resulted in our existence and our presence together in the world.
So may we praise the Eternal One, Ruler of the Universe, who makes the works of creation and renews them every day. May that renewal inspire and lead us to grow our own character towards goodness, godliness and gratitude for the gift of life.