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New-Old Names for God

GOD ~ WATER

Water is one of the most common metaphors for God in the Hebrew Bible, and is used to convey a range of experiences: being nourished by life-giving rain; being swept along by a powerful river; joining in the flow of justice. Just as a body of water can buoy us, refresh us, and sustain us, it can also become fearsome in a storm and overwhelm us. This can be a powerful metaphor for our own experiences of the sacred.

Sometimes we seek spiritual nourishment; we long to drink from Peleg Elohim—the “God River.” At other times we feel buffeted by the waves of our life’s ups and downs, and seek reassurance, as in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “When you pass through the Waters, I am with you.” Water is life-giving, essential, and powerful; sometimes beautiful and sometimes scary. Just like life. Just like God.

Some Biblical water names for the Divine include:

·  Wells of Liberation - May’anei Hayeshua - מַּעַיְנֵי הַיְשׁוּעָה

·  Deep - Tehom - תְּהוֹם

·  Fountain of Living Waters - M’kor Mayyim Chayim- מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים

·  Source/Wellspring of Life - Ain Hachayim - עֵין הַחַיִּים

GOD ~ MAKOM

A common rabbinic name for God is “Makom,” which literally means “place.” The origin of this metaphor may be the Torah’s story of Jacob, who, in distress and running away from home, happens upon “a place” in the desert where he has a direct experience of the Divine. Waking from a marvelous dream where he meets and speaks with God, he exclaims, “Mah nora hamakom hazeh! How awesome is this Place!” The name Makom conveys a sense of being able to experience the Godly in any place; it also connotes forgiveness and compassion, a sense of nearness to the Divine. Makom invites us to associate Godliness with all those places where we’ve experienced a hint of Something beyond ourselves. It invites us to find the divine right here, wherever we happen to be—in this Place.

GOD ~ RACHAMANA

A beautiful and powerful divine name that we encounter in the Yom Kippur liturgy is Rachamana—Compassionate One. It is an Aramaic name derived from the Hebrew root rechem, womb, and it conjures up the sense of compassionate presence that each of us experienced before words and thought, enveloped in our birth-mothers’ wombs. Rachamana is That to which we call out from a place of broken-heartedness. Rachamana is That from which we seek forgiveness, acknowledging the ways we’ve gone astray while knowing that we are loved and accepted.

GOD ~ RUACH

The very first metaphor used for God in the Bible is ruach Elohim—a wind of God, or Godly wind. The word “ruach” means both wind and spirit, and is also associated with breath. The first human becomes a living being with the beautiful metaphoric image of God blowing the “breath of life” directly into him.

Ruach connotes a sense of God’s presence within us, as the life-force that beats in our hearts and flows through our cells like oxygen. It is easily incorporated into traditional Hebrew blessings, where we can substitute ruach ha-olam—Spirit/Wind of the Universe— for “melech ha-olam/Ruler of the Universe.” This metaphor comes alive as we listen to the shofar, the sound itself a manifestation of breath, a symbol of the Godly potential that flows through—that is breathed through—each of us.

GOD ~ EHYEH

When Moses first experiences God at the burning bush, he asks—What is Your name? The response is enigmatic: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, most literally translated “I will be that I will be.” This name of the divine conjures up a sense of possibility, of becoming. It is the name associated with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery, and it is also related to the unpronounceable name, Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay, which Rabbi Art Green has called “an impossible construction of the verb ‘to be.’” Ehyeh encompasses a sense of God not as “thing” but as unfolding Process. Ehyeh is God as verb rather than noun—Becoming, Creating, Supporting, Teaching, Healing. Ehyeh connotes possibility and newness—the promise of the High Holydays that we too are in process, that each day we can be made anew, can be liberated from bad habits and old stories and ancient fears.

GOD ~ ECHAD

The Shema, which we recite multiple times over the course of the holidays, is not really a prayer, but a few verses of Torah that we use to wake ourselves up, saying: “Listen! YHVH our God YHVH is One.” The word for “one"—Echad—can be understood here as a name for divinity. What is the nature of One-ness? In the Jewish mystical tradition, the Biblical idea that “the earth is filled with God’s Presence” means that, in fact, everything is God. We perceive ourselves and the people and things around us as separate entities, separate from one another and from God, yet seek a deeper reality. Echad is a powerful metaphor for experiencing the fundamental connection of all living beings. It expresses the idea that Whatever God might be, It is right here, in our experience of each moment, accessible in all aspects of our lives, because ultimately, Godliness is the stuff of all existence.

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

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Today we’re announcing a new program to celebrate individuals who are serving as positive agents of change in their own communities and schools. Each month, Tumblr and our partners in media and civil society will profile these Champions here on Action (@action), and share their story.

In recognition of Earth Day, our first Champion of Change is Ana Humphrey, an inspiring 10th grader from Alexandria, VA. Here’s Ana’s story in her own words:

What started as an initiative to make science active and increase environmental awareness has grown to become a force of 200 students putting science into action to improve the local environment. The students we teach take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real life, improving their own community. My peers and club members have become teachers and mentors. As the club president, I have learned how to lead other students and channel knowledge and passion into projects with real-world implications. Given the tools and opportunity, students of all ages can become drivers of change in their community.

For me, science has always been a verb. Science has been the art of discovering how the world around me works and of getting my hands dirty. Science has been the lens through which I study challenges and the tool I use to create solutions.

However, at many schools, science is taught as a noun. Learning science means copying from a textbook and listening to lectures. Early on, my hands-on experiences with science at school was limited to lessons from a traveling science teacher that rotated through all of the grade levels at two different schools.

That changed when I entered my 7th-grade life science class. We worked with the organization Earth Force, who challenged us to solve real environmental issues in our community. Through that experience, my peers and I completed a project where we planned and executed the restoration of a wetland with the help of the National Parks Service and other local environmental organizations. As the class leader, I saw first hand how project-based learning could inspire students to become involved both in their own education and in their community. We learned the content at a deeper level and become a force for change. I wanted other students in my community to have the same opportunities that my classmates and I had been given.

I decided that the best way to give other students in Alexandria, Virginia, the same opportunity was to develop and teach hands-on science lessons. Under the name Watershed Warriors, I wrote a grant for the local Green Ideas Challenge, a grant competition held by Act for Alexandria, and was awarded $2,000. Through this funding, Watershed Warriors teaches 5th-grade science through hands-on activities related to the environment and helps students review for the Virginia 5th-grade standardized science test. Over a two-day classroom event in the spring, the students complete a hands-on lab identifying wetland plants and start a wetland garden of their own at their school. Over the spring, the students take care of the plants and continue to make observations. At the end of school year, the students take a field trip to a local wetland and transplant their plants, aiding in restoration efforts and applying their knowledge in the field.

As I transitioned to high school, I faced challenges with time commitments and course load. I realized that the best way to sustain the program was to continue it as a school club. Inspiring my peers to join me not only increased the capacity of Watershed Warriors, but it reinforced my belief that as young people, we care out our environment and want to work to protect it.

Another $1,200 grant has allowed us to expand. We now teach at three different elementary schools and incorporate an additional two lessons per school throughout the year. In this school year alone, we will reach nearly 180 students, over half of which live in under resourced communities.

What started as an initiative to make science active and increase environmental awareness has grown to become a force of 200 students putting science into action to improve the local environment. The students we teach take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real life, improving their own community. My peers and club members have become teachers and mentors. As the club president, I have learned how to lead other students and channel knowledge and passion into projects with real-world implications. Given the tools and opportunity, students of all ages can become drivers of change in their community.