Yesterday my daughter rolled with the waves for hours. They were gentle and lovely, playful whitewater bubbling against smooth sand and stretching into tortoise-shell ripples before returning to the foam.
I love ocean waves. I travel all the way to the coast just to hear their continuous, calming sound; and to watch the churning whitewater dissipate into tortoise-shell ripples and retreat back into the foam.
Last summer I read a fascinating book called The Wave, by Susan Casey. She offered this as a scientific definition of the wave: A disturbance moving through a medium. I like to ponder that.
Noting that waves can be good, beautiful, fun, exhilarating, motivating, and connective, I can’t believe that the use of the word ‘distrubance’ in the definition implies something that is always bad. Electricity is such a disturbance, and so is sound. Disturbance might also be called excitation or, for my purposes, the opposite of complacency.
Even though our ultimate value as Jews might be ‘Shalom,’ I think our job is making, even being waves. It is a proposition both revolutionary and conservative. Conservative because to become waves we enter into the common medium–our ocean of community, congregations, world, history–using a similar physics–reading, discussing, arguing, organizing, marching, building (praying, dancing, sometimes dying). Revolutionary because thereby we literally rock the boat, remap continents and redesign shorelines, deliver as well as wipe away good stuff as well as bad.
The artfulness required here is not only about making and being a wave but having the discernment and skill to be the right sized wave repeatedly, when to sustain a rhythm and when to surprise, knowing how much wisdom, compassion and anger to throw into the mix.
It is never-ending work and yet there is constant change, if you know how to look for it. As we read in Pirkey Avot, “We are not responsible to finish the task, neither are we permitted to refrain from the labor.” Its as if Judaism is the eternal wave machine and we are the waves.
Perhaps this is the meaning of the verse from the Christian Bible, “consider the lilies of the field, they do toil neither do they spin.” They wave.
Or to return to my own tradition, “Sh’ma Yisrael,” Listen, O Israel, to the millions of waves in the Ocean that is, somehow, One.