I first heard this story on the public radio show “Speaking of Faith” that is now called “On Being,” hosted by Krista Tippett. On the show, she interviews all sorts of interesting people, all of them deep thinkers and mystics and wonderers in their own ways. A few days ago, I read it again in Tippett’s most recent book, Becoming Wise. It’s an important story, I think. I’m glad I was reminded of it these years later. It’s the story of the Birthday of the World.
This version below is as told by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a medical doctor who has a unique and much needed perspective on spirituality, healing, and living (and dying) well. Her grandfather gave the story to her for her 4th birthday. It makes me wonder how the world would be different if every child were given this story, or one like it, (and reminded of it often) on their fourth birthdays.
In the beginning there was only the Holy Darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. Then in the course of history at a moment in time this world, the world of 1000 thousand things, emerged from the heart of the Holy Darkness as a great ray of light.
And then (perhaps because this is a Jewish story) there was an accident. The vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into 1000 thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
According to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, and to lift it up and make it visible once again, and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world.
This is a very important story for the world today. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew, which means the restoration of the whole world. This is a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive and all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world.
And Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Jungian psychoanalyst, writes:
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
So, that’s what we do. Our work in this world that often feels like it is spinning out of control is perhaps to look at the place where we stand and do what we can to lift up the light that we find. We reach our arms out in the space that we have and see what we can touch in a life-giving way. Because every time we do that, the world heals a little more.
Dr. Remen goes on to say that “This story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you. That’s around you. This is our power. Many people feel powerless in today’s situation.”
Sometimes our power feels like it itself is tarnished, or that we never really had it within our grasp. But as we hear in the story, there is light in everything, even that which seems broken. We are here because we have the capacity to find the light in that which has shattered, and we have the capacity to lift it up and offer one little piece at a time toward the restoration of the world.
It’s a big project. But a worthwhile mosaic that will offer a beauty that we haven’t seen before when all is said and done.
As Dr. Estes goes on to say, “Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.”
After all, a single spark that catches can make a big difference.