Our Jewish brothers and sisters are currently celebrating the feast of Sukkot. During this seven-day festival, Jews eat their meals in temporarily erected huts. These flimsy structures generally have a semi-see through roof that is built from something that grows in the ground.
Sukkot is a reminder to the Jewish people of their life in the desert – of a time when they had no permanent place to live, no place to call home from one day to the next.
Sukkot is, more generally, a reminder of the impermanent nature of all things. One rabbi had this to say about the festival of Sukkot:
At its heart, Sukkot is a time to recognize our impermanence, to celebrate together, and to reach into our own souls to find new meaning and new riches…. [All of the joy and celebration takes] place in the flimsiest, most vulnerable of structures, ..and you can see just how susceptible a Sukkah is to the weather…[O]ur holiday calls us to surround ourselves in impermanence—to allow ourselves to be vulnerable—and then to celebrate to our heart’s content.
If we are spiritual people, then whatever our religion is, we are conscious that we are defined by more than our human existence. Indeed this current human existence of ours is a blip in the totality of life eternal. As my friend Joe Costantino once observed in one or our conversations, we are temporary visitors to this planet.
We, of course, don’t tend to behave as temporary visitors – our every day reality is that this is our life; it is, after all, (except for those who claim to have actually memories of past lives) the only life we know. But it is a short and temporary blip nonetheless.
Sukkot serves as an importnat reminder that t all things in this world are transitory. And that transitoriness implies a view about our relationship to the world, one that is captured in the idea of renunciation.
Renunciation is a term that is easily misunderstood. We hear the word and we cringe, thinking it means we are not allowed to have things, or at least that we are not supposed to enjoy them. But renunciation is not about not enjoying what we have. Rather it is about understanding the transitory nature of worldly pleasure and understanding that there is something more needed to satisfy us – that, ultimately, to be truly happy, we need to turn from materialism to a life of spirit. And that is something that requires an intentional process of transformation.