Navigating New Territory Together: Lessons from “Into the Woods”

by Rabbi Nancy Kasten

The world we knew has disappeared. It may not have been perfect, but its discomforts were familiar. We knew how to cope with them. Now something different is being demanded of us, and we are unprepared.

The lingering Covid pandemic and global changes in climates are teaching us that we are inextricably and unavoidably interdependent. Technology and culture may have lured us into the illusion that we can and should be self-sufficient but lived experience refutes that. And perpetually denying or resisting our own experience has had devastating effects, leading to debilitating personal and communal anxiety.

When it comes to the role of faith in navigating circumstances we can’t control, believers will blame non-believers and non-believers will blame believers. But placing responsibility to fix what is broken on someone else rarely ends up solving the problem. As my late mother-in-law used to say to artfully avoid the trap of taking sides when her children were trying to vindicate themselves for their role in a fight she had not witnessed, “it all started when she hit me back.”

When we voice our grief, fear, or anger by painting targets on the backs of an “other,” we perpetuate the status quo and feed our own feelings of alienation and displacement. It takes practice and discernment to acknowledge our feelings and assimilate them in a way that moves us forward constructively, with hopeful, positive energy.

Prayer can help, but prayer itself requires discernment and reflection, lest it lead us to shirking our own responsibility or asserting our entitlement. Each of us has to decide what to do with our “one wild and precious life,” and how we will respond when we realize we are not in complete control of it.

Will we spend our time trying to figure out whose fault it is so we can blame them? Will we spend our time hoping or praying that God or a human savior will jump in and fix what is broken? Or will we prepare ourselves to be partners in generating a better future world?

Into the Woods: The Broadway Production

This summer I saw the latest Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” The fairy tale mash-up is a brilliant take on the unintended consequences of human fear and longing, and how shifting the narrative can turn the most painful losses into opportunities for growth.

Toward the end of the play, Jack, the Baker, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella meet in the woods. Each of them has lost the people and homes they had when the story started. In a song titled “Your Fault,” the characters take turns blaming each other for their suffering.

The argument ends abruptly when they hear Rapunzel’s witch, who threatens them all: “It’s the last midnight, So goodbye, all. Coming at you fast, midnight—soon you’ll see the sky fall.” After realizing they need each other if they are to live another day, the antagonists become allies, ultimately fending off the next impending threat.

They sing the following “sermon”:


No one acts alone. Careful, no one is alone.
People make mistakes.
Fathers, mothers, people make mistakes
Holding to their own.
Thinking they’re alone.
Honor their mistakes.
Fight for their mistakes-
Everybody makes-
…terrible mistakes.
Witches can be right,
Giants can be good.
You decide what’s right,
You decide what’s good.
Just remember:
Someone is on your side. Our side.
Someone else is not.
While we’re seeing our side-
Maybe we forgot:
They are not alone.
No one is alone.
Hard to see the light now.
Just don’t let it go.
Things will come out right now.
We can make it so.
Someone is on your side.


Revolutionary Love: An Invitation

Faith Commons works to resist political and cultural environments that divide us and drive us apart. We also look for light we can share. This is why we have invited Valarie Kaur to Dallas next month.

Her Revolutionary Love Project gives us an opportunity to bring together individuals and groups to practice personal discernment and the shared process of turning our rage into joy. We hope those of you who are able will join us in Dallas (or on-line) when we welcome Valarie Kaur in September, and that all of you will find a way to connect to the Revolutionary Love Project.

And always remember—you are not alone. We are on your side!