It's new moon -- Rosh Chodesh -- and this month, that means that a time of contemplation and prayer has begun in both the Jewish and Muslim traditions. This new month is both Elul and Ramadan. (The Jewish calendar is metonic, and the Muslim calendar is not, so our holy months don't always overlap; this won't happen again for many years. Because of the Jewish practice of inserting an extra month 7 years out of every 19, the Jewish holidays will remain in the Northern hemisphere autumn, while Ramadan will continue moving backwards on the Gregorian calendar -- in 2011 Ramadan will begin around August 1, in 2012 it will begin around July 19, and in 2013 around July 10...)
Last year I attended a retreat for emerging Jewish and Muslim leaders during the few days just before Ramadan, and wrote an essay about it for Zeek: Allah is the Light: Prayer in Ramadan and Elul. Now that we've entered that holy time of year again, I find myself thinking about the people I met on that retreat, wondering how they are and what's going on in their lives.
Hard to believe it's Elul already. Time to read Psalm 27 every day (or listen to it!) Time to do the hard work of taking a spiritual accounting of where I've been over the year which will end soon. Where have I missed the mark in my relationships with the world, with others, with myself, with my God? There's a tradition of hearing the shofar each morning during Elul, a kind of spiritual alarm clock meant to say wake up, you sleepers! As Rabbi Alan Lew (z"l) wrote, "The Book of Life and the Book of Death are open every day, and our name is written in one or the other of them at every moment, and then erased and written again the moment after that."
Of course, for those of us in my line of work, it's also time to put our backs into the work of preparing to lead long and intensive High Holiday services -- which means it's also time to struggle with how to balance the practical work our communities demand with the spiritual work we need to do in order to be able to lead those services wholly.
To my Muslim friends who are entering into a month of fasting and prayer, I wish a Ramadan mubarak, a blessed month of Ramadan! And to my Jewish friends and family, I wish a meaningful month of Elul.