One of the challenges of spiritual life is figuring out how to infuse mundane acts with spirit and heart. Can I train myself to wake in the morning and immediately put down the needle of my mental record player in the groove of gratitude?
If I say a blessing, aloud or silently, before eating -- does that change my experience of that act? How about actions like checking email -- can I make that an opportunity for increased spiritual wakefulness, instead of something rote?
There are actions I take which feel sacred, no question about that. Putting on my tallit (and, on weekdays, tefillin) for prayer. Sharing a song, or a cup of coffee, with someone who is dear to me; brightening someone's day with a gesture of love.
And then there are acts which feel disconnected from spiritual life: washing the dishes, putting gas in the car, dealing with the giant to-do lists which proliferate at this season like mushrooms after a rain. Listening to voicemail messages. Taking out the trash. And yet the Hasidic tradition would argue that even those acts, precisely those acts, can be made holy if we do them with awareness.
Getting ready for the Days of Awe isn't something which happens only during the moments when I have the luxury of dedicating myself wholly to meditation or prayer. Preparing for the holidays on a spiritual level goes on all through this month, in every act I undertake -- whether putting money in the tzedakah box, or trying to get our kid dressed and out the door for school, or responding (or not responding!) to an email which has pushed my buttons and brought forth a vehement response.
The question isn't how I act when I know everything is on the line -- at some public function, or leading High Holiday services, or presiding over a funeral for someone I respected and admired. Of course I bring my best self to those occasions. I think God may be more interested in how I act in my every day. How we all act in our every day. For me that's one of the meta-themes of this month: how do I act? Am I putting on an act? Do my actions reflect my truest heart, the person I most want to be?
I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.