Herewith another installment in response to Rabbi Jordan Braunig’s Elul writing prompts. If you’re not subscribed to this and you enjoy good writing — whether creating it or reading it — I highly recommend. Jordan’s introductions are at least half the fun!
PROMPT 3: Today, I invite you to spend an early moment in this month of self-growth and recreation, setting out a spiritual to-do list. What concrete actions can you incorporate into these coming weeks that will help you feel anchored and prepared. Perhaps you are aiming to experience silence every day. Or, there are books and texts that you want to return to. Maybe you want to wake up to the blast of the shofar. While you’re at it, find space to take note of important conversations you want to have? Give yourself a mix of easy and more arduous goals, so that you can feel the satisfaction of working your way through the list.
This instruction overlaps so neatly with the rest of my life, it’s almost tempting to just scan my to-do list in and call it a night. I am blessed at this moment with the opportunity to take a little time and space to discern what my next right step will be. Will I plunge back into the work world with a full-time, high-intensity job? Will I parlay the skills I’ve amassed in these past five years and enter the consulting arena? Will I pursue part-time work and test-drive rabbinic study?
I am eager to fill my days but not too soon, and not with just anything. I want magic!
While I scan the job listings and imagine what might be out there that fits me, I am spending time each day with the siddur. Along with polishing my resume, I am scheduling daily appointments to read about elements of worship I hadn’t considered. As I reconnect with my network, I’m also reconnecting with my tradition. And between coffees with colleagues, I’m preparing for a gig co-leading services on Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur.
The to-do list is delicious: study the translations, learn the music, follow the bibliography trail, think, write, study, sing. I make a goal each day of words to explore, phrases to digest. One from Column A, one from Column B. Something in the siddur, something in Rabbi Hoffman’s book, a few phrases in the N’ilah liturgy. Back and forth and back and forth I go all day.
It is all too easy to think that this nice study smorgasbord is the Elul work. What’s essential, though, is to keep the spiritual frame on these daily habits I am trying to cultivate. There is a difference between studying the prayers and praying. Technical mastery is important, but there must also be room for holy mistakes. To allow for unstructured contact with the Divine, the contact that is at my current skill level, not my aspirational one, is part of the task.
Make holy mistakes. This is the to-do list on top of the to-do list.