The Transformative Power of Daily Practices by Ivy Helman
My simple daily rituals and spiritual practices are what keep me mindful of G-d and G-d’s presence in my life. They also remind me of G-d’s call to justice, care, compassion and love.
“I find by experience, not by reasoning,
but by my own discovery that G-d is near me,
and I can be near G-d at all times.
I cannot explain it but I am as sure of my experience
as I am of the fact that I live and love,
but I know I do.
In the same way, I know I am in contact with G-d.”
This poem by Lily Montagu speaks to me. I read it most mornings as I say my morning prayers, and it is one of those mantras I try to live by. I have found that contrary to popular belief, sustained religious practices can be just as transformative as instantaneous conversion experiences. This is why I have developed certain spiritual and specifically Jewish practices (For more about my joinery to Judaism, see one of my previous blogs “Reflections on my Spiritual Journey: Claiming Judaism”). I find that they help me develop and cultivate a strong relationship with G-d. For example, I keep a kosher home; wear a kippah daily; try to pray at least twice a day and before snacks and meals; practice the principles of Mussar; attend regularly Shabbat services Friday evenings at my Reform Congregation in Lowell and Saturday morning services at a Conservative congregation in Nashua, NH; light Shabbat candles; try not cook or create on Shabbat; make Havadalah to mark the end of Shabbat; give tzedakah as much as I can and study Torah with my friends. This list is not all encompassing and there are quite a few areas of my practice I wish were more disciplined as well.
My daily practice is not instantly life altering in the same way some people have religious experiences. The sacred writings and traditions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism relate many stories of instantaneous religious experiences. For example, in the New Testament, Saul/Paul is struck by lightening and through the experience becomes one of the most dedicated disciples of Jesus and his ministry. In the Torah, Moses began a profound and life-long relationship with G-d after encountering a burning bush through which G-d spoke. Mohammad was calmly meditating alone in a cave when he suddenly began to receive the divine revelation of the Quran. Likewise, in contemporary society, especially in evangelical Christian circles, true faith is often marked by a single moment of grace. One begins a new life in which one sees and experiences the world differently.
Instantaneous religious experiences can provide a powerful connection to the Holy that is unwavering, sincere and life altering. I think many people yearn for this and believe that this type of experience is the key to leading a true life of faith. Some doubt that their own daily spiritual practices measure up. Yet in my experience, I have found the opposite to be true. My simple daily rituals and spiritual practices are what keep me mindful of G-d and G-d’s presence in my life. They also remind me of G-d’s call to justice, care, compassion and love. Keeping spiritually attuned with G-d through these practices helps me stay aware of the world around me, my connections, my abilities, and my desire to make the world a better place. In other words they help me bring G-d into the world.
Daily spiritual discipline and practices can come from whatever religious tradition or spirituality we call home. If we have the time, discipline and dedication to stick out our spiritual practices, we will reap many spiritual rewards. This road is definitely not the easiest path, but one that can be just as meaningful and establish as close of a connection to the Holy One as any single powerful experience can. Daily spiritual practices are things we can choose for ourselves. Through our own practice, energy and commitment, we seek the Holy.
I write this because on June 5, 2012, I immersed three times in the living waters of the kosher mikvah at Mayyim Hayyim in Newton, MA, recited the appropriate blessings and emerged a Jew. It was a special, moving and spiritual experience though no clouds parted nor heavenly voice thundered. It was not one of those instantaneously life changing moments. Rather, I emerged from the waters as part of the larger Jewish community and then continued my daily practice as always. Who knows if in the years to come I may interpret this event differently.
I consider disciplined spiritual practice the mark of a mature spiritual life although if G-d decides to part the clouds or speak through a burning bush, I wouldn’t say no. Yet, even after such an experience, I would not change the daily spiritual practices that connect me to G-d, other human beings, and the world as a whole. They continuously nourish, empower and support me. This is the stuff of true transformation because through it one experiences all of life more connected, more enlivened and more whole.