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.



Categories: Christianity, Community, Evangelicalism, General, Identity Construction, Islam, Jesus, Judaism, Prayer, Social Justice

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. Ivy, brava! Some of us practice the presence of G-d, some of us practice the presence of the Goddess, but you and I and many others are practicing loving-kindness. That can only help make the whole world kinder.

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  2. Hi Ivy, I agree with you about spiritual practice as a way of bringing awareness into our daily lives. I loved that you quoted Lily Montagu. I look forward to hearing more about the feminist aspects of your practice–if any. Are you praying with traditional language or are you using inclusive language? If so, what changes are you adopting? How do you deal with parts of the tradition that are patriarchal, dominant, and warlike? Do you feel the need to affirm God-She within Jewish practice? Is this the same or different for you as a new convert vs having been raised in the tradition? Carol

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    • Carol,

      I agree with what you said here. In many ways, I make a concerted effort to make and keep my practice of Judaism feminist. There are so many resources, amazing sources and instructions for how to do that out there that it is hard to choose sometimes. In fact, I assume a feminist lens in my practice which might be why I failed to mention it here. Likewise, before I adopt(ed) any Jewish practice I ask myself how it also fits into my framework of feminism and my ongoing quest for justice for women, societal institutions, environmental causes and the like. Two examples hopefully illustrate how and when I incorporate feminism into my daily practice. First of all, when I pray I always include the matriarchs in my prayers. I also am mindful about how I address G-d maintaining some traditional language mindful of its inherent sexism and balance it with feminine imagery as well. I draw heavily on the Shekinah, the intimate presence of G-d, that is often discussed in feminine language, but I am also not comfortable just using feminine characters for a feminine persona of G-d and vice versa. That is too essentialist for me. I would prefer to use imagery of the powerful feminine face of G-d who is also filled with righteous anger and the masculine imagery of G-d gathering chicks under its wings. Those are just two examples of how I think that the divine should be imagined in ways that relate to various genders and not just one or the other. Another example of feminist practice is keeping kosher. Mindful of the plight of the poor (most of whom are women and children) around the world and in solidarity with them and other animal life on the planet, I am vegetarian although I occasionally eat fish. This lifestyle actually fits quite well into kosher dietary laws. There are just some minor changes that one must make regarding outside food brought into the house, what kind of fish one eats and the ingredients involved in the food one purchases.

      Thank you for reminding me that while feminism infuses my practice, I did not make that clear in this post.

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  3. Waiting to hear more…

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  4. I don’t have a lot to add. I simply wanted to say: thank you for this thoughtful post. I think that daily actions and repetitions do have great power, whether they are daily spiritual actions or otherwise. You shed light on it perfectly.

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