In the Spirit: Proper preparation always pays off – The Daily News of Newburyport

Posted By on September 6, 2022

Back-to-school season is well underway. And many children, and maybe even some of their parents, are surely wondering why all this focus on preparing to go back?

Aside from the need for stores to sell school supplies and clothes, the answer is both simple and obvious you cant just show up on Day One with no preparation.

If your child doesnt have pencils and notebooks, if their clothes are too small or their shoes too tight, their experience in school and their ability to learn will be compromised.

I think the same holds true for our religious and spiritual practices. Whether you are heading to synagogue, church, mosque or any other house of worship, walking in the door without taking a few minutes to prepare and clear your head first can similarly compromise your experience.

I learned that firsthand when, about six months after becoming the congregational leader at CAA, I moved from an apartment in downtown Newburyport to West Newbury.

It turns out that the 10-minute walk from home to the synagogue on Washington Street, observing the town slowly awaken on a Saturday morning, was an important opportunity for me to center myself and prepare for Shabbat services.

Although the drive from West Newbury took about as long, the experience was not the same I was no longer arriving at the synagogue feeling ready to pray or lead others in a reflective experience.

I had to rethink how I could prepare myself. I started leaving the house about 10 minutes earlier so I could have some quiet time and reset myself once I got out of the car. And during my drive, I made sure that the radio was either off or turned to the folk station (thanks WUMB!), not news or louder music.

Proper preparation is even more important for our most intense religious experiences. We share religious traditions where the emphasis is not solely on one holy day, but rather, spread out over a prolonged period to help us incorporate our religious practices and observances into our lives and prepare for the spiritual high points.

The month of Ramadan in the Islamic tradition, and the period of Lent or Easter week in many Christian denominations, exemplify this pattern as does the Hebrew month of Elul.

Elul, which began on Sunday, is the final month of the Hebrew calendar, culminating in the upcoming Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

We are encouraged not solely to show up in synagogue when the holiday begins and dive right into the liturgy of self-reflection and repentance. Rather, we spend the entire month of Elul preparing ourselves.

One tool our tradition uses to help prepare ourselves for the High Holidays that I have found particularly impactful is the addition of Psalm 27 to our daily liturgy during Elul.

In this psalm, attributed to King David, we ask for Gods support, love and protection during our most vulnerable moments. Theres one line in particular that our synagogue community comes back to consistently, singing it in the original Hebrew: One thing I ask of the Lord, only that do I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life (Psalm 27, Verse 4).

This line is an important reminder that although holiday celebrations are special and stand out in their own way, those moments the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are fleeting. The goal we should always seek is to be connected to God and to our spiritual lives each and every day.

Alex Matthews is the congregational leader of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Newburyport.

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In the Spirit: Proper preparation always pays off - The Daily News of Newburyport

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