As I begin my journey into Elul and the year ahead, I look back on the year slipping into the past. I especially reflect on the major events, the ones that I focused on, both in my mind and in my prayers. In my spiritual life, I am both a believer and a doubter, wondering about my prayers and God’s role in the world. I wonder, is my prayer having an impact? Is transformation taking place?
This year, as in a number of years past, I enter Elul a regular visitor to my local physical therapy practice. Each time I am focused, intent, and hopeful that regular visits and home exercise will transform whatever errant body part needs attention. I don’t understand how stretching my leg at a certain angle will change my condition, but it does. Each and every time this happens it’s an extraordinary moment of transformation.
This morning I was less than focused. I couldn’t remember the exercises and I kept getting distracted from my counts. But as my mind drifted from my routine, I realized that transformation could still occur, and so I continued with stretching and lifting.
So, too, can this be the case in my prayer life. My mind drifts to a beam of light in the sanctuary, or to other thoughts. Despite my resolve to pay better attention, I am far from being focused and intent at all times. Yet I’m reminded of the similarities between physical practice and spiritual practice. With focus, intention, and stretching at a certain angle, I actually can change my condition.
Reminded of this possibility of transformation, my goal is to remain focused, intent, and hopeful—whether it’s my physical condition or my spiritual work. While praying in community, the liturgy calls me back from my wandering and the music carries me along. The more difficult moments of transformation will be the times when I am alone. But then I’m reminded of the moments I have been moved in our sanctuary, when tears filled my eyes during prayer, when I felt an unbreakable connection to God. I will turn back to those moments with focus, intent, and hope.