Smile and the World’s a Better Place

I spent all day yesterday as an exhibitor at a trade show. I stood at a booth and waited for people to come up to me who wanted to talk about CubeSpace (or who wanted a pen, or who wanted to see what other swag (promotional products) they could get). It’s a really hard way to spend a day.

On the other hand, between the waiting, the conversations I had with people were often very energizing. I’m excited about CubeSpace,  and many of the people I spoke with were also. So between conversations, I was often able to smile widely at people walking by. Some of the people walking by were approaching with a smile on their faces. Others not. Some even looked grumpy. Yet, almost without exception, those whom I smiled at and who made eye-contact with me walked away smiling. Because I smiled at them, they smiled, and seemed happier.

I don’t know how much of an impact I made on anyone’s day yesterday. I feel like it was a very useful day for CubeSpace, which was the main point, but I’d also like to think I improved the day for other people who didn’t care about CubeSpace but felt somewhat better for receiving (exchanging) a smile with a stranger.

Walking to Work on a Carpet of Petals

I walked into work this morning. The cherry blossoms are beginning to fall from the trees, creating a light pink carpet on the sidewalks. I’m reminded of the petals a flower girl scatters before the bride at a wedding. This, in turn, leads me to think of the coming of the Sabbath, which in the Jewish tradition is often pictured as a bride.  Even though it is only Wednesday, it is as though the world itself is reminding me to look towards Friday night and the coming Sabbath.

Bright Pink Azaleas

Saw some bright pink azaleas today. The kind where the when the bush flowers you see nothing but pink…the petals completely cover the foliage. Azaleas are a bush that most of the year does nothing for me, but when they flower, they are spectacular. They brighten my mood, and allow me to ignore whatever the weather is doing, or whatever is happening in the world (including, today, the shooting of an as yet unknown number of students at Virginia Tech). For just one moment, beauty and life is allowed to come to the forefront, to be the center of my attention.

Ecumenical Prayer

Went to Salem again today for a prayer breakfast, before going over to the state house to be recognized from the house floor among a group of clergy and congregants who support gay rights. Jews have an unfair advantage in multi-denominational prayer: we don’t so much have to change our prayers except to translate them into English; basically, we aren’t likely to say anything that anyone else in the room won’t agree with. Christian clergy have it harder, trying to remember not to invoke Jesus.

Nonetheless, lovely prayers, including one asking us to be mindful of the full humanity of all those on all sides of the issue. A nice moment of spirituality in my day. Definitely beat the 2.5 hours in the car getting back and forth to Salem.

Blogging as Spiritual Practice

I have a line of Jewish prayer running through my head this morning: Modeh Ani Lifanecha, Melech Chai v’kayam, (I express my gratitude before you, living and eternal ruler). The phrase continues “because you have put my soul back into me in kindness, great is your faithfulness.”

Traditionally, Jews say this before getting out of bed in the morning. Eva and I try to remember, but in all honesty, remembering to do anything before getting out of bed in the morning when the alarm  goes off at 6AM is a bit of a stretch. In fact, remembering whether or not I’ve done it is a bit of a losing proposition for me.

Yesterday, I stopped and smelled a lilac bloom as I walked home from CubeSpace. For this, I am grateful. Modeh Ani Lifanechah…

Spirtual Practices That Don’t Squeeze into Life

So, last week I wrote about how I was going to grow out my beard for the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot.  I chose to do this because it was a spiritual practice I thought I could squeeze into my life. After all, the only requirement was NOT shaving. I was unable to do it.

There were a few issues: first, came the invitation to testify before a committee of the Oregon House of Representatives in favor of two  bills, one establishing civil unions for same sex couples, the other prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. I figured I should look clean and well put together for that. Then there was the trade show I wound up doing this weekend…again I figured I should look put together. And then we hosted a major networking event at CubeSpace for a group that is somewhat more carefully groomed than the freelancers I tend to associate with (there was a great deal of makeup in the room) and I figured I ought to be shaved.

So here I am, a week later, clean shaven. And I’m looking for another spiritual practice, one which won’t interfere with my work life.

Jewish Practice Squeezed into Life

One of the reasons I became a rabbi was to be able t0 incorporate Jewish life more thoroughly into my own. Owning my own business makes it difficult to practice Judaism in the ways I might otherwise. When Friday night or Saturday morning roll around, I’m often too tired from the work week to make it to services. Weekday morning services certainly don’t happen very often anymore, since I’m at CubeSpace by they time they begin. And even preparing for Passover wasn’t possible in our usual way.

Most years, Eva and I spend one to two full days cleaning our kitchen  for Passover. We clean out all the Chametz (leavened bread), but also anything that might become leavened bread (flour), or pretty much anything besides matzah that contains flour. All of the food stuffs which are not okay for Passover we put in boxes in the basement. We change the dishes to special ones we only use for Passover, we wash all of our flatware and then dump it in boiling water to ritually cleanse it of any Chametz. We clean out all of the cabinets.

This year, we just didn’t have the time or energy for that kind of cleaning. In truth,  I have the sense that even now, with Passover begun, we have items with Chametz not only upstairs, but even on the counter in the kitchen. We are not eating the Chametz, of course, but it is present in our lives in a way we would normally not allow it to be.

At the same time that I find the demands of running a business to be limiting my ability to practice Judaism in the ways I have in the past, I find new practices more compelling. For instance, there is a tradition not to shave during the Omer, a period of 50 days between Passover and Shavuot. This year, for the first time, I plan to observe that tradition, because it is a way for me to mark Jewish time. If I am not able to make it to services for Shabbat, I tend to say the Sh’ma before bed each evening (traditionally, Jews recite the Sh’ma before bed and upon arising in the morning; it is a statement affirming the oneness of God). And though I may occasionally even have to work on a Saturday, I find myself wearing a Yalmuke more than I have at other points in my life.

I have found my practice shifting from the more conventional practices to the ones which fit into my life now. For the most part, I find that satisfying. I certainly miss the observance which is too hard for me at the moment and hope to return to it, but in the meantime, the little actions that are part of my day to day life keep me attached to Judaism. In this way, even when I cannot be fully present to Jewish ritual practice as I would like, I find new ways to practice.