In the Jewish calendar, we have entered the month of Elul—a month of preparation that leads into the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Elul is a time to reflect on our lives, actions and choices over the last year. It is a time of increased prayer, careful review, and gentle sifting.
In Jewish prayer and liturgy, God is often referred to as “the King”—language and an image that, for me, can seem aloof and distant. But during the month of Elul, tradition has it that the King goes walking in the fields.
I like this image of God walking in the fields—accessible, approachable, here on earth… with us. Of course, I like to think that during all times of the year, God is accessible and approachable, and here with us. But there is something compelling about an opportunity for increased intimacy and closer connection during this special time of the year.
I wonder what I would say if I could go for a walk in the fields with God.
Would I share my personal hopes and dreams, my fears and frustrations, my joys, disappointments, and my moments of loneliness—or those of awe? Would I share my concerns for our world—that sinking feeling I get over how cruelly we treat each other, my sorrow over how we abuse the earth, or the revulsion I feel when people misuse a beautiful, sacred religious tradition in order to justify hatred or violence?
It would seem God and I would be walking for a long time, then, and I’d be doing all the talking. Maybe it’d be better if I just listened, instead.
This month, I am setting aside more time each day to listen. I am reading psalms, journaling (this requires a kind of inner listening), and sometimes, just sitting for a little while in a quiet place.
Mother Teresa taught that the beginning of prayer is silence. “The important thing is not what we say,” she wrote, “but what God says to us and what He says through us.” In this understanding of prayer, we listen, connect, and act.
Part of the gift of Elul is the gift of connecting. During Elul, we carefully and quietly make room and listen for God’s presence in our lives. We are invited to remember that really, God is always walking with us, whether we’re aware of it or not—and to renew a commitment to be more mindful and pay closer attention as we enter into a new year.
Another part of the gift of Elul is the gift of acting. During Elul, we examine our actions and choices over the past year and consider how, going forward into a new year, we might want to do things differently. We dedicate ourselves anew to making choices that are in better alignment with the things we know to be true. We commit to acting and walking in the world in such a way that maybe, one Elul day, the King will come by and ask if we’d like to go out walking in the fields, too.