I've come to think of Elul (the month preceding Rosh HaShanah, in which we prepare for the New Year) to be something of a "preseason" for those of us who think in terms of Jewish time. As we begin looking toward the High Holy Days, we have a chance to ready ourselves - physically, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally - for the turning of the year, and what it represents regarding possiblities for improvement and renewal in our lives.
Entering this Holy Day preseason, I know I'm fortunate to be in a community in which so many people appreciate the value of interreligious dialogue and learning. This has given me a great array of opportunities for my own growth and involvement, which continues with interfaith work nearly every day. Early this morning I had the chance to be a guest for the men's bible group at Sunnyside Presbyterian Church. My friend and colleage Jamie Miller had invited me over the summer. The group had provided a list (ok, 3 pages) of topics, questions, and comments mainly revolving around its exporation of Deuteronomy. For about an hour, I was privilege to join in (and add to) a lively discussion among a dozen men who really wanted to gain from my differing background and perspective. And discovering our similar notions about text interpretation and the evolving nature of healthy religions was again reaffirming of our common humanity and sacred responsibilities.
As well, I note that today is the Muslim holy day Eid al-Fitr, culminating the observance of Ramadan. It seems no coincidence that whatever our faith backgrounds, the cycles of our sacred seasons (and their resonant themes) mingle and overlap. I learned just recently that one of the practices on Eid is to provide for the needs of the poor that they too can celebrate the holiday. This tradition, Sadaqah al-Fitr (righteous giving for the fast-breaking), is a direct parallel to our Jewish commitment to Tzedakah - working for justice. The world actually seems a smaller and better place as I recognize these sacred connections.
I hope that all who are working to enhance their religious expression or are seeking to improve our world have a meaningful Elul and productive preseason.