I'm deeply drawn to rituals. They help me concentrate, they're often beautiful, and when you absorb their meaning, they enhance the spirituality of the prayer or action you're doing. The problem is, rituals can become so habitual that we fail to pause and absorb the meaning embedded in them. Take the ritual of kissing the mezuzah. I've written about it before, but it's something I continually struggle with.
When I put up my first mezuzah, I placed it on the garage door entryway, the only way I usually left the house. I'd brush the mezuzah with my fingertips and allow a quick thought of God to pass through my mind.
Could I think about God, without a mezuzah, when I left my house? Of course, but I usually didn't. The visual reminder, the pause, helped.
Later, I began to think about putting mezuzahs up on other doors. Halachically we're supposed to have them on every doorpost except the bathroom, but this just didn't gel with me. Even if you kissed the mezuzah every time you passed through any doorway, wouldn't that make it all the more reflexive and meaningless?
I've been to friends' homes who aren't in the least Orthodox but who have mezuzahs on every doorpost. It looks beautiful, and I get their attraction to the ritual of hanging one on every doorpost. I've never asked them, but maybe every time they glance at one, it reminds them of a faith, of a God, they love.
But I still personally hadn't wanted to go that far.
Some time back, though, Joe and I decided to hang mezuzahs selectively - on the kitchen and bedroom doors, on the office door, and on all entry doors except the one that leads to our backyard. But a year later, I realized that I rarely noticed most of them. I certainly didn't kiss them or pause for any kind of reflection.
So several days ago I started doing something new and I have to tell you, I'm loving it.
Rather than grazing the mezuzah with my fingertips, I stop, touch it fully, and pause there a little while. I reflect on what the room I'm entering or leaving means to me.
As I walk into my office, for instance, I stop and fully touch the mezuzah, kiss my fingertips, then touch it lightly again, for several seconds. While touching it, I offer a prayer of gratitude for the work I'm privileged to have. Leaving or entering the bedroom, I lean against the mezuzah and feel its presence on my cheek. My heart wells with gratitude for a good night's rest and for the sweet husband who lies close beside me. Entering the kitchen, I stop for a half-minute, kiss the mezuzah and thank God for providing such an abundance and variety of food.
But why the mezuzah? For me, knowing the mezuzah contains Judaism's holiest declaration - the Shema - gives me the opportunity to make myself consciously aware that God, the One, permeates everything. I enter and leave a particular space and a particular task that's part of my life with a different level of consciousness.
As I write this, I'm anticipating placing mezuzahs on the rest of my doors. I want to pause, resting against this beautiful, visual reminder as I enter the room where I play guitar, the room where I read, the room where I study and write, the room where Joe and I curl up with popcorn and a DVD, the backyard where I listen to the frogs and smell fresh herbs growing alongside the pool...
Hear, people who struggle with God and with the rituals of our faith, God is One. Bring that Divine Energy into each of your tasks, into your rest and play, and into the world outside of your home.
That's what I'll be trying to do.