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Developing Religious Habits and Routines


What sort of religious habits and routines do we seek to have, and how do we develop them? In the recent podcast episode about The Green Sabbath Project, my guest Jonathan Schorsch mentioned the Kotzke Rebbe as saying: “If you pray today because you prayed yesterday, you're a sinner”, meaning don’t keep a habit without understanding why. In T.M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back she explores the emotional practices, really habits of prayer, promoted by the Evangelical church called the Vineyard. At the Vineyard, Luhrmann learned about several of these practices, which are designed to help the parishioner practice “the experience of feeling loved by God” (p. 111). Both messages convey the importance of intentionality partnered with a particular regular behavior towards a goal – in this case connection with the Divine.


In considering habits or routines, three elements stand out for me – the nature of habits, what and why we are trying to develop a habit, and the experience of developing them. A habit is a pattern of behavior that we perform automatically. One of mine is saying a prayer before eating. Saying the short prayer raises my awareness and gratitude. On the rare occasion that I forget or am unsure if I said it, I pause and say the prayer. In that moment, I am more aware and present. Having said the appropriate prayer, I can enjoy the meal feeling complete.


Understanding why and for whom we make the effort to develop a religious or spiritual practice is key, as Jonathan and I discussed. What is our attitude towards something like a weekly sabbath practice, or daily prayer practice? Similar to the mealtime prayers, attending talks and gatherings of The Green Sabbath Project would raise our awareness of the connections between a sabbath practice of rest and our impact on the environment. Our understanding and experience of the connection shifts from abstract ideas into the physical, social, and spiritual experience. This project is just one of many opportunities available to deepen our spiritual engagement.  


While research has shown that it takes 30 days to develop a new habit, I wonder how long it takes to develop a sabbath habit. My sabbath observance has generally strengthened over the years, with much experimentation. At this point my shabbat routine gives structure to my week and maintaining a Sunday-Thursday workweek ensures alignment between secular and sacred time as a Jew. I also have several study sessions during the week, so there are many Jewish touchpoints between shabbats. They support each other and activate my Jewish knowledge and identity.


That said, the shift from work to shabbat each week can vary. Some weeks I am so ready to have a break from the task list and look forward to my shabbat rest. On those Friday afternoons, I happily close the laptop and turn to social or spiritual engagement. Other weeks, work feels unresolved, or I am still swirling in work ideas and reluctant to let them go. Then the down shift to shabbat feels forced. I feel out of sync and can struggle to fix it.  


Most Saturdays, the morning service satisfies my social and liturgical needs. Alternating between communal recitation or singing and solitary prayer provides both the sense of belonging and time for reflection. Saturday afternoon is more variable, depending on the time of year and how I’m feeling. Napping, reading, gardening, walking, doing a jigsaw puzzle, or meeting with a friend are all frequent options. Having an activity helps avoid the feeling that shabbat means doing without, which is hardly enjoyable or enticing. Taking this weekly break generally restores my enthusiasm for my work and I am ready to dive in come Sunday morning.  


As Jonathan mentioned, we need to understand why, and maybe for whom, we are developing a habit or routine. What is the motivation? What is not present or not going well in our life that a new routine might repair? Each of us will have different answers and that’s as it should be. For me, it’s often been a desire to better understand the history, beliefs, and obligations of Judaism. Besides the communal needs just mentioned, the desires have been satisfied by classes or study with hevruta partners. Also, being part of the local Hevra Kadisha (holy society preparing bodies for burial), has answered the desire to close the open wound after my father’s death.  


Those are my needs and routines. What are your needs? Do you want to feel closer to God? Attain better balance in your life? Be present and grateful more often? And what new habit or routine would help you reach those goals? I’m curious. Let me know!


Click here to listen to Jonathan Schorsch’s episode on The Green Sabbath Project.


To keep up-to-date with the project and podcast click here to receive the twice-monthly newsletter.


The ‘Living Our Beliefs’ podcast is available on Apple podcasts, other podcast apps, and through my Talking with God Project website.


Thoughts? Send comments and questions to me at or write a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you!  Méli


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