Just this past Shabbat morning I arrived with just enough time to do some final preparation for that morning’s Torah reading. I walked into the sanctuary needing only a few minutes with the Torah scroll to get the reading where I wanted it to be … and then I had my Chicken Little moment. The sky was falling down! … or, so it seemed that way. The roof of the sanctuary is being replaced (hail damage and also because it is probably as old as the building itself). All of the banging and hammering of new shingles into the ceiling of the sanctuary caused at least some very small parts and pieces of dirt, soot and whatever else accumulates between a ceiling and roof tiles over decades to fall on the floor and the chairs in the sanctuary. My few minutes of Torah had just been triaged behind making sure the sanctuary was clean when people began arriving for services in just a few minutes.
I hated that choice in that moment – the choice between spending some time fine tuning the Torah reading – a significant part of the Shabbat morning ritual and making sure that people would not have to sit in soot. In a way there was no choice – one would not make it to paying attention to the Torah reading and whatever spiritual challenges it may hold if one was focused, distracted, or even put off by how dirty they felt sitting in the sanctuary. Even though the place needed to be cleaned before anything happened, my decision nagged at me.
While the Torah reading was fine, I wanted it to be better. However, it was not even the relative merits of my Torah reading performance that bothered me. The moment felt emblematic of hundreds and thousands of decisions that I made in the past year where I have had to choose between keeping physical order in some corner of my world vs. tending to a more ethereal order. Often – and deservedly do – it is the physical disorder or chaos that demands my attention and response. But, what happens to me when the mounting cascade of small decisions continues to amass and further distance me from broader, deeper and spiritual matters? What happens to the essential balance of tending to body and soul? What about the need to care for my ‘sanctuary space’ and caring for what happens in it?
This past Shabbat morning – (one of the few Shabbatot in this preparatory month of Elul) – the Falling Sky was more than nuisance to my morning Torah preparation. Perhaps, I should not have left that planning to the last minute. Maybe there is a few more minutes in my week or day that can carve out to insure that I will have the time I need to clean up whatever mess makes itself known and do my Torah preparation. Even more than merely being about that particular moment, I’ll take the presence of the soot and muck and ancient roof-stuff as an ‘Elulian’ nudge. Take care to set aside time and energy for tending to that inner/ethereal/spiritual part of myself and my corner or the world. Even when the ‘sky’ is falling, the ‘Torah’ story needs to be told.