On the first Sunday of 2010, a 52 Week journey began that transformed a life. It began with a grief journey, after the death of a beloved father, a cherished grandmother, and the end of a significant relationship. It began with a desire for healing facilitated by a personal commitment to visit a different place of worship every week for a year – whether that place reflected my own religious tradition or not. Visiting churches and mosques, synagogues and temples, living rooms and sacred spaces became part of a far-reaching spiritual journey, a passion project, the subject of a book: My 52 Weeks of Worship: Lessons from a Global, Spiritual, Interfaith Journey and a TEDx talk: Navigating Sacred Spaces. It became a decade long journey. 10 years of being a student of the many ways that people gather to practice being who they want to be – in community with others that share similar values and beliefs. It has been a true honor to sit and contemplate in sacred spaces – from the South Side of Chicago to South Africa, from Brazil to Brooklyn. And, a true honor to share the story.
Now, as we prepare to welcome a new year and a new decade, it seems like a good time to reflect on the impact that 10 years being blessed by this passion project has had on me as a person, as a leader, and as someone that believes deeply in practice – practicing who you want to be, whether in worship, in leadership, in leisure, and in life.
Looking back, the words honored, humbled, and delighted come to mind as memories of many conversations, interviews, and debates flood my mindspace. Equally memorable is the avalanche of emails that I received at the beginning of the project – both remarkably complimentary and deeply disapproving–received from those who thought it important to make it crystal clear that they believed this journey was either divine, or unholy.
Looking back, it is notable is how much life has changed over the last 10 years:
- Writing and publishing a book, and spending countless hours talking about it with people all over the world has truly been enlightening. From this, a deep belief has developed that it is quite ok to believe something completely and stand shoulder to shoulder with someone who believes something completely different.
- Learned optimism has become a new normal. This is a total transformation for someone who is a cynic by nature. Because it has become clear that optimism is an effective way to approach life’s challenges, it has become a dedicated practice. Sometimes extreme optimism is the only response to life when it serves up a challenge that requires grit, resilience, and courage.
- Heartbreak and grief, the very inspiration for the first 52 weeks of this journey, came back with a vengeance in the middle of this decade in the form of a heart and soul crushing relationship with someone who initially didn’t seem to be a likely source of such misery (as is often the case). Recovering from that required a complete life renovation. And so, mercifully, renovation and recovery ensued. There was no forgetting, just an attempt to forgive and move forward with hard earned wisdom and recalibrated expectations.
- Part of that recovery and renovation included moving life from one city to another then back, changing every element of life. This once again proved out the universal lesson that: “change can be challenging, but discomfort can be the catalyst for future success.”
- Being judgmental in any situation began to feel like a real waste of time. The gift: developing a profound sense of empathy for people who walk through life in a myriad of ways, however different it may be than the familiar. Becoming comfortable with the uncertainty of life has become a skill, perhaps, the most valuable one.
- Balancing a deep knowledge of personal flaws and shortcomings with the challenge of doing a better job of celebrating accomplishments and strengths has become a life practice.
- Lifelong learning has become a mantra. The lessons from My 52 Weeks of Worship are continual reminders that there is a real gift in being given the opportunity to respectfully walk through a new space, learn the rules of that space, determine what constructive connections can be made, and what opportunities exist to contribute one’s unique gifts while growing within that space.
Some things remain the same, of course. Life’s hardest challenges remain. Laughter is still the most beautiful gift. Humor helps. Music helps. The kindness of strangers is real. Time flies. Words matter. And many of the other 52 Things That I Learned During My (first) 52 Weeks of Worship still ring true.
And with all of that as context, as the new year and the new decade are only a few days away, it seems like a good time to contemplate 2020.
In a prayer that I heard over the Christmas holiday, there was a play on words that mentioned 20/20 vision as the year 2020 was being welcomed.
20/20 vision is a common phrase thrown around to reference perfect vision. But contrary to popular belief, although, 20/20 vision is “good vision,” it is not perfect vision. Want to know more? Ask your friendly neighborhood ophthalmologist about Herman Snellen.
But is perfect vision really necessary?
Is perfection of any sort necessary?
Or shall we, as was witnessed in many of the sacred spaces that I visited over the last decade, just commit to continuing to practice being who we want to be, every day, in alignment with our values, our beliefs, the rituals passed down to us over generations from our family – or the rituals we have created for ourselves and our loved ones as we began to contemplate a better way to connect to the Divine than what we were taught.
I vote for practice.
Although many like to say practice makes perfect, I’m much more inspired by the truth that “practice makes permanent.” Practice showing up every day as the person you want to be. The leader you want to be. The friend you want to be. The partner you want to be. The ‘insert whatever it is’ that you want to be. You may practice for a time, even a long time, and wonder when change will come. But then one day, after consistent commitment to your practice, you will wake up and realize that the thing you have been practicing is now just a permanent part of you. Another thing that is just “who you are” in alignment with what you believe. In alignment with who you always wanted to be. Who you were created to be.
I will always be grateful for all the lessons that the last 10 years of navigating sacred spaces have yielded, especially in experiencing the power of doing big things by breaking it down into little pieces – of starting a micro-movement in service of initiating a potentially massive shift in one’s life.
10 years ago, I did not anticipate the impact that a quiet commitment made at the end of 2009 would have on the next decade of my life. What commitment are you contemplating making in your life as this decade comes to an end? Why not forge ahead courageously and make that commitment? In faith?
If not you, then who? If not now, then when?
For those of you who are new to The My 52 Weeks of Worship Project, there are many ways you can learn more about it – like this appearance Lisa Oz show, or on Brian Lehrer’s Show on WNYC, or even in my first sermon ever, entitled “With All My Heart” which I gave at Memorial Church at Stanford University in April of 2019.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year and a bright, peaceful future.