Over a kosher breakfast several months ago, a good friend and I—both new mothers and in transitory phases of life—speculated about where we might eventually settle down and what our ideal geographical and social living situations would look like.
My primary desire is to be close to family and friends and hers is to be in an observant Jewish community. Truth be told, I was initially surprised by this, failing to appreciate at first that not all orthodox jewish synagogues and their congregants are created equal. While I understood that each place of worship, despite sharing liturgy and rituals, takes on its own particular flavor (much like the particular expression of universal liturgical celebration found in Catholic parishes), I didn’t realize that, in addition to finding a relatable rabbi, my friend desired to be surrounded by families who lived out their Jewish faith with the attention that she does hers. Her family honors the sabbath, keeps a kosher home, and observes countless other mitzvoth in their daily lives, and she hopes for her son to witness other families doing the same.
Our conversation got me thinking about the notion of “observance,” which doesn’t seem to have been instilled in the Catholic imagination to the same degree that it has in Judaism. There is a close parallel in the idea of “practicing,” but, to me at least, that term captures the more outward and perhaps compartmentalized aspects of living out faith: going to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, partaking in the sacraments. Observance, on the other hand, is a way of life, woven in the fabric of the everyday, impacting how a person eats, dresses, talks, and spends their time.
Like my Jewish friend, I’d love to live in an observant Catholic community, but in my case, maybe the first step towards this is considering how I can live more observantly myself. Understanding observance as a way of living out faith in the ordinariness of the everyday, here are a few ideas:
- Truly rest on the sabbath.
Typically, I check the third commandment box as complete after attending Mass on Sunday, and then proceed to spend the rest of the day doing as I please. Sometimes this involves relaxing with my family, reading, or taking a leisurely walk, but just as often it includes running an errand or two, drafting an article, popping a load of laundry in the washer, catching up on emails, or meal prepping for the week ahead. I justify doing all sorts of work on Sunday (I like cooking! Running errands is fun! It will make the week less stressful!), but the fact is, work is work, and the third commandment makes it clear that work isn’t to be done on the sabbath. With a little bit of planning and intention, I can keep Sundays work-free, and that’s a good first step toward living a more observant lifestyle.
- Pray before eating.
While I don’t envy the extra work that following a kosher diet involves, I do appreciate the fact that following dietary guidelines of any sort creates a level of attention surrounding food that—if channeled positively—can be spiritually nourishing. Because human beings eat numerous times throughout the day, tying faith to food is a simple way to assure that prayer happens consistently throughout the waking hours. My Jewish friend checks labels and considers her choices carefully before eating because her faith calls her to do so. I can give thanks to God and the human family for each morsel of food because my faith reminds me that it is a gift of creation and the work of human hands.
- Dress intentionally.
In addition to other religiously motivated clothing choices, many observant Jewish men wear kippot, and married observant women cover their hair with either a hat or a wig. Beyond the fact that these choices demonstrate commitment to the Torah and the tradition, they—like observing a kosher diet—weave faith into the fabric of everyday life. Inspired by these Jewish observances, I’ve started to practice mindfulness as I get myself ready for the day. For example, as I place my wedding ring on my left hand, I remember that the Sacrament of Marriage is ongoing; I recall my wedding vows, remember the love that surrounded my husband and me as we declared our commitment to each other, and consider one way that I can be a loving partner on this particular day. Like eating, getting dressed is something done daily, so it will be a boon to the spiritual life if an aspect of dress can trigger reflection, gratitude, thirst for justice, or awareness of the presence of God.
While “observant” isn’t in the typical vocabulary of how a Catholic might define him or herself, Catholics can find inspiration in the example set by our Jewish brothers and sisters. It’s not a matter of following rules and obsessing over details, but rather, letting our faith touch the thoughts, words, and movements that fill daily life.