10 April 2010

Yes, It's been a long time...

But holidays take a lot out of us clergy. As I told someone in synagogue today (yes, it's shabbat and I am working, but I am not Jewish so it's not quite so bad for me) holidays bless us twice: when they come and when they leave.

Since I am thinking about shabbat, let me tell you one of the reasons I attend. I come unstuck in time. Like Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, the time of Torah and haftarah reading, chanted in Hebrew in conservative synagogues like the one I attend, somehow loosen the boundaries of time. Here's how:

I follow along in the Hebrew (very badly) and cheat by checking the English that is alongside. The chazzen, cantor, literally sings the text, and within moments I find images of the past - ancient and personal - in my head. Not just images, but sensations of what I felt like as well as what I saw, fill my mind, almost as if the chanting were an incantation that melts the walls of now and then.

It is a communion for me - a merging into my own past, into history as I know it, my imagining of times before I lived, of being connected intimately to much more than the time and place I am actually occupying. In some ways it is more real than reality, as more than one reality is present.

Theologians and other experts call such moment transcendent, and I get them every week. But unlike others I have heard about, I do not experience something outside of time and place but a sense of experiencing multiple times and places, my own especially but also of times and places beyond my own life.

This rarely happens in church. Maybe because I am leading the service and therefore cannot let go of myself. When I was an orchestra conductor in college I learned that the conductor cannot listen to the music. Your job is to make it and that means thinking ahead and all that stuff. It's very exciting and rewarding, but not the same as listening to music.

And yet, I do not remember this feeling when I attend church services. Now and then it happens, but that is rare enough to be exceptional. They are not intended to be gateways of transcendence, I think.

Which is fine, but if I need it perhaps most people do. And what sort of religion is mine that does not try to make it possible?

No answers here, just thinking. The day is sunny and the early morning chill is on the run. I got a case of poison ivy last week when clearing brush in tbe back yard, so maybe the garden will wait for today. Still, it is so bright I think something should happen.

Saving and savoring are always vying for my soul. One could have worse dilemmas, though.

Gut shabbes everyone!

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