(Interrupting the story.)
I helped lead services tonight for the seventh time--so different from the sixth! It was fun. The church is enormous, but from up front everyone seems close by, not at all like when I sit in the congregation and look up at crowds ready to spill off the balcony or burst through the grand, domed ceiling. The perspective is different from the bima. The sanctuary appears smaller, condensed, like a big stone living room.
The mood was joyful and electric. People danced in the aisles and jumped up in their seats and clapped even after Lecha Dodi. I felt like all of me was singing, no parts left out, extraneous packages of worry and work stashed back home under the bed where they belong.
Services at the synagogue sometimes feel a little more formal than at the church. The dancing is warmer and calmer. And even above the music and clapping, I swear you can hear a buzzing, rustling song from the Moorish ornamentation around the Ark, interlocked circles and angled terra cotta paths of red and gold and a kind of blue made from the color of darkest water and highest clouds that move back and forth from floor to ceiling like passengers on a glorious jeweled railroad. I become mesmerized by the sound of the walls, like I'm dug into soft sand on a perfect beach with waves teasing my ears. I want to listen and not move. Maybe, in a large space like the church where there's more room and a simpler achitectural canvas upon which to project a visceral response to prayer, it's easier to leave the embrace of the crowd and get up and dance.
I don't know. So far I'm more comfortable leading services at the church (probably because I've done it there six times already). Unlike some of my friends, I was never unnerved that we met in a church. Secular choirs in New York can only afford to perform in churches, so I've sung in dozens, maybe more, over the past 20 years. They feel like home. Synagogues are still a little foreign.