Right before Shabbat began this week, I received upsetting news from a friend. Nothing life-threatening, grave or dangerous, but very, very sad. And I was powerless to do anything but listen. I sat here at the computer and contemplated the singing and dancing that would come in a few hours; it seemed inappropriate to welcome the Shabbat bride with joy and laughter at the very moment my friend would be engaged in a difficult struggle. But neither could I stay home; I needed, for my own sanity, to publicly mark the end of a long week and the beginning of a respite, however short, from my own mundane trials.
As if the calendar could see into my future, this Friday my synagogue added an additional "contemplative Kabbalat Shabbat" service of meditation and quiet chanting. Meditation used to make me very nervous. I was, although I wouldn't admit it, afraid to sit in silence with my own thoughts for any length of time. I couldn't imagine substituting the music I anticipated all week long with the mumbling I'd spent most of my life trying to escape, and meditation seemed vaguely pagan and inappropriate. (I later learned that it was a most authentic form of Jewish prayer, a passionate discipline of the ancient, mystic rabbis--a tradition which remains, in watered-down form, as we preface each service with the recitation of psalms.)
This past spring, as I faced scary (and ultimately uneventful) surgery, I decided to take a meditation class with one of the rabbis at my synagogue. All my usual methods of remaining calm had failed, and I figured this couldn't hurt.
It didn't, and was neither scary nor weird. I could pray as well in silence as with music; as Kohelet observed, there is a season for each. On Friday night, as we sat in a circle blanketed by each other's thoughts, I felt my worry lighten as each deep breath distributed it across the room until the pieces were small and weightless. If they had sound, it would be of broken crystal connecting and then drifting apart in the sunlight just like a wind chime.