This past Shabbat morning I did something new and wonderful: I was the hazzanit for a meditation service. A rabbi at my synagogue, part of the team that leads monthly Friday night mediation services, also teaches a course in Jewish spirituality; this service was for her students.
We sung the first few lines of a selection of prayers, and then sat in silence for a few minutes after each. We also studied this week's Torah portion, and I chanted some verses of Vayishlah. Then I was asked to speak about why I like to chant and how I learned--essentially condensing all I've thought about in this blog (unknown to those at the service) into about five minutes. I really enjoyed the challenge of this process, and was gratified that people wanted to hear what seemed to me like the very self-centered story of my spiritual life. Here's an outline of what I said (written for speaking, so a little stylistically sparse):
"I guess you could describe the way I grew up as halfway Orthodox and not very interested. My father was from Russia and traditionally observant, although out of a sense of obligation more than anything else.
My mother wasn't into it at all. Some things we observed strictly, like kashrut--others not at all, like Shabbat. It worked out fine but was a little schizophrenic, and I was confused.
I went to a very bad Orthodox Hebrew school for six years. Everything was done by rote. I learned nothing and hated every minute.
I got out when I was 12, my parents got divorced, and I didn't sent foot in a synagogue again for years. But I never stopped being kosher, although my mother did; she was thrilled to start eating BLTs. Maybe because I went to Hebrew school for so long, that connection seemed very important to me. But nothing else about Judaism did, and I felt like a hypocrite.
At the same time, I got involved in choral singing. I always knew I would be an artist when I grew up, but music was my big hobby. I think being in a choir was a good counter to the solitude of being an artist.
I hated being on stage, and was shy and self-conscious about anyone hearing my voice--but in a choir I could make music and hide at the same time, as well as be a part of something larger than myself. When I sang in choirs I felt like I was able to touch something magical. It was intoxicating.
The only problem: most of what I sang was Christian sacred music, which I loved--and which made me feel like an even bigger hypocrite, because nice Jewish girls weren't supposed to do this. It felt very subversive. But I did it anyway, and loved it.
Fast forward many years to when I stumbled upon [my synagogue], a whole other story I won't go in to. For me it was the first time ever that I found a kind of Judaism that was relevant and spoke to my life."