(Continued from the previous post--here's the rest of the outline of my talk last Shabbat, and also the super-condensed version of this entire blog.)
"I joined the choir, and was amazed that I could actually be a part of services.
The music--Jewish music in general--took awhile for me to get used to. At first I didn't like it at all. I was a real snob and thought that only Western music, Bach, Brahms, etc., was any good. But eventually it grew on me.
One day about five years ago my friend C. said, 'I want to learn to chant Torah, and I want my friends to learn with me.' She basically gave us no choice in the matter, and recruited a bunch of us for a class. I had nothing better to do and it sounded interesting, so I went along with it--I never before thought I might like to chant, or imagined why in the world I would want to.
I found it very hard at first. I was used to Western notation, reading notes on a page, and this was very different. I was terrified the first time I chanted; my knees were shaking so hard I thought I'd fall over. But, to my surprise, I didn't feel at all alone at the bima, very different from being on stage--I really sensed the strength of everyone in the room, like they were holding me up. I knew I couldn't have gotten through it if not for their support. This feeling is still with me every time I chant, as if I draw energy from the people who listen. Even if I screw up, which I have, I always feel stronger when I finish than when I started.
Other things I love about chanting Torah:
• It's an actual, visceral connection to thousands of years of Judaism. I can see and touch it on that scroll. I'm part of the river of time when I read. I never before felt so connected to being Jewish.
• I get to sing music of my own tradition that makes me feel as good--but without the guilt--as when I sang Christian sacred music.
• I love the process of learning. Even though it's mostly repetition, it's never boring. It's actually very relaxing and meditative. Life is complicated, but this is straightforward and rewarding: somehow, after practicing my portion over and over again, it always gets stuck in my brain.
• I think what I like most is that I can't be distracted while I chant. It's just me and the words on the scroll. But I also can't focus on the words too much, because then I'll lose the rhythm of memorization and get confused. So I'm caught between two kinds of time--the time of details, and of the big picture. I'm very much in the moment but also apart from it. And in that place I have no choice except to be as honest as possible. There's nowhere to hide.
It's still terrifying at times, but always very profound. Thank you all for letting me share these thoughts."