Sunday, January 28, 2007

447. Meditation service

The service was wonderful: calm, full of love. Together we welcomed in Shabbat with many deep, warm breaths. I didn't expect to relax, since I had to concentrate on starting each chant on a universally singable note, neither too low nor too high, and then stop after a few repetitions when people seemed ready to sit in silence. But it wasn't hard at all, especially since everyone around me was so mellow. It felt like leading at my havurah, which has met for services in our homes every month or so since 2000, and is like family. The rabbi even invited me to introduce one of the prayers; I spoke about watching Shabbat candles burn, and how the line "mountains melt like wax" in Psalm 97 reminded me, this week before the nature-centered holiday of Tu BiShevat, of God's power to create as well as humankind's to haughtily and obscenely destroy by allowing global warming to melt those mountains.

I now understand that some of my self-doubt when helping lead "regular" Shabbat services (which I miss; it's been a few months) comes from feeling unequal to the task of creating ecstasy, not an expectation at the meditation service. Can I sing well enough to take people where they want to go? And I wonder, since I'm in a supporting role, relying on the musicians and other shlihei tzibur to judge the responses of the group: am I doing more or less than the leaders want? Am I messing up the balance they require to bring everyone to that amazing place?

(Yes, I think too much. My overactive brain needs to just shut up and sing.)

On the subject of ecstasy, here's a great article about the debate between emotional and intellectual approaches to prayer:

"Renewing Ecstatic Spirituality to the Beat of a Drum
...Perhaps what Schorsch [former Chancellor of JTS] and his opponents are debating is nothing less than what religion is supposed to do, in the context of a well-balanced life—educate intellectually or inspire emotionally, rein in our unruly passions or tap into them for the sake of transformation.This tension, between restraint and celebration, controlling and exciting, has been with our people since Sinai—literally. Perhaps one must, in the end, make a choice—and perhaps the choice itself is an important religious decision."

As you might guess, I'm of the school that believes there's room for both. Finding God requires brains as well as heart, however you choose to define and express these ideas.


Jessica said...

I loved the link to the drum article.

I moved recently and joined a new synagogue. I was shocked on one Friday night when the Cantor pulled out a bongo drum before Hinei Ma Tov. I truly thought it was bizarre. Over the months, it has really grown on me, and I am completely used to her niggun and her bongo drum. She was gone this past Friday, and no drum: I found that I missed it.

I guess the short version is that I am a proponent of well-placed drumming at services.

alto artist said...

Agreed! But it does take getting used to, at took me quite awhile. Now I can't imagine Friday night prayer without it (well, except for the meditation service!).

Regina said...

That was a lovely post, aa. You know, I have to say this- you are so wonderful (I can tell by your writing and reverence) that you are capable of taking anyone to a higher place with just your intention alone. Intention equals ecstasy- and you have it in spades, darling.

alto artist said...

(blush) That is just about the nicest thing anyone has ever typed here... You always find the words I need to hear; I'm so glad to have met you in this strange digital sea of comments.