Friday, October 26, 2007

540. Better than chocolate

So I was clearly not in the best frame of mind yesterday. Then I went to a class, and learning proved a far better remedy than drugs or even chocolate.

We were a mix of seasoned meditators, new seekers, rabbis, cantors and everything in between, all of whom had expressed interest in learning to lead a contemplative Kabbalat Shabbat. We talked about what makes this kind of service different from all others: long spans of silence, focused intention on selected lines of the liturgy, repeated niggunim, intimacy, a sense of intense, private prayer while also feeling very exposed. In silence, there's nowhere to hide; you can't tune out your thoughts by raising your voice in ecstasy. You're acutely aware of the breath of the person next to you, with whom you bond deeply absent words or even a glance. That sense of nakedness, as well as connection to the congregation, is magnified even further when you're a service leader (as I can well attest). We reviewed the main elements that had to be included; there's great latitude in this kind of innovation, but also a line that can't be crossed lest the Jewishness of the ritual be lost. (To some, this line is crossed immediately with the very concept. This kind of service isn't for everyone, nor can it serve, for most congregations, as a substitute for traditional proceedings.)

We paired off in hevruta to devise our own service, one of the most exhilarating ten minutes I've had in quite awhile. Ours was based on the themes of music and sound, of listening to your own breath and how it blends with the others in the kahal. We included an extended chant on Psalm 92, "Mizmor Shir l'Yom haShabbat" and kiddush at the end consisting of slow, deliberate, and mindful sipping of a cup of wine.

We ended with a list of books to read, and a reminder that there was no substitute for learning the traditional origins of prayers as fuel for our interpretation. We'll have two more classes over the next couple of months with different rabbis. I left bursting with thanks at how fortunate I am to belong to a community where such chances can be taken--with the structure of the service as well as empowering laypeople to learn and create with each other in this way. I thought back to my first attempt last year at leading this service, when I had only the slightest clue, and realized I did pretty well. In a few weeks I'll get another chance when I lead havdalah; I have a long list of ideas to winnow down on the themes of sleep, light, winter, and... who know what else will come up once I crack a book or two. I may even suggest (very gently) the addition of a meditative element to services at my havurah.

This does indeed feel like a beginning, of--something.

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