I went to a fabulous bar mitzvah yesterday. I sat near the back of the sanctuary so I could have a full view of the ark and the large wide window behind it. As the service progressed, the fog slowly burned off outside, so that by the time the young man was delivering his inspiring sermon, there was a gorgeous backdrop of blue sky behind him.
When I go to services at a Conservative synagogue, the prayers and melodies from my childhood float up and out of me effortlessly with sentimental surprise. At yesterday's service, words and tunes emerged from deep in my memory, accompanied by tears. The service flowed with minimal explanation in between the prayers, so I was able to close my eyes and lean back into the melodies, the words, the silence, the sound and sway of prayer.
The sanctuary's beautiful simplicity, the rabbi's caring presence and attentiveness, taking time to see and listen to each person as we called out names during the healing prayer–these aspects (and others) made for a meaningful, nourishing Shabbat morning.
It's a bit like eating a home-cooked meal with all of your favorite family recipes made from scratch. Usually it's not the meal that makes you sick; it's the people sitting at the table. That's what sent me running from the temple as a child. There was no place for an inquisitive young girl who wanted to sit at the table with the big boys and challenge the rules.
Fast forward a few decades and I still find myself moving in the liminal spaces, from temple to church to meditation retreat, feeling at home and unfamiliar all at the same time. I am finding a sense of home inside myself that guides me in the in-between places, a feeling of connection and wholeness that does not get as easily ruffled or cranky when encountering the human barriers in sacred space.
Arrogance, disdain, exclusion, misunderstanding, misinterpretation. These human barriers have nothing to do with holiness except that they send me searching elsewhere, perhaps momentarily distracted but undaunted. Sacredness can be found or created everywhere–holy sparks illuminate the path even in the midst of some big cold rocks in the road that make me stumble and fall if I don't navigate mindfully.
Our heart is the altar. In whatever you do let a spark of the holy fire burn within you, so that you may fan it into a flame.
–Ba'al Shem Tov