I was sitting on the bima Rosh Hashanah morning, with my white robe on, warmed up, instruments set, prayer book in front of me, microphone on, and… I was just not “feelin’ it.” I was exhausted from the service the night before. My voice felt like there was a film covering it, and a similar film was inhibiting my brain from full function. How was I going to go where I mentally, emotionally, spiritually and musically had to go in order to serve this moment as it needed to be served for the community and myself? I wasn’t sure, but it was 9:30 am, so we began.
As the prayer service started, I sang and smiled and kept an open mind. Then I stood up to sing Ahavah Rabah, which means “abundant love,” and when I looked down at those words, they leaped off the page. I’ve sung this many times before, but this time I felt a rush of abundant love flow through me. The sensation was energetic, buoyant, all-encompassing. It was as if God jumped inside of me to say, “Don’t worry, girl. I’m here now. You’re good to go.” For the next three hours, I prayed, deeply and completely while I sang.
So, let’s talk about belief. Do I really believe that the abundant love of God reached inside of me and helped me connect to the liturgy and my body so that I and my community would have a wonderful cantorial experience? Nah, not really. But it sure felt good, so does it matter? Something important happened, I just don’t know what. Maybe I was simply able to empty my mind. Maybe I played a “trick” on myself to help me go where I needed to go. Maybe, for that moment, I “believed.”
I think we all worry too much about whether or not we “believe” in something. To me, belief is not black and white. Belief isn’t a light bulb that is either on or off. Belief fades in at certain times of our lives and fades out at others. True believers have moments of doubt and complete non-believers have moments when life encourages them to believe in something. It’s normal and natural to be somewhere on this sliding scale. Belief is personal, ever-evolving, ineffable. I can’t answer whether or not I believe in something easily, can you? In fact, when someone once asked me (with more than a little skepticism in her tone) what I believe in, I told her that I believe in “possibility.” That was as good as I could do.
If we wait to believe in something before we make an effort at a spiritual endeavor, we may wait forever. Sometimes we have to put ourselves in spiritual situations, with open hearts and minds, and see what emerges. You don’t have to believe in God to say a blessing, you don’t have to believe in God to acknowledge Shabbat, and you don’t have to believe in God to participate in traditions. Say that blessing and know that, if nothing else, it encourages us to be mindfully grateful for the food, the drink, the holiday, the moment before us. Take that “separate day” as a Shabbat to rest your mind, body,and soul, and if nothing else, you’ll be rested! Eat the matzah, and if nothing else, celebrate that you are free. No God required. But if you find a little belief sneaks in, enjoy it, envelop yourself in it, and don’t judge yourself when it flies away as quickly as it came.
Whether or not you are Jewish or are attending any High Holy Day services, a Happy New Year, Shana Tovah, to everyone. Every day is a good day to start over.
P.S. I know my first posting was about Shabbat, and I promise to continue with that theme, but with the High Holy Days being here, I needed to take a side trip. We’ll get back to the main road in October. 🙂