Ruth Sadelle Alderson

Disagreeing with fandom since 1999.

Ruth Sadelle Alderson rsadelle
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Some thoughts on religious services, plus guided meditations
Last week I listened to this episode of Insights at the Edge (transcript also available at the link) where the guest was Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Rabbi Rami was a congregational rabbi for twenty years, and now teaches on being a holy rascal and what he calls "perennial wisdom." Tami, the host, asked him about moving away from Judaism. He describes Judaism as, "It's all about God as a male superpower somewhere," talks about issues with the idea of Jews as the "chosen people," and says that many organized religions treat a service as something to just get through. The whole time I was listening to that, I kept thinking, "That's a really narrow view of Judaism." Then I went to a Saturday morning torah service, and thought, "Oh, now I see what you mean." It felt like we were just doing things to get through them without any time to think about what they meant. Also, I discovered that where I know the Friday night service very well, I knew almost none of the Saturday torah service.

There's another part in the podcast where Rabbi Rami talks about the "house-church movement where people who don't feel comfortable at church are just getting together. They pray something, they read something, and then they just have conversations. ... I think what people were hungry for was conversation," which made me laugh because conversation is the last thing I want out of a religious service. I'm not even all that interested in the teaching part - I have a lot of other avenues in my life for that. The other thing that made me laugh is when he says, "we didn't have a cantor so we had whale song instead—recorded whale songs," because I thought, "You don't need a cantor; just sing!"

The combination of listening to Rabbi Rami's thoughts on Judaism and going to a Saturday morning torah service (with a cantor) really helped me define what I want out of a religious service. First, I want a slow, gentle approach to prayer where you get to really think about and feel what you're praying. This is particularly true for me in a Jewish service because I don't read Hebrew, so I'm always trying to follow along with the transliteration while skimming the English translation to see if there are things I don't want to say. Secondly, I want to sing or chant with other people. We chant in my yoga class, and my yoga teacher has various things she says to get people to not feel embarrassed or weird about it and just chant. I find chanting easy because I grew up Jewish without speaking Hebrew, so for me, singing with other people in a language I don't speak is my idea of collective spiritual practice. Part of what I like about Friday night services versus the Saturday torah service is that we sing a lot of songs I know, and when I started going to services on occasion again, what I wanted was to sing with other Jews. Lucky for me, our current rabbi does a contemplative service one Saturday morning a month that's an hour of chanting and guided meditation. It's really lovely, and I do really feel a connection with the divine during that experience. (I feel a little bit guilty sneaking out after the contemplative service instead of staying for the torah study afterwards, but, again, the conversation/learning part is not the valuable piece to me.)

In February, the rabbi's adult education class was "An Intro to Jewish Angels," so at the February contemplative service, she did a guided meditation with angels that I found really moving. (Also interesting: I had a very clear image of the personification of three of the four of them.) It probably helps if you've already done some chanting and breathing first and pause to breathe into each of these, but here it is as best I can remember it: Close your eyes. Take a few breaths. Now imagine to your right the angel Michael, the one who is like God. You may feel some warmth or see a light. Now imagine to your left the angel Gabriel, the power of God. In front of you, imagine Uriel, the light of God. At your back, imagine Raphael, the healer. Now feel the angels surrounding you in their warmth or in their light. Rest in their light. Now from above, feel the light of God pouring over you like honey.

I really love the divine light guided meditations the rabbi's done at both of the contemplative services I've been to so far. For a secular version of a filling yourself with light meditation, I also recommend Danielle LaPorte's Light Scanning Contemplation (at her site, registration-free Soundcloud version).

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