I’ve left you hanging long enough. Nice to know that I’ve got loyal readers who want to know how the spirituality retreat went (although I’m fairly certain no one’s been holding their breath). So, no more descriptions of the place and the food. Let’s get down to brass tacks. But first, I realized there’s a much better term than touchy-feely, which really does have a pejorative ring to it. Out with touchy-feely, in with New Age.
Here’s the short answer: To my surprise, it was wonderful and in one way, a truly transformative experience. Which I’ll get to later.
The New Age stuff is generally benign and not as “out there” as I’d expected. Although the Jewish tarot cards in the bookstore were a surprise. Mainly, it consisted of a lot of chanting and, as Marcia Prager put it, inducing a light trance by the combination of music, chant, and sacred text.
It’s true. A good prayer experience does induce a light trance. (Maybe that’s why I don’t like the Reform High Holiday services — I used to say that they weren’t long enough and I didn’t suffer enough; now I’m thinking that I simply didn’t get high enough.)
Full disclosure — I liked most of it. The music was beautiful and I recognized most of the tunes (I’ve always been a sucker for a music-filled religious service; I like all kinds of synagogue music, especially the “new” stuff that’s been percolating for the past 20 years, which is quite lovely) and there were lots of good singers, as well as guitarists. Not as much drumming as I’d expected, which was fine with me. It really is quite uplifting to be in a beautiful setting with beautiful music.
There were only a couple of times when it went far past my comfort zone. One service was led by a woman who was in a Baptist choir before converting to Judaism. I have nothing against gospel music; love it. But it was jarring in a Jewish setting. For me. Other people loved it.
And to be completely honest, I don’t understand why people had to jump up and dance so much. I can sway to the music with the best of them, am fine with clapping, and even enjoy standing up once in a while, but all the time? Not my speed. I prefer a more peaceful religious experience. I’m not too certain about the need to sit with one’s hands palm up, thumb and forefinger together, either. Or holding one’s hands up in the air. But to each his own.
I will also admit to being a troglodyte when it comes to gendered language for God. Gotta tell you, I don’t care if prayers use the words “he” and “king” instead of “she” and “queen.” Human language is incredibly limited; we’re never going to have words that adequately express God’s Godness. So for goodness sake, don’t waste time and energy worrying about it!
Let’s hope that whenever I get around to applying to rabbinical school, no one holds all this against me.
What absolutely surprised me was the strong emphasis on using the correct nusach (melodic lines), and respecting the traditional service, its prayers and its structure. It makes sense that in order to take liberties with something one ought to have a good grasp of the original (and a deep respect for it), and I’m glad they spent a lot of time on that.
But what made the week transformative wasn’t my own religious experience, but the down-to-earth lessons and advice about how to do a better job when leading services. I learned so much in such a brief time. I’ve been to a lot of educational conferences in my day, and often walked away with pages of notes. But I came away from this with a head full of good ideas that I can begin to use immediately. It was practical, it was intelligent, and it was right on the mark. Some of the things I learned will be easy to implement and some harder, but I feel like a better service leader today than I was two weeks ago.
And that, my friends, was well worth the price of admission.