Okay, so, I’m going to guess that all of us have been, at one time or another, part of a religious community in which it seemed the “guest-of-honor” wasn’t regularly in attendance. When this happens, people start looking around for who or what is responsible. We blame the sermon. We blame the lyrics or melody of the music. We blame the liturgy that is out-dated or fails to honor tradition. We blame the parents of the children who make too much noise or the empty-nesters who no longer attend regularly. We wonder if it’s the time of the service, the lighting of the room, the comfort of the chairs, and/or the aesthetics of the surroundings.
Then, we start to shuffle all sorts of variables — we fire and hire staff, spend millions of dollars on buildings and decorations, purchase new prayerbooks — all with the hope of finding the right combination to unlock the door that keeps G-d from arriving.
But we never stop and look at ourselves . . . we never quite seem to want to admit that each of us must be the key that opens the door. What do I mean?
For me to experience G-d alone, I must simply open my heart.
For me to experience G-d in community, I must open my heart in a room full of people. I must allow myself to be vulnerable by giving up on ‘perfection’ and ‘control’ and by accepting myself and everyone else for exactly whoever each of us is.
When each person who walks into a worship space is respected for the length of the worship service for whoever that person is —
struggling parent of screaming child,
woman who knits,
child with a tic,
pregnant couple full of hope,
the mystic full of love,
the atheist who just wants community,
the one who sees G-d inside,
the one who sees G-d above,
the one who wants choir and organ,
the one who wants guitar,
the one who wants no music,
those who prefer Hebrew,
those who know no Hebrew,
person whose ancestors founded the congregation,
person who had never before entered a synagogue,
and any other possible distinguishing variable!!
— when each and every one of those people feels equally entitled to be present in the room, and when each one has been welcomed with open arms (or at least open hearts!!) by the others who are in the room . . . then everyone will be able to open their hearts and reach for G-d (or peace, or Unity) . . . and the room will fill with Love . . . and everyone will feel that the “guest-of-honor” is present!
And this is why, my friends, each and every one of us bears responsibility . . . because each of us must make sure the space around us invites others to be present and to feel G-d’s presence!!!! The only thing that any of us can control is ourself, and so each of us must do our part to fill the room with Love!
By saying this, I do not mean to suggest that clergy, staff, a board of directors, etc., do not bear any responsibility — they, first and foremost, are also people who must open their hearts and invite others to be present and to feel G-d’s presence. They must set a tone that allows people to be real . . . not Perfect, REAL! They must be the embodiment of acceptance and of unconditional love — not just during a worship service, but 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year — and not just for their friends and fans, but for everyone — because THAT is to only way to create a “safe space” where people know that honest emotion is accepted, where rational explanations are not required, where each person can just BE in whatever emotional space that person is in, as we progress together through a liturgy that touches on a broad range of the possible emotions that we humans might be experiencing as we journey from birth to death.
And all those other variables we shuffle — the music, the time, the seats, the decorations, the prayer book, the theological details — they truly do not matter!! G-d is not a theatre critic for the Times — so the goal of worship cannot be a “perfect performance” in which every cast member hits cues, the equipment works, the lighting is perfect, and all lines are recited beautifully from memory. Remember, to experience G-d we must give up on perfection and on having control over sounds, lights, other people, etc.!!
Prayer services truly could occur in a cold, damp, dark cave with rocks as seats, no sound system, and bugs crawling around … and if you filled that cave with Love, people would flock to it . . . simply because they would feel G-d’s presence when they were there . . . .
When each of the people “running the show” strives 24/7/365 to genuinely offer Ahavah Rabah, appreciation, and acceptance to every other person with whom they interact . . . including their co-workers, employees, and political “enemies” . . . only then will all the other people in the room understand that they have arrived in a place where every person is safe to open his or her heart and reach for G-d . . . and then, it is time for the rest of us to “step forward,” to open our hearts and fill the room with Love . . . .
Then, my friends, and only then, will the walls shake, the earth tremble, and the mountain appear in our midst, allowing each worshipper to stand in awe of the same mystery and majesty that our ancestors experienced at Sinai . . .
Shabbat shalom, jen