I found myself praying in a church yesterday—technically, a synagogue. I haven’t prayed in a religious structure in more than 25 years. Balen and I attended the Bar Mitzvah of one of his close friends, Dennis. The celebration was folded into a normal Shabbat service, a new experience for both of us. I was raised in the Protestant faith and attended Baptist, Pentecostal, and Wesleyan services, even a few Catholic masses here and there for special occasions with friends. But, I’d never taken Balen to a church.
I had lived a few houses down from Rabbi Greg for many years during my first marriage. His wife gave my daughter, Britt, cello lessons through junior high and high school. Britt’s recitals were held in the synagogue where the bench rows formed a U shape around a raised platform.
Balen chose to sit with friends on the left side—a cluster of boys all around the cusp of 13. A few wore yarmulkes. Curly red hair, black wavy hair, pale blond, dark brown. I could see the row of them from where I sat, all different heights in various stages of man-child transition. It was amazing to see them all sitting in one place (sometimes fidgeting) for more than two hours without their hands wrapped around a cell phone, eyes downcast. Instead, they watched the blessing of their friend as he entered manhood in the Jewish faith, regardless of whether they understood any Hebrew. Part of me ached as I watched Balen. He did not have a strong cultural affiliation to any one belief system to mark this coming of age.
They watched Rabbi Greg wrap a tallit, or prayer shawl, around Dennis’s shoulders and listened as the significance of the knotted fringes were explained. Those who knew the words joined the tallit prayer while the rest of us felt enveloped by the ancient echoes of a language whose words urged us to wrap ourselves in the tallit, to feel ourselves woven together in one fabric.
I had felt wrapped in the comfort of community since reaching the synagogue doors where we were greeted by Annette Fineberg, the woman who saved my life when Balen was six days old. She was the doctor on call when I stopped in the office to have a swollen leg examined 13 years ago after a c-section. She knew it was a warning sign for blood clots and sent me to the ER with firm instructions not to leave until we found some answers. Many procedures and several hours later, I was admitted with multiple blood clots in my lungs that could have silently killed me at home without warning. Over the years, we’ve seen each other in town and chatted about life, our kids. She will always remember my face; I will always remember hers. I found out yesterday morning that she is Dennis’s aunt. Small world!
As Shabbat drew to a close, Rabbi Greg and Annette led us in singing a Blessing for Healing as she strummed the guitar. Keep the names of loved ones that need healing in your heart as we sing, he urged us. Verses of Hebrew echoed in the synagogue like the pitch of singing bowls, the intonation not unlike the Shiva mantra I chant in yoga.
May the source of strength, who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing
And let us say Amen.
Bless those in need of healing with r’fu’a sh’le-i-ma
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
And let us say Amen.
After the service, I walked into the sunlight momentarily relieved of a weighted pressure that had been keeping my chest tight and closed for weeks. I breathed deep from my belly, the weight lifted and I bowed my head with a slight namaste to the community of spirits surrounding me in a moment of grace.