Inside/Outside

(NOTE: I didn’t learn anything useful from turning on moderation, so I’ve turned it back off.)

If you’ve been following along, you know that I sang for a number of years in the choir at the local Reform synagogue. Just recently I had the chance to join them for a special project, recording a Friday night Shabbat service prayed from the Armed Services siddur (prayerbook) that will ultimately become a CD to be distributed to Jewish military personnel on active duty overseas. I really wanted to participate in this, as a little something that I could do to support the troops that might actually be of some benefit to somebody.

After so long in this choir, I definitely consider it (and by extension the synagogue as a whole) to be a spiritual second home; but after over half a year away, I could feel that something had changed. It was a very interesting experience, to be sitting among my friends talking about kids and vacations and all the stuff that makes up most of our lives, as if I had never left – very much an inside-group-person, as the Japanese name it – while at the same time feeling slightly disconnected from the actual worship service. Part of this was no doubt due to the fact that we were using an unfamiliar prayerbook, but that night even during the parts that were substantially similar to what I’m used to, I felt in many ways more like an observer than a participant.

In the time that I’ve been away from the choir, and mostly away from shul in general, I have become much more focused in my pagan pathwork – between starting this blog, becoming heavily involved in eco-justice work at my UU church, and then entering the path of Aikido (which for me is very much a part of the work), I’ve been quite busy on this somewhat-neglected aspect of my journey – and I’m sure that’s also a factor. While it’s true that there are fairly basic and obvious differences (at least on the surface) between my theology and that of Judaism, this congregation has been an active part of my spiritual landscape for a decade, and that leaves a mark; I will be sad if this signals an impending moving away.

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4 thoughts on “Inside/Outside

  1. Cat Chapin-Bishop

    I can’t help but feel that community itself is a spiritual path… and that being too rigorously selective in who we consider members of “our” community, based on religious affiliation, can be an unhealthy thing. I’m not saying that there should be no Jewish community activity, no Pagan community activity, no Quaker community activity, and so on… Just that communities that are too sanitized in terms of homogeneous religious identification can wind up being sterile as spiritual centers.

    I think that there’s something organic about healthy community that defies labels–and that those of us who cross boundaries between one group and another are not only not being spiritual tourists, but we’re part of something very helpful.

    I’m not expressing this well–unsurprising, since I’ve been trying to put this idea into words on my own blog for months now, and have yet to succeed. But the bottom line is that we find spiritual growth in all kinds of places that don’t necessarily match our religious ideology.

    My husband says–rightly, I think–that perhaps our most important spiritual connection in the past few years has been with our longstanding RPG group. And, despite a lack of connection with the beliefs and practices of this synogogue choir, I’ve got no problem imagining that it may be as spiritually nourishing for you as anything that fits with your defined spiritual practices.

    People are bad at being pigeonholed. I, too, hope that you are not needing to turn away from this group of friends. There’s something about music… and there’s something about that insider-outsider community, too.

    I _do_ wish I could put my finger on what it is that is speaking to me here! Ah, well… later, perhaps.

  2. executivepagan Post author

    Hi Cat,
    I think I need to amend one word – rather than TURNING away, I should have said “moving” away… because even if I completely stopped going to services, these people would still be my friends.

    Peter’s post on membership and identity (that whole conversation, actually, as well as the question you asked via email) were already in my mind when I attended this service – indeed, I think that’s one of the reasons that I took such particular notice of feeling “liminal” that evening. I have several more-or-less-overlapping religious communities – the UU church, my OBOD grovies, my online Hellenic friends – and then the temple choir is off to the side, mostly disconnected from any of the rest. This may also be part of it; there’s a small link there to the UU part, but certainly no connection to the other two, the ones that actually form the main direction of my spiritual development…

    On another note (heh) – there is indeed something about music! As a singer, it’s my primary mode of spiritual expression, and I have to admit that this is one area where I sometimes find being UU to be rough sledding – the music tends to be… I hesitate to just say “bad”, because that imposes a global value judgement that isn’t really globally applicable… but mostly I don’t find it particularly moving.

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