When the repairs are finally made on the Main Sanctuary at CBE, there ought to be a way to keep the space open during the day and let people know that anyone is welcome to sit in the pews, meditate, pray and relax. Ordinarily synagogues are not configured as contemplative spaces but it would be nice if they were. Security is of course historically a concern; but then, hire a shtarker. A shtarker can always knock a few heads together if anyone gets out of line.
Today, while walking around the city in the heat, I wondered into the old St. Patrick's Cathedral, as I often do, for a dose of august city history. The sacred space was welcoming and in its height, the ceiling above me lifted my own thoughts upward. I was instantly relaxed. Another occasional prayer entered as well and did their thing--which was either quiet meditation in the pews; lighting of a votive candle of some kind; or visiting pictures of saints arrayed around the room.
I focused on the way the place smelled--old, musty, hospitable, and "church-like," which to my primitive nose likely means some kind of incense. Big fans blew hot air 'round the room. I was really shvitzing (or perspiring, if you prefer) but very much enjoying an inner dialogue with God about my own spiritual reflections--mostly having to do with the iconography of Catholicism in comparison to the imageless words and letters of the Torah tradition that were appearing in my mind like what I imagine Sinai may have appeared as for those who were there. The dialogue with the Jewish God in the Church felt very real so I put on my kippah, figuring I had not really breached any kind of etiquette, after all, my baseball cap was off. At precisely the moment that I was marveling at the anonymity of being a rabbi relaxing in an old Catholic cathedral, my blackberry buzzed and I had an email from a congregant asking about some morning blessings from the Jewish prayerbook that we once spoke about a bit more than a year ago. She wanted to be reminded of them and so there I sat, in the subdued light of St. Patrick's, quoting from memory to fingertip the Sages' words we're commanded to say when we rise in the morning--those duties "without measure" the very actionable weight of which equals the sublime act of studying Torah.
I thought of war and difference; I thought of peace and unity. And I was grateful for being given the opportunity to be a praying Jew in another's home for prayer.
I hope to one day return the favor.