Meridian Hill Park; October 5, 2013
I've talked about my faith here and there on this blog (most specifically in my "I Believe" post from this past spring) but, if you're new here, you might be a little confused. That's okay; my association with religion does seem contradictory. I joke that I'm a Jewpiscopalian because, although I became a Bat Mitzvah at 13 and still identify as a Jew, I concurrently grew up in the Anglican tradition* and have a sincere affinity for liberal Protestant ideologies.
In my survey, a few of you asked if I could blog more about my degree - I got my MA in Medieval Studies, focusing on the history of Christianity, and I've got a couple of posts planned over the coming weeks where I'll get deliciously nerdy on you. (If you haven't taken the survey yet, it's still open and I'd be grateful for any input you might have!) In short, though, here's how I always start stories about how I came to this specialization: Judaism is subjective to me because I believe (more or less) in the tenets of the religion, but I approach Christianity objectively because my interest is primarily academic rather than doctrinal.
That's true. It is. But it simplifies how I feel about each religion; it's taken me years to work through my deep attachment to both faiths and to not feel like I was betraying one or the other at different times. One of the hardest things for me to admit even to myself is that I don't automatically feel at home in synagogues. You'd think I would, of course, because the ritual similarities between most of the Reform and Conservative temples I've visited since childhood mean that I usually understand what's going on, but it doesn't always happen. In fact, it doesn't often happen - I am, subconsciously, very picky about the synagogues and/or Jewish traditions in which I feel comfortable. However, I can walk into almost any Episcopalian church and instantly feel a sense of belonging. (I haven't been to that many different denominations of churches besides Catholic ones in Europe and I've rarely participated in services of other Protestant sects, so I can't say definitively what effect they have on me.) There's something about the faith and the space that just effortlessly draws me into the community.
Last week, I spent an afternoon at Washington National Cathedral to celebrate the Director of Music, my former choirmaster, and along with several fellow alumni of the boys' and girls' choirs I was privileged to join the current choristers in singing Evensong. It was a homecoming, as going back to the Cathedral always is - when I slid into the stalls in the Great Choir, I felt enveloped by such a sense of security as if, no matter what else was going on, I was in a place of constancy and hope and love. The music** was wonderful, of course, and the psalm of the day was especially appropriate given my state of mind:
How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.
Happy are they who dwell in your house!
they will always be praising you.
Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.
Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
They will climb from height to height,
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
hearken, O God of Jacob.
Behold our defender, O God;
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the LORD God is both sun and shield;
he will give grace and glory;
No good thing will the LORD withhold from those who walk with integrity.
O LORD of hosts, happy are they who put their trust in you!
Back in March, I wrote on this blog that "I feel sometimes like I’m alone in not having a distinct community of people who believe the same things I do." But I've come to think that there's more to community than agreeing on every point of doctrine, and today, when Charlie and I go back to the Cathedral to participate in the Blessing of the Animals for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I'm looking forward to rejoining one of my favorites.
Happy Sunday, dear readers, and I hope you feel at home wherever you are today!
Washington National Cathedral; September, 2013
*I use the terms "Anglican" and "Episcopalian" interchangably here; there are, many would argue, deep-seated theological differences between the them but I like this simple historical explanation of why there are two words and two churches.
** For those who are interested, here's what we sang with links to lovely recordings:
Psalm 84; chant: C. Hubert H. Parry
Service in A, Charles Stanford (Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis)
I Was Glad, C. Hubert H. Parry