What makes a moment religious?

Comments written by Julie Norris, delivered by Kevin Norris on Rosh Hashanah 2015

What makes a moment religious?

What makes an experience feel religious?

Is it a glimmer of a feeling, or a feeling that encompasses you?

What is your recipe for a religious moment?

This July 4th weekend, I was so struck when I had an experience that I expected to be a lot of nostalgic fun, but which shifted into something that felt unexpectedly, but unmistakably, religious.

We took a train to Chicago to meet up with our adult daughter, for the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, fare-thee-well concert.  3 nights under the stars at Soldier’s Field with 70,000 tie-dyed faithful.

grateful deadAnd it happened almost immediately – the awareness that somehow this felt religious. It never struck me as religious in the early 1980s as I followed the band up and down the east coast, but now, the awareness of the rituals and culture surrounding this music led me to think about some of the similarities between the shows and services.

First, the music. Many of us are so deeply moved by music. The melodies and harmonies you recognize from decades gone by and the knowledge that these same tunes are known and appreciated by millions. The verse and refrain that feel like coming home.

There’s the rhythm of sitting and standing in unison. How do 70,000 people know, without being told, when to stand but this crowd knew. And through 3-1/2 hours, 3 nights in a row, if you closed your eyes to sink fully into the moment, suddenly a recognized chord or phrase that you hadn’t realized how much you’d missed hearing would emerge and you’d be drawn to your feet. And when you open your eyes you see that everyone else has stood too, in a collective expression of joy and appreciation.

Then there’s the text or lyrics, full of poetry and meaning, full of space for interpretation. And as I gaze at my daughter, I see that these words have now been passed on from one generation to the next.

And we’re not the only mother/daughter duo dancing arm in arm. People smile at us in recognition of the sweetness of the moment. Just like here. For those reunited today with your parents or children and sharing the ritual of the high holidays, there’s a sweetness that’s hard to describe. And perhaps a sadness in the memories of friends no longer part of your lives. That weekend, I kept projecting familiar faces onto those I’d never met. Because the people just kind of felt familiar. Like here.

I am not trivializing religion by comparing it to a concert.  It is rather profoundly the opposite:  It is the spiritual work we do here that enables me to find such meaningful direction, reflection and connection in the everyday moments of life.

IMG_0060Which brings me to my ultimate point this afternoon: As a representative of the AARC Board, I was also struck by our similarities to the Grateful Dead’s rather unique business model. They’ve allowed the recording of their concerts at no charge and encouraged their fans to freely distribute their music, to broaden the circle and draw in all who wanted to be included.  Even during the shows those nights, the performances were broadcast to thousands outside the stadium also enjoying the music. The band welcomes all at no charge, confident that those who can afford to pay will buy albums and tickets to keep the music going.

Maybe you see where this is going. We, too, have an unusual model, in that our high holiday services are free and open to all, with a warm invitation to join us, inside. And we depend on those who can afford to pay being moved to contribute. If you are already a member, smile as you write that check: you’re doing a good thing. If you’ve not joined yet, we invite you to become a member of our congregation.  If you’re not ready for that step, you can help keep the music going by making a contribution in the envelopes at the front desk or at our website.

It takes a lot of money to put on shows like the ones we saw this summer and it takes money for us to create these meaningful and fulfilling high holiday experiences. We are committed to widening our circle to draw in all of those who wish to be included.  We open our services freely, confident that–if you can–you will contribute financially, as generously as possible, either at the front desk or through our website, so that we can continue together on this “long, strange trip.”

grateful dead 2

L’shanah tova!