This morning, over my usual cup of coffee, I read a really interesting article about a woman in Toronto struggling between Reform and Orthodox Judaism, which caused me to reflect on community, but also the significance of ritual.
Neilia Sherman, the writer of “Living a Reform Life, but Coveting Orthodoxy” loves “the passion, sense of community, music, and intellectual discussions” she experienced while on an Orthodox retreat. But she “disliked the sexism, the rigidity, the countless rules and the frightening Torah passages.” She continues by questioning prayer, but nonetheless stating that “[y]et I was happy to be praying with all my friends – bowing and whispering in unison.”
After she gets married and has two children, she begins attending a Reform synagogue, but she “spen[ds] seven years trying to feel connected” and even though there were things she liked about the synagogue, ultimately it lacked community:
Most people didn’t know my name. My family was never invited for a Sabbath meal… when it came time to plan my older son’s bar mitzvah, I couldn’t stomach the thought of having it among a group of people who didn’t care about us.
Eventually she and her family begin attending an Orthodox Synagogue where they “gained a real community, sharing sorrows and simchas*.” And even while she feels she can’t go all the way with Orthodoxy – “I admired them, longed to be like them, but did not want to let go of having choices” – she admits that “if I can’t believe it myself, it is comforting to be next to people who can.”
And perhaps this is why community is so important – when you’re experiencing doubt or trouble, there are others around you that can build you up.
Reading this article made me reflect upon the state of the Christian church, and it made me realize that this article speaks to a universal problem. Christian churches also have difficulty in creating an environment that fosters community and deep, meaningful relationships. I think there’s a real problem within the Christian world where people don’t genuinely greet, or show interest in, one another. We’re so caught up in our own lives that we don’t have time to share in one another’s joy – and sorrow. And while this is definitely getting better, and certainly isn’t true of all churches, there are still so many that provide a space for worship, but not a space for finding deep and meaningful relationships.
David and I are lucky that we’ve found a church that provides both worship and community, but I don’t know if this is the norm. It certainly wasn’t our experience a few years ago when we began our search for a church home. In my opinion, one of the most important parts of church life is not actually worship in and of itself – but worship through community. Being able to find and build relationships where you can celebrate, question, doubt, and worship together is a great blessing. I don’t think I could commit to going to church every Sunday if there weren’t people there that I genuinely love seeing, and speaking to, every week. To be honest, our church is what I am missing the most while we’re over here in Europe.
But then I thought to myself, maybe I’m being too simplistic. After all, even with the church I attend, I sometimes find myself looking at Judaism and its rituals and celebrations and yearning for it, sometimes quite intensely. I think that ritual provides a great way to connect with and understand God through thought and action. Christians have baptism and communion, true. But one of the things I find so beautiful about Judaism is that the sheer number of celebrations and rituals provides Jews with opportunities to connect with God, and God’s people, in a number of different ways – and through action and thought, community and solitude.
So, is the problem deeper than community? Are these two problems separate entities, or intricately connected? Have we as Christians lost something deeply spiritual and special through our inobservance of our forebearer’s celebrations and rituals? Or is it worship through community and love that we find real meaning?
And is the lack of community a worldwide problem, regardless of faith, that we are seeing reflected in our church lives?
*Simcha is a Hebrew word which directly translated means gladness or joy. However, it is also used as a noun to refer to a festive occasion.