It was Friday night and it was six o’clock. I was at Bluff Lake Nature Center and I was supposed to begin a Kabbalat Shabbat service. Yes, there were some foreboding clouds in the sky … but I still could not get past the fact that in addition to Hal Aqua and I, there were only 3 other people there for the service. It is there in that moment that I need to make a judgement call, an executive decision … hold the service or not? Will a few more show up? Will it feel weird to follow through with so few people? Will it be disrespectful to those who did show up not to do something? What should I do?
Truthfully, I was ready to abandon ship. My internal rant had been running for a few minutes … why do this service thing at all? … Synagogues big and small fail to draw any significant numbers for services and why – because what we do does not speak to most people, it does not fit into their lives (it does not even fit into my own family’s lives much of the time) … What is wrong with everyone? – Who in our crazy, busy world wouldn’t want a small amount of time carved out of their week to stop and reflect, to catch one’s breath? … Seriously, how can we compete with a hike in the mountains or that view atop the ski run? … Why should I judge an experience like this one on numbers and quantity, am I really that shallow – remember: save one soul and save a universe, right?
I was in no mood to help create a prayerful atmosphere for anyone else – whether it be three or thirty or three hundred.
And yet, we stayed … I decided to just put my toe in the water a bit. We would sing a few songs/prayers and see how it went. Hal began to play and I internally sulked and let his music fill the space that I am supposed to help fill with my spirit. I felt none of my spirit would suffice on a night like this one. We sung and it was fine. No, it was nice. The music allayed my angst just a bit … and then the rainbows showed up.
I don’t care how old you are or how jaded you are … I have not encountered many people who aren’t hit with at least a moment of ‘wow’ when they first see a rainbow. I saw the rainbows first as I faced the rest of the group, and so after my moment of ‘wow’ I pointed the rainbows out and then our small group shared the moment. Then a funny thing happened, the moment did not end. For the next 35 minutes parts of one or both of the rainbows glowed in the distance. None of us had never seen a rainbow hang around for so long. The rainbows became the liturgy. The rainbows filled that space that just a few minutes prior I felt incapable of filling. The rainbows filled that space that just a few moments prior I wanted to abandon.
Now, I refuse to have a ‘tie-it-up-in-a-nice-little-ribbon’ take on the appearance and our experience of the rainbows. Contrary to the Biblical rainbow myth, I do not think that God was reminding this small group of ‘faithful’ about our eternal covenant. (After all, one did not have to be at the Bluff Lake service to see the rainbows.) I also am not going to go to the place that might suggest a lesson for those who did not attend that they missed out on something spectacular.(So you had better join us next time, or else!) As much as I want to take a message in the juxtaposition of my pre-rainbow rant and the appearance of the rainbows, it was not the first time I ranted in such a way and in previous times the rainbows did not show.
I think I want to stay in the ambiguity and mystery of the moment. The things I ranted about have merit to them. They are true and actual issues to which religious communities have to face and find responses. The rainbows were spectacular, awesome and magical. All were equally real and all were part of the same moment. Despite our need to organize and categorize it, our world and our lives are not so neatly wrapped and bowed. They are complex, messy and filled with much more ambivalent tones of grey than neat and clean blacks and whites. Every moment holds the possibility for defeat, isolation and frustration. Every moment also holds the possibility for wonder, magic and awe.