Sunday, May 02, 2004

Our Spirits, Ourselves

Up North 91 for church this morning at West Village Meeting House in Brattleboro for the second time in the last few months. Sat next to old college friend Hailey and her new tiny one Madison, just three weeks old; left for a while after the sermon started to get Willow to childcare; came back to find Darcie holding Madison, looking wistful. Later, she lit a candle in front of the congregation and cried a little. As for me, I found it easier to stay away from the baby. I wanted to hold her far too much to be willing to let myself, if that makes any sense.

[Note for Not All Who Wander Are Lost newbies: though I've never really written about it explicitly, mostly because it is but one chapter of our long epic trying-to-have-several-children-but-plagued-by-problems saga, we miscarried several months ago, and have been gradually working with some damn good doctors and nurse midwives to finish off the miscarriage and figure out how to try again. Anyway, that's not what I'm blogging about today.]

Physically, the West Village Meeting House manages to come across as both imposing and organic, stately and grounded all at once. The packed dirt road up to it is twisty, rutted, and impossibly steep, creating a sense of transition appropriate to all its dualities, managing to suggest both higher place and an unfinished and nature-esque sanctuary. Its exterior woodslat and glass forms a tall U, the large function and gathering room on the right, the smaller sanctuary in the middle by the entryway, the nursery and sunday schools on the left. If you came up to visit and we showed you around, you'd enter the building via covered walkway along the inner right, but before you do, you'd be confronted with two signs, instead of the usual one. Because the West Village Meeting House, it turns out, is the longtime home of two Brattleboro area congregations: Shir He-harim, a non-denomination Jewish community with a Reconstructionist bent, and All Souls Church, a Unitarian Universalist community.

Darcie's family attended UU meetings regularly throughout her childhood and adolescence; she has fond memories, and over our lives together has expressed and explained much of her understanding of the world of spirit through its rituals and liturgies. Years later, in college just up the hill, I sat in its balconies on the Jewish high holy days, more comfortable by far in its folding chairs and underdressed families than I had been in years of velvet childhood pews in the suburbs.

We were married there, of course. We made sandwiches with the rabbi in the tiny kitchen that morning before the ceremony, stood under the chupah there where the piano is now, signed our ketubah in the adjacent sitting room, danced in the tiny courtyard with our friends and family after it was over. Where our daughter now picks flowers and fights with the other young congregants' kids in the childcare room while we here sing, share, and light candles with a community we are just now starting to rejoin.

And because our intermarriage of almost-Reconstructionist Jew and Universalist Unitarian is exactly that of this meeting house, of course, our daughter's spiritual heritage is that, just that, which steeps these rawwood walls.

The history and the holiness of this place runs particularily deep in us, then. But as well, the shaky progress of both congregations as we have lived them seems to have paralleled our own inner journeys. Both congregations have, over time, seen the ebb and flow of membership, as we ourselves have come in and out of periods of spiritual practice in our lives, dipping our toes in the waters of time and intensity. Both undergo a constant self-exploration as political and spiritual entities, and lean heavily on that tension as fodder for sermon choice and collective discourse, in a manner reflecting both their respective spiritual value systems and the rural hodgepodge of organic back-to-the-landers and politically active small towners which characterise the local neo-bohemian class -- and us.

And in all cases, our own and our distant congregations, the way we share and express our shared heritage leaves our temples empty more often than not -- which is to say, we are all weekend spiritualists, temporally more secular than not. And this seems okay, given the religions and people we're talking about here. After all, Darcie and I have found more commonalities than distinctions in the Reconstructionist and the UU perspectives, as if each were mutually, respectfully easily inclusive of the other. And much of that commonality is in the predominance of this-community-as-context for both liturgy and organization which we find in each.

I want to explore myself again, and us again, and especially the spiritual potential of this Jewnitarian daughter, and the spiritual ramifications of this failed try at another, I think. In fact, I realized today, like a wild goose startlet out of somewhere inside me, I've been ready for quite some time.

So I already want to go back, and said so at breakfast afterwards. Though I'm still learning the politics and rites of the Sunday worship, coming home to All Souls feels good, a recentering, a rebalancing, a recreation long overdue. It's wonderful to have found this building that houses our collective faith, and to have cemented it into our intertwined spirits; to have lived so near so long to a place where both of us, Reconstructionist Jew and Universalist Unitarian, can light our candles, and share joys and sadnesses, regardless of congregation or text, irrelevant of bimah or riser. Heck, it even feels good to add to the collection plate.

And maybe next time I'll light my own candle. I've certainly got enough joy and sadness in me to share.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:50 PM |

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