So, where we are. I was talking about how (a) liturgical choices are driven, in part, by the desire to experience the Divine through prayer, and (2) those liturgical choices work through metaphor. The prayer service in some way makes the metaphor experiential—I’m not using the proper terms, here, the phenomenological terms that I’m sure exist for individual experiences in group settings that heighten (but do not literalize) a metaphor.
Rabbi Hoffman was speaking to a Reform Jewish congregation, one that has deep roots to the old movement, and was asserting that the old metaphors simply do not work anymore. Our liturgy is moving away from the old Union Prayerbook, because our movement is moving away from the old metaphors. In part, that’s demographic—he pointed out that the congregation has hardly anybody left that identifies themselves as of German heritage. We’re a pack of Eastern Europeans, now, remnants of the shtetl and of twentieth century immigration, and the nineteenth-century German-Jewish ways of experiencing the world are—not alien to us, exactly, but not exactly familiar, either. And anyway, it’s the twenty-first century—he pointed out that we have already abandoned a lot of the metaphor-heighteners. Our Rabbi chats with us before the service begins, calls us by first name and generally pals around. He said he didn’t believe that the Great Rabbi who was here for half of the twentieth century would do that, and the older congregants laughed… we are living in a more informal time, he said, and a more intimate time, and that is how we are seeking to experience the Divine through prayer.
I do think the metaphors have changed, and that we do not, at this point, look to experience a Divine Creator who is up in Heaven. We dig for meaning, now. We look down and in, not up and out. So there is certainly something to the idea that a successful adaptation of the ritual will have to work through those new metaphors, not the old ones.
But what occurred to me, as I was sitting there listening, was that the dominant metaphor at the moment is that the world is a web. That everything is connected to everything. A network, if you like, rather than a web. Or The Web—I think it’s not wrong to say that the dominant metaphor for our generation in the US is the hypertext transfer protocol. But we it seems to me that we are walking around with the idea that everything is connected to everything. That we can’t walk around without that idea. That it’s inescapable. And, as the saying goes, if you can’t get out of it, get into it.
How? How do we experience the Divine in the connections between things? Well, I’m looking for ideas. There are some things we have already begun. We are calling people up to participate, handing bits of service to one another, connecting among ourselves. We have study sessions, either before the service or after, or plumb smack in the middle of it. The Rabbi, perhaps, sits in a pew with the rest of the congregants rather than up on the bimah. A few weeks ago, we called everybody up to the bimah to say the blessing together and witness the reading—everybody was the cohen and the cohen was everybody. And, of course, there’s singing together. There’s not a lot that emphasizes the connections between people more than singing together. Perhaps we should get used to polyphony or something, to highlight the between-ness.
What else? Well, and that’s going the be the next note. For this one, some questions for you, Gentle Readers all: do you find the web metaphor describes the universe? Do you think you could experience the Divine through prayer in the connections between things? Do you want to propose another metaphor? Is there stuff that your shul or church or prayer group is doing that speaks to this metaphor, or to some other?
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,