Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In the Still and the Flurry

By Susan Esther Barnes

It is 7:45 in the morning. I’m alone in the synagogue. There are no clergy here yet, and the only staff member at work this early is directing traffic outside. It’s cloudy out there. The only illumination in the sanctuary is what little natural light filters through the stained glass overhead, plus the flickering from the ner tamid (eternal light) over the ark. The room is silent.

As I step into the sanctuary, I know I have stepped into a special place. Immediately I experience a strong feeling of power and of serenity. I walk to the front of the room and sit down. I love to be in this room when it is full of people; I love to be in this room when I am alone. Normally I would sit here and soak it in, but this is not my place to be at this time.

I stand back up, and walk to the entrance of the synagogue. I stand just outside the door, in the place where I have stood so many times before. The street across the parking lot from me is a frenzy of activity. Cars are driving back and forth, in and out of the parking lot across the street, where parents are dropping off their kids at the public elementary school. A much smaller number of cars are turning into the parking lot directly in front of me, dropping off their kids at the religious school.

As the cars drive to and fro, in and out of the parking lots, like flurries of snow tossed by the wind, it is almost eerily silent. From time to time, I hear children or their parents, or a car door closing, or a wheeled backpack being pulled across the pavement. But mostly I just hear the gentle whoosh of the tires of the many cars on the street as they dance their ballet to a music I cannot quite make out.

And it occurs to me, as I stand here on the threshold between the still sanctuary at my back and the busy street before me, that I should be contemplating the experience of standing on the threshold between two very distinct worlds. Yet it is clear these are not two different worlds at all. The power and the serenity that greets me in the sanctuary is the same power and serenity that permeates the dance of the cars and the parents and the kids. It is all one. And I am grateful to be given this chance to see it.

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