I love being a pastor, but one of the occupational tradeoffs is that we clergy types don't often get time to spend in worship without having to be responsible for or lead it. It can be difficult to be in a spirit of worship when you're thinking ahead to what comes next in the service, and that experience has only been heightened during Covid times, when I now find myself operating a broadcast studio of sorts from my dining room table.
A little over a year ago, just before Covid came along to upend life as we knew it, I had discovered the weekly Friday evening livestream of Shabbat services from Temple Israel in Memphis, TN, one of the largest Reform Jewish congregations in the country. That weekly service has been a lifeline of sorts for me during this past year, and I find myself looking forward to the chance to worship with that community each week. It's become my time of centering, the chance to be in a spirit of worship without having to worry about also leading.
The centerpiece of Jewish worship is a lengthy prayer known as the Amidah, which consists of a series of blessings, prayers for individuals and the community, and thanksgiving to God. It's also believed by some scholars to have been the model for the Lord's Prayer. At the beginning of the Amidah is a section known as the Avot v'imahot, which means "fathers and mothers." God is remembered as the God of the ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. That recitation of the names strikes me every time I hear it; I'm reminded that we stand in a long line of people who have struggled, celebrated, questioned, and prayed. We are not alone, but connected to all who have walked the path ahead of us.
Today in the Christian tradition is the feast day of one of those ancestors, St. Patrick of Ireland. But for me, March 17th will always be remembered as the birthday of my favorite great-aunt, Alvina. Alvina was my maternal grandmother's sister, and she was born in 1909, the ninth of ten children in a German-speaking immigrant household. She never finished high school, never married or had children, and never lived anywhere other than the little house where she grew up in south Waco. But she was one of the most open hearted, generous, loving people I've ever known. She loved music, and in her living room she had a Hammond organ that she played by ear, having never learned to read music. She would also compose little hymns that she'd write down on pieces of paper tucked into her copy of the church's hymnal. One of my most cherished possessions is one of her hymnals, with her name written neatly inside the front cover. When I hold it, I remember and give thanks for her witness.
So today, I'm going to be humming that simple little tune that she wrote, and giving thanks for the ancestors that have paved the way for me: known and unknown, recent and long passed, faithful and questioning and hopeful.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, God of our fathers and mothers,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob,
God of Sarah, God of Rebekah, God of Rachel, and God of Leah,
the great, mighty and awesome God, transcendent God
who bestows loving kindness, creates everything out of love,
remembers the love of our fathers and mothers,
and brings redemption to their children's children for the sake of the Divine Name.
Sovereign, Deliverer, Helper, and Shield,
Blessed are You, Adonai, Sarah's Helper, Abraham's Shield.