When I think about my journey of faith, there’s a particular period that I recall with great fondness because for a few months I felt spiritual happiness probably for the first time in my life. There are some other, more complicated feelings attached to this memory because of how things eventually turned out, but I can’t ever deny the power of this period in time in my life.
Back when I first started learning about Judaism, I was going to a small synagogue meeting in a rented strip mall storefront in Miami Beach. The congregants were all Christians who had decided to learn more about Judaism, possibly in order to convert later on, and were led by a rabbi with some experience bridging Christianity and Judaism. At the time it was all new to me, and I was eager to learn anything and everything.
The congregation would meet on Saturday morning, and we’d do the Shabbat prayer service, and read the weekly portion of the Torah, then have communal lunch. After a little break to let the food settle, we would then spend the afternoon learning, and this was my favorite time. Each week the rabbi would pick a portion of the Torah, give a short lesson on it, then we’d study the text together, discussing it as a group or with a partner, teasing out the meaning, finding associations to other parts of the Bible, drawing in references and connections from the larger body of rabbinical writings like the Talmud and Midrash, and even how passages in the New Testament would connect with the Torah. We would do this for three or four hours until it was time for afternoon prayers, and I always groaned like a child when our study time ended. No sooner would Shabbat end, I was already looking forward to the next week.
I learned so much during these study sessions, and for the first time in my life, I truly felt connected to God. The knowledge I gained during this time has guided me in my search for God throughout the years. But it was the fact that I was part of a group that most elated me, that this study, this search, was carried in community. We studied together, we learned together, we grappled with tough sections together, we had enlightening moments together. Different people brought different skills and experiences to the table, and we would all benefit from this. We encouraged each other to learn and grow.
Some fifteen years later, I still look back at this time fondly as a period of true happiness. Even if it all fell apart later on, this time we shared in community study was real and transcendent, beyond egos and agendas and all the failings inherent to humans. This time was for God, and it was awesome.
I miss that. I miss that terribly. And more than miss it, I need it. So I’ll be doing something about it.