For nearly four years, I have worked as a singer in the Catholic church. I sought the job shortly after our financial reversal. Despite emotional and spiritual misgivings, I stayed with it, greedily taking every opportunity on offer. I started out as the alto section leader (yes, alto — they already had a soprano) and then was asked to sub as Cantor. I did well, subbed some more, did some weddings and funerals, singlehandedly saved Good Friday one year. This particular parish has two campuses, so there were many opportunities. A lovely priest who comes to help out and study in the summertime saw me so often subbing that he called me “the cork in the bottle”. Little by little, I became sort of a professional Christian.
Look, some of my best friends are Christians. But standing in front of a congregation, leading their hymns, acclaiming their gospel, passing their peace — it was both sweet and bitter. The people I encountered at both campuses were truly lovely and unfailingly kind about my singing and contribution. I developed a particular fondness for the Vicar, Father Brian, who never missed an opportunity to wish me a happy Chanuka, Passover, you name it, or simply to say Shalom. He is the one who wore the hat emblazoned with “Patriots” written in Hebrew letters on Super Bowl Sunday. He is a mensch and I will miss him.
At the same time, the experience of standing by the lectern and singing every week of a theology I don’t hold became more and more untenable. We read in the Psalms, “How can we sing a song of the Lord on alien soil? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you.” As I sang, week after week, words that do not ring in my soul, my voice began to separate from my person. In order to cope with being there, I thought about anything but the words I was singing. When the congregation stood to recite a prayer, I mumbled the Sh’ma under my breath over and over. And still, when I walked out the door, my earworms were hymns.
I was afraid to abandon a steady source of income, but finally decided that the psychic and spiritual cost of continuing was too high. Yesterday was my last day, and lovely Father B acknowledged me and my Judaism from the pulpit in a thoroughly classy, “Those who understand, understand,” kind of way. The congregation gave me a warm ovation, and I sang my last hymn.
I am grateful to have had the job. As my mother-in-law said, it was there when I needed it. Now I need something else to come, something that will enable me to help support my family and remain clear in my spiritual journey.
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