Sunday, May 8, 2011


On Saturday we went to services at a synagogue other than our home shul.

I do this periodically from time to time by myself, just for a change of pace. Portland is blessed with a dozen or more synagogue communities large and small, which makes "shul-hopping" easier. On this particular Shabbat morning, our synagogue actually did not have services at all and we really needed to daven (pray) within a minyan (a gathering of at least ten Jewish adults). So we went to another synagogue, partaking of the Torah study and the service that followed.

Ideally, prayer is a way to help gain clarity, calm down from the hurried pace of the work week, and alleviate stress.
Very occasionally -- even in the midst of the regular and expected sense of meditation that comes with softly mumbling or chanting the seemingly unintelligble but oddly comforting sound of Hebrew -- it can put a finger sharply on the pulse of a particular stressor in life, and although that can be a powerful thing it can also be a difficult thing. It happened today at the shul we visited. We left quickly upon the conclusion of the service. We felt tense and wired, instead of restful.

So what to do when the particular stressor is amplified instead of soothed?

Well, we went to the gym.

Before I continue, let's start by saying that traditional Jewish thought, viewing the Sabbath as a day of complete rest, of menucha, does not allow for formal exercise on Shabbat, though some progressive interpretations of this dictum insist that exercise among young persons is allowed if it is a source of pleasure and joy. Further, I'll say that, for the particular stressor that was tweaked this morning, our tradition offers precious little in the way of specific comfort and healing. No further details, it's personal, but sometimes one's religious tradition -- being codified and transmitted by, well, other human beings -- can leave one lacking for solace from time to time. Let me also say that, although we are mindful of the tradition and choose to wrestle with it regularly, we -- meaning Sweetie and I -- tend to fall into a more progressive way of looking at things.

So, feeling a little raw on the [spititual] nerve that got tweaked a little too hard, we went to the gym and worked out. We stretched, tossed a medicine ball back and forth in a rather weighty game of catch that left us breathing hard and even giggling a little, and pumped a little iron. And if it wasn't a source of outright pleasure and joy, what had originally been intended as just a little workout became a source of release and relief. We both felt immensely better afterwards, and found ourselves in a much better place to enjoy the rest of Shabbat.

Traditional Jews reading this will probably have a cow. Fair enough, and I respect that.
But I'd rather do what we did than sit around all afternoon feeling sad and stressed.
And if I ever find myself in a similar place on a Saturday morning, I just might do it again.

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