Mary St.

For my second religious site visit, I chose to attend the Buddhist meditation session that Lars English conducts every Tuesday night. I went once last month and again this past week, and I am planning on going each week from now on. I found the sessions to be very interesting and thought provoking. Furthermore, the ideas/philosophies discussed during the sessions are extremely applicable to my life.

The first night I attended, I was very nervous. I anticipated a small group of students and or community members attending for a single long mediation sitting. When I first arrived, I was even more terrified to find two older community members and Lars. We exchanged greetings but then sat in a somewhat award silence to wait for anyone else to show up. I sat dreading the idea that I would be singled out or expected to talk. Eventually two other girls, who also had never attended arrived. This eased my nerves, although I still did not know what to expect.

Lars quickly put my mind to rest as he explained that we would begin by mediating on breathing for about twenty minutes, then have a short teaching and discussion, and conclude with another meditation. I was no longer nervous but I was beginning to think the 1.5 hour session would be long and boring.

Once again, I was wrong. I found the two meditation sessions to be very relaxing. Although I struggled to keep my focus, Lars assured us that the attempt was good enough. The meditation allowed me to clear my mind of all the stress that had been building on me that day and week. The teaching and the subsequent mediation that focused on the lesson of the day gave me a new perspective on life. The message was that all people are equal, should be treated equal, and we should not judge anyone in a negative or even positive way; instead, we should perceive everyone as neutral. Buddhists believe this idea of equanimity eliminates attachments and brings us closer to happiness and nirvana. Lars focused on relating the idea to contemporary times with real life examples that we could all relate to and thus I found the message useful.

The last several years of my life, I have lived without practicing religion. Participating in this class has made me want to take up religion again. Rather than fall back on my catholic upbringing, which as a child I saw as very strict and began forming my own contradicting beliefs, I find Buddhism appealing. The Buddhism approach my just be appealing now because I know so little about the beliefs. But for now I will continue to attend the mediation sessions, as I find the teachings to be quite useful and the mediation therapeutic.

For my first religious site visit I went to the Shabbat service Friday night at the Asbell Center. Before going I was excited to learn about the Jewish faith but very nervous as well. I was raised Catholic and never really had any experience outside of the one church my family attended while growing up. I did not even know any Jewish people before coming to Dickinson. So I was eager to learn what it was all about and see what other religions do for worship. But my enthusiasm was paired with fear. My lack of knowledge and my quiet personality caused me to fear being singled out and expected to speak. I was afraid of not knowing how to act or what to say. My expectations stemmed from my catholic experience. Although I knew, the Shabbat service at the Asbell Center would be more informal than a typical Jewish service; I still expected it to have many of the same characteristics as a Catholic mass. I anticipated music, prayer, some kind of sermon, and something similar to the Eucharist. I also predicted, because I am told that Catholics are stricter than other Christians, that the atmosphere would be more relaxed and the congregation would not have to do a lot of standing and kneeling.

Upon arriving at the Asbell Center I was quickly relieved to find other students were in attendance for the same reason as me and that the people conducting the service would try to explain things as we went. Although this eased my nerves, in hindsight it was a drawback, for I did not get to experience the traditional Shabbat. The entire service was very laid back and friendly with only about 15 people who sat on chairs and cushions on the floors.

The majority of the service was spent singing hymns. Apparently, this was something unique to the service the Friday that I went. This service was conducted by a visiting couple. The women led us in singing as one of her favorite ways of getting into the scriptures. With such a small group, we were all expected to sing along. This was difficult for me since I am not used to reading the language form right to left and I didn’t have any prior knowledge of the melodies or hymns. But I did my best, humming some of the time and silently reading the English translations. For one song, emphasizing giving thanks and praise, a few of the people got up to dance around. I was shocked when my hand was suddenly grabbed and I was pulled into the circle. I had no idea what was expected of me and I knew that I was the only non-Jewish person dancing!! But I danced with them until the end of the song, enjoying myself.

The dancing and singing gave me time during the service to really think about what was going on. I didn’t understand the hymns (because they were not in English) but from the little bits and pieces that I read in English, I think I got the gist of what each on was about. At least, I was able to relate it in some way to my life. In the past few years of my life, I have been anything but religious. But in the hour that I spent at the Asbell Center (and the time spend at the Hindu temple and in class), I embraced religious thinking, and ritual, and enjoyed myself.

Besides the singing, there were other similarities to a catholic mass. The following aspects also have their own Judaic twist. First, a type of sermon was given. The woman’s husband spoke of one of the main ideas of the Torah, never oppress others, and related it to our world by speaking of the genocide in Darfur. Also, the service began with two members of the congregation, a toddler and her mom, lighting two candles. After they were lit, the lighters and other members wafted the light towards their eyes. Similar to the action we did at the end of the Hindu puja ceremony. I don’t know the Judaic reasoning for this but I imagine it to be similar to the Hindu, bringing the light of God into oneself. Anyway, candles are also lit before a catholic mass and burn throughout. Third, many of the hymns and prayers had similar subject matter. For example, giving thanks and praise, remembering lost loved ones, giving glory to God… Similarly, a period of five minutes or so was set aside for individuals to recite a set of prayers to themselves. During this time, the congregation stood, read, or recited from memory, the prayers, and bowed two times after each one before continuing. Catholics also practice individual prayer at the beginning of the mass and after receiving the Eucharist.

Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge of Judaism prevents me from being able to see really identify and discuss the differences. My goal is to learn more about the religion, so that I can return to the Shabbat service and identify (actually notice) all the unique practices of the Jewish that were quite obscure to me the first time around.