Our Shared Experience

I discovered another reason I’m lucky this weekend. While seeing the sights around Manhattan after an audition, I learned my boyfriend also thinks it is funny to stand on Rockefeller Center and loudly ask “Where is the tree?!” while the rest of the tourists look back and forth from you to the enormous, shiny, unmissable Christmas tree.

After I laughed for a while and had my picture taken, my armchair-sociologists’ mind started asking, what is the attraction of this tree? We have all seen trees before – in stores, on sidewalks, in my parent’s living room. Sure, this one is big and amply blinged-out, but it’s just a tree.

 

We asked a stranger to take this picture. Under what other circumstances would you hand your phone to a stranger in a crowd?

 

When I tell people I teach religion, there are about a half-dozen standard reactions. The one I get most of all is “So, do you teach all religions?”, always asked in a tone that implies “you wouldn’t dare favor one religion over another”. My answer, of course, is always no, and it’s not just because I don’t know much about Zoroastrianism. I really believe that forming a religious identity is important to people.

We crave shared experience. People love to bond over their confirmation names, or the passage of Torah they read at their bat mitzvah (witness: the group of kids who were dying to tell me about their baptismal candles last week). Something I thought was so special about this first week with the new translation of the Roman Missal is that everyone had a story to tell about their experience with it on the First Sunday of Advent.

Sometimes those shared experiences are about TV shows, or new gadgets. While I appreciate the equal-opportunity nature of these, some of them are so vapid. I can understand the reasons why gathering around the new iPhone has replaced the Eucharistic table in our repertoire of shared experiences. iPhones don’t challenge us or make us think, neither have they been so politicized that we associate them with judgment and exclusion.

I long for the day when worship can be the experience that we all share. Because I have done so much searching, I have found the places where my prayer can involve holding someone’s hand, and taking a deep breath, and relaxing, the way it did for so many of us in front of that Christmas tree on Rockefeller Center. I wish it could be so for all people.

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