I was sitting behind the piano in the Catholic Church when I felt it: Wouldn’t it be easier to just accept Jesus as the son of God?
A musician takes whatever job they can find, and this one paid well. Still, it felt odd to be playing hymns, especially during Holy Week. The pressure comes from all sides in my small Midwestern town. Conform, commit, be one of us. I feel sometimes like it’s the Borg in Star Trek; assimilation is expected. There are seven churches and no synagogues. Salad isn’t lettuce, but something congealed with fruit and jello. Lunch is dinner and dinner is supper.
All of my friends are Christian here. I have been handed countless books. I have been encouraged, and shamed, and excluded, and judged–and at that moment at the piano, I was damn tired of it all.
I wrestled with these thoughts privately, of course. I knew better than to share my confusion with my evangelical friends. No fewer than three local Protestant pastors invited me to Good Friday services. I was relieved to be playing for the Catholics. The parish priest was kind and respectful, and I thought the music was beautiful.
The psalm for the service was number 95, which includes the refrain, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” I felt a swelling in my chest as I played and thought, “Maybe this is it. Maybe this is God’s voice I am hearing, telling me this is what I should do. Maybe I should become Christian.”
I had nearly resolved to ask the priest for a meeting when the passion of Jesus was read aloud. I listened and read along with the congregation, when I unexpectedly found myself unable to breathe. In the New Testament book of Matthew, in chapter 27, verse 25, the Jews, arguing with Pontius Pilate, say about Jesus: “Let his blood be on us and our children.” In the service, the congregation reads this in one voice.
I wanted to get up and run out of the church. My mind was alive with thoughts about blood libel, and the persecution of my people, and the fact that I was sitting in a church, listening to a justification said to come from the Jewish people, as if we deserved what has happened to us over the millennia.
I went to the restroom and splashed my face with water. Suddenly it came to me that I had indeed been hearing a spiritual call in the Psalm. But what my surroundings had obfuscated was that the Psalm I was accompanying earlier came from my people, my holy books, my King David. I felt like the voice I’d heard was telling me not to harden my heart against my own people and my own blood. I feel it was a warning, and I profited from it. When the service was over, I stepped outside and breathed in the spring air with a clearer mind than I’d had in months.
Now I am stronger than I was before I “went” to church. I won’t apologize or hide or endure the constant attempt to evangelize me. So much has happened to our people, even in my own family. I can’t take maybe a little conversion attempt without capitulating? No, instead I found my strength in my Jewish faith in a church, during Easter.