Invoking the Senate

This morning I got to stand at the Podium of the Oregon Senate and deliver the invocation. Before the business of the day, after the pledge of allegiance, the senate invites a religious leader to deliver an invocation, a brief prayer, for the senate. As the rabbi in Salem (the state capitol), I was invited to deliver it.

As a rabbi, I’m very aware of the power of architecture. There are synagogues (and churches, and mosques, etc.) that move the spirit when you walk in. The evoke an echo in the soul, call out the majesty of the Divine, or project warmth and comfort. There are others where the potential is there, but the space itself does not move the spirit. The Oregon State House is a powerful building.

Capitol

It is large, stone, imposing. It feels solid, in a way that most buildings do not communicate. The senate chamber itself is set up the way most legislative chambers are. It feels formal and yet lived-in at the same time.

It is a powerful place to be invited into as a guest, and asked to speak to the assembled senators, to set the mood of the day.

I spoke of the teaching that every argument which is for the sake of the sacred, for the sake of the greater good, will come to a good end, but each argument which is for the sake of the one argument will be a waste. I don’t know that this was the most inspirational thing I could have spoken on, but it was where I went.

I spoke with the senate president, and with my senator (Kate Brown). The words spoken are not so important, but I felt recognized, as I suspect people sometimes feel recognized by being called up to the bima during services. And I felt out of my depth, as I sometimes intuit that people feel out of their depth in synagogue.

As a rabbi, I am sometimes invited into places where I count it as a great privilege to be. Performing weddings and being invited as an intimate into a couple’s relationship in order to bring about the marriage is one such occasion. Performing funerals is another. Today, invoking the senate, was for me, a chance to be part of the sacred work of government in a way that feels sacred and authentic to who I am.

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