On Prayer

I don’t write much about prayer. Not here and not anywhere, really. It’s an awkward and kind of embarassing subject for me, but on Tuesday night I am leading a discussion on prayer, so I damn well better figure it out, right? Why me and not my rabbi? He’s had an emergency and needs to attend to something out of town. I really hate canceling an event, so I’m taking up the lead. I will do a much better job than I did with the equally overwhelming and personal topic of “Relationship with modern Israel.”

Prayer & Things I’ve Learned About It.

1. I go to shul pretty much every shabbat. Friday nights, unless I have a dinner to attend that is shabbat like in onjeg, joy, and many Saturday mornings. Sometimes I feel nothing. I just go through the motions. Stand up, sit down, bend my knees a little. Sometimes I get punched in the chest and start to cry as I chant the sh’ma. Sometimes I’m giddy and joyful and I laugh my way through the amida. But if I wasn’t there regularly, it would always feel foreign to me and I would be so worried about saying or doing the right thing that the emotions would likely stay bottled up.

2. Prayers stand in well when words fail. I wrote about it over on Jewish Fringe some time ago, but a friend had an unexpected and tragic death in her family. Three years ago, I would have been without words. This year I was able to say that I would keep her family in my prayers. And I meant it. I don’t know exactly the right prayers all the time, but because I go to shul regularly, I can slip their names into my heart when the time is (maybe) right.

3. I sleep better when I say the sh’ma. I’m not as good about it as I want to be, but I did an experiment and said the sh’ma for 40 nights. Maybe I was trying to bribe the Eternal a little, but I sure did sleep well those nights. Sh’ma israel yawn adonai elohaynu yaaaaaaaaaaawn adonai echsnooooooze. I said more than that, but that was the result.

4. Rabbi Z gave me a great quote yesterday in our power meeting (four minutes tops) preparing me for the dicussion. “Prayer is not asking for what you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” Kathleen Norris

5. Rabbi Z also said that Jewish tradition is light on petitional prayers and heavy on “This is what is, here is the blessing for it.” Hmmm.

6. He also asked me to consider the importance of a prayer life vs. worship. That if a person doesn’t have a prayer life, then when they come to ask something of Adonai, they feel like a begger. What does it add? Is it important? How does it comfort? What does it look like? Does it have to be our prescribed prayers or can it be a conversation with God?

I’ll probably dig into my books this afternoon to try and find some additional commentary. Like I said, it isn’t an easy topic for me. It is so deeply personal and private. I’d almost rather talk about anything else than prayer. Not entirely true, I’d rather talk about prayer than baseball.

There is a wonderful traditional in Judaism that I’ll bring up. THat is that a person should make one hundred blessings in a day. That if you stopped and thanked the highest for the tea you are about to drink, the sound of the leaves rustling, your body working, the food on your plate, the bus coming on time, delivering you to work safely, the elevator working, the sun for shining, the rain for falling, a great speech, a beautiful act of nature, the water you drink…

It is easy to get to one hundred blessings by mid-morning. And it is nearly impossible to get in a sour mood if you are constantly blessing the day or saying thank you. Ah. Clearly I need to try that. I feel better just writing that list.

What about you folks? What thoughts on prayer can you share with me before I go act like I know something about it?

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