How (& Why) to Daven
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
The snooze button is a dear friend. I wish I could alter my reality by pressing that blessed button. I wish the rest of the needs in my life could be suspended until I'm ready to wake up, have my coffee, and face them, one at a time. But there is a not-so-secret way to wake up every day. With energy despite being tired. Prayer might not come to mind for you, but I believe it can change your life. It's important, I believe, to point out why davening is a worthy goal. We are communities of diverse beliefs, of diverse interests. "God" is a loaded term in our world, and Prayer/Davening is all too often limited to one notion of God. Given our precious, non-fundamentalist, celebrations of individuality, we need not end the conversation there.
Over and over, people who experience nature's wonders (for example, the Ramon Crater in Israel or the birth of a child) encounter glory that can't be explained - or translated into language. It is ironic that these incommunicable rapturous moments are all too often drowned out by PDA's and cell phones, hand-held devices designed for increased communication. As my children emerge into their next developmental phases, whether by gleeful belly flop or sophisticated sketch, I try not to blink, or type too much, dulling my sense of radical amazement, "falling asleep" while awake. If I don't "wake up", I miss something shimmering, something I was meant to encounter. Something fleeting. So I struggle to keep my eyes open as my heart expands beyond capacity. And like a sponge that can't hold itself in, I cry. That is what Davening is meant to do. That is why I care so passionately about our communities' Prayer-lives.
As I blink through tears born in these moments of beauty, I try to remember not to raise my hand to wipe them away. I, instead, try to pause and reflect on the already-drying tears on my cheeks. I reflect on my shimmering children and the miracle of the cosmos. I inevitably meditate on the time and energy it takes to be present and to witness these moments. And then I typically reflect on how indescribable reflection is. And my mind and heart really start to work, pulsing in time with the universe. I become more attuned to everything that lives by opening myself to discovery.
That part is easy. How can one not stop in the presence of rapture? How could one not say "Oh my God" when, however (in)frequently they might occur, moments of glory emerge?
But these are also integrated dimensions of prayer I re-learn every now and then. Thanks to programs like "Yeshivat Lev Shalem", in which over 80 people gathered in the month leading up to Rosh HaShannah to delve into the prayerful language and imagery and theology so wonderfully rendered in our new Machzor Lev Shalem. Guidance in this comes when you surround yourself by people who are ready to let down their guard and let in (and let out) more than usual. Prayer is the antidote to so much "too-much-ness" in our world, through which we're all so busy tending to everything that we can't imagine pausing, breathing, listening. Hearing our own voice say words that weren't first chosen by us, allowing our hearts to respond honestly and openly. Being in community means never being alone. And Davening is one of the ways we gather as community. Prayer is an antidote to loneliness, a call to wonder, an opportunity to wake up.
Prayer is a safe space, a warm, inviting place. Prayer is about becoming aware of the drying tears on our cheeks, and not worrying so much about them. This is, thankfully, the tenor we aspire to in our davenning settings. It can take bravery to make a first approach. There's a lot of Hebrew, after all, and we don't call out every page. But it's worth the work to find your place in the experience. Let it wash over you as you explore your own comfort. Question the words. Forget to open the siddur. Our goal must be to create nurturing spaces for those who don't yet know the way alongside those searching for new-ness in familiar places.
We're all on the journey from sleep to waking, from business to wonder.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor