I’d like to do a series of posts on this blog about prayer. But, before I discuss specific prayers, I think we need to first discuss the concept of prayer itself. Prayer is about relationship – a three way relationship between self, community, and G-d. Every prayer involves the interaction of these three and yet even when one of them is lacking, the prayer can still serve a purpose (more on this when I discuss specific prayers.)
Anyone who tells you that they have believed in G-d, without any doubt at all is either lying or hasn’t given it any serious thought. A great Rabbi once taught me that the word Yisrael means, “one who struggles with G-d,” and that if you aren’t engaged in the struggle with faith, you aren’t truly part of Yisrael. It was a teaching that changed my life. Everyone doubts; everyone struggles. So, if you choose not to engage in prayer because you don’t believe, you are missing out on the other two components that prayer has to offer – connection to self and bond to community. In moments when faith is strong, prayer can be even better.
The Hebrew verb to pray, “L’hitpaleil” is a reflexive verb. It literally means to examine yourself. Sometimes I think that prayer is a like a lens. It turns our attention to things of importance and focuses us in on them. If we pray for healing of our family and friends, we are more likely to be in touch with them, to ask after them. Even if we don’t believe that G-d intervenes on their behalf, prayer reminds us to intervene. If we pray for peace, we are more likely to work for it. If we pray about nature and the environment, we are more likely to recycle, to go out and enjoy nature, and to take care of the world in which we live.
The prayers provided to us in the service ground us in things outside the self that are meaningful and important to the world at large. The silent prayer, the personal prayer is the time to turn that focusing lens inward to our own dreams as well as to our own shortfalls, to make a focused wish, which, once stated we can start to work towards bringing to fruition. This is a benefit of prayer that can serve any person, regardless of your current position on faith. Faith is the beautiful plus. Faith is the melody that accompanies the words.
Now many out there will read this and respond that they don’t need prayer to focus them on what’s important, that there are other ways to do that. I am not denying that at all. There are thousands of ways to connect spiritually. I would argue that most of them are, in some way, a form of prayer. It can happen in or outside of a synagogue. I had a very powerful moment of prayer on a bicycle once while on vacation. You never know where spirituality and inspiration will strike.
I’m interested to hear from you, if you are willing. What were some of your most inspirational moments of prayer?