On Prayer…

iStock_000013821066SmallI’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?


3 thoughts on “On Prayer…

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  1. Prayer, to me, is more powerful with the voice of song. It unleashes something internally that helps me soar higher than just individually spoken words. The connection to G-d is more omnipresent when praying communally. There is something that transcends the individual needs when with others. Our deeds and needs seem to blend into a transcendent and meaningful moment and perhaps “G-d” is more present. When people tell me that the purpose of synagogue is not needed in their lives, I wish I could engage in that conversation about communal need. It is just awkward to go there. Looking forward to others blogging on this.

  2. As a Protestant Christian pastor, I am in full agreement with what you’re saying about prayer, I’ve long taught that prayer is a way for us as individual people of faith and for us as a community that prays to align ourselves with the priorities of the Lord. My most inspirational moment of prayer? Singing grace before a meal while on vacation with my extended family; also, prayer at the “Blue Christmas” service we just held for those who come to this season with grief and loneliness in their hearts. There’s room in prayer for those feelings–look at the Psalms!–and I deeply felt the blessing among us as we opened our hearts and waited on the Lord.

  3. Prayer can be as simple as a momentary sigh with eyes closed and a brief thought or as complex as something that is written in the Siddur. I can be alone or with others. I can be saying it aloud or silently, in my heart. But whatever the conditions, method, etc. I try hard not to ask for things or set conditions. I am human and therefore do not always win in this endeavor. But I believe that G-d is not there to grant my wishes or fulfill my dreams. G-d is the energy I tap into to to help me make life the best it can be. G-d is the life force that makes everything work and when I pray it is one way I contribute positively into that life force. So why do I pray the prayers of the Siddur which are clearly directed at a more anthropomorphic G-d who,prayers that often ask for favor(s)? For several reasons. First, as already stated, positive prayers add to the energy of of the life force that is G-d. Second, those prayers connect me with my community. Third, they also connect me with my ancestors and my heritage. They are very powerful, for all of those reasons. There is a certain beauty in them.

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