I have been meditating on/praying in regards to, my relationship to my chosen faith, Judaism. I decided a month ago to try and find my own spiritual understanding/grounding in relationship to the holidays that are about to occur. This bit of soul searching is typical of my expression of faith.
My decision to covert was the culmination of many factors, circumstances and energies. This convergence of fate and intention, which is my spiritual journey, has me feeling a level of intensity currently that I am surprised by. So much of my Jewish journey involves intellectual pursuits, reading, learning Hebrew, and mastering concrete tasks such as learning dietary laws. I believe this intensity which has been triggered by this time of introspection, is my root connection to this faith. I also believe that this intensity is a wake-up call suggesting that I also need to nourish the other aspects of my path not associated with learning and the cognitive processes. Part of this nourishing, has led me to attempt to define my relationship to this theology, with my own experience as my guide. Not an easy task.
I know, but better yet, I feel, that I am a culmination of all that I have experienced, religiously, politically, socially, personally. This diverse set of experiences combined with my deeply felt and earnest exploration of Judaism brings me to the holidays and ultimately to prayer.
My husband and I attended our synagogue’s Selichot Service. For those unfamiliar with Selichot , they are “ Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on Fast Days. The Thirteen Attributes of God are a central theme throughout the prayers.” In my conservative synagogue’s Ashkenazi tradition, this is done on a Saturday night, as late as possible prior to Rosh Hashanah. Although we engaged in what I am told is a fairly traditional service, they provided a hand out, in which I found the following by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, a Rabbi in the Reform Movement.
A Prayer for Prayer
My soul’s companion
My heart’s precious friend
I turn to you
I need to close out the noise
to rise above the noise
the noise that interrupts
the noise that seperates
the noise that isolates.
I need to hear You again.
In the silance of my inermost being,
In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,
I hear whispers of Your presence-
Echoes of the past when You were with me
When I felt Your nearness
When together we walked
When you held me close,embraced me in Your love,
laughed with me in joy.
I yearn to hear you again.
In your oneness I find healing.
In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.
In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again.
Please listen to my call-
help me find the strength within
help me shape my mouth,my voice,my heart
so that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer
In words only my heart can speak
in songs only my soul can sing
Lifting my eues and heart to You.
Adnoai S’fatai Tiftach-open my lips, precious God,
so that I can speak with you again.
This writing by Rabbi Zimmerman helps me describe my path into prayer. It speaks to my desire to find that place with mindfulness and intention that sometimes gets lost in all the learning and figuring out what page number I need to be on!
For some, “Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to an experience from moment to moment —without drifting into thoughts of the past or concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions about what’s going on. Mindfulness is a practice that helps us to wake up to the truth of our experience.“ ( http://www.kol-ami.org/sermons/archive/2005/07/index.html)
Mindfulness is often spoken of out of the Buddhist tradition, but is also a key component of the Jewish tradition as well. Jewish prayer mindfulness, is describe by Judaism 101 as follows:
“The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is generally translated as “concentration” or “intent.” The minimum level of kavanah is an awareness that one is speaking to G-dand an intention to fulfill the obligation to pray. If you do not have this minimal level of kavanah, then you are not praying; you are merely reading. In addition, it is preferred that you have a mind free from other thoughts, that you know and understand what you are praying about and that you think about the meaning of the prayer.” (http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer.htm)
In an article on My Jewish Learning (http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/liturgical_texts/Overview_What_is_Jewish_Liturgy/Intention/Keva_Maharal3062.htm) the structure and sincerity of liturgy and prayer is explored with the use of rabbinical text in an effort to address sincerity/ kavanah or as I call it, mindfulness of prayer.
“….From all of these we learn that a person’s prayer should be sincere supplication. This means one should be like a person who makes an undeserving request.… But if one’s attitude when one prays before [God] is that it is appropriate that God should provide the request, behold the persolness of prayer. lness of prayer is not entirely dependent on God. Therefore, if prayer is like a burden and it appears that one is acting only in order to fulfill one’s obligation, this is not considered prayer….”
To pray each time with sincerity/mindfully, to not become rote is a challenge as I learn the Hebrew, and all the rest that I need to take in. I am reminded of a conversation I engaged in prior to my conversion with my sponsoring Rabbi about the silent Amidah. I noted how fast it seemed others completed this prayer. I told him while reading the English I only get half way through, if I’m lucky, and when I try the Hebrew…well forget about it! He encouraged me to continue at my speed, commenting that “clock” prayer, rote and uninspired is not what he believes is intended. It is my aspiration during this season of introspection to proceed mindfully and to engage in prayer with the mindset of Kavanah. To block out the noise, so eloquently described by Rabbi Zkimmerman, and to find that inner dialog with the divine, even if I don’t know what page number we are on.