Feeling and Meaning our Prayers
A couple of weeks ago Rabbi Greene commented (note: one must give his or her teachers credit) that often we go through our prayers but we don’t let our prayers go through us. I believe that his point was that while we (too) quickly mutter the various prayers for a given moment or service, we, and, at times, this certainly includes me, do not take the time or exert the concentration needed, to appreciate fully the words we are saying and what they mean.
I know it is sometimes hard to keep up with the pace of the service. The “professional” daveners and fellow congregants who are more fluent with the language and more familiar with the prayers go more quickly and with more facility that we can. They understand the words and references better than we do. It is often an effort simply to keep up. I can understand, from my own experience that this can be discouraging and frustrating, sometimes to the point of making one want to quit trying. PLEASE DON’T.
There are couple of tricks I have picked up. Simply daven in the language you understand. If you can’t read or understand Hebrew then, while we are learning, pray in English or whatever language works for us. I guarantee, God understands them all and it is best and most meaningful when the person saying the words understands them, too. I also find that I become more absorbed in the prayers, and am more likely to focus on and feel them, when I mouth the words as I read them and even, trying not to disturb congregants around me, say them softly. If the words in front of you don’t resonate, then express what is in your heart however best works for you. This is not meant to absolve anyone from learning, from trying to better understand the prayers and the form and sequence of the service, but is a useful stop-gap. I consider the acquisition of education, knowledge and understanding to be a sacred Mitzvah, but that does not mean that the bike can’t have training wheels. If you can’t yet go quickly enough to keep up, then focus on certain prayers that have a deeper or more timely meaning. For instance, if a dear one is ill, I might have more focus when reciting the prayer for health in the Amidah, or the prayer for peace during turbulent times.
Prayer, even group prayer, is a very personal activity. It become more rewarding and meaningful when we just slowdown a bit a try to focus on the words we are truly saying not just mumbling. Letting our prayers go through us is indeed truly vital to a richer, more meaningful spiritual life.