We choose to treat different portions of our days either as moments of mindlessness or as tools of navigation toward elevated spaces. The respite from our mindless moments can be cathartic; finally, I can ignore the unending pursuit of truth for a few ticks of time as I stand to brush my teeth. These kinds of moments are valuable, vital. Although, on the quest to balancing the listless lulls with our most powerful of moments, we often allow for far too much lethargy. This is especially and most painfully the case when it comes to prayer.
We are often to-the-letter diligent with prayer. We proudly and rightly laud ourselves for our carefully crafted, steadfast routine of supplication. We consistently, tridaily, read through hundreds of words of pristine expression, formulated by those with truly intimate knowledge of the ways of the world. Such a routine takes sagacious maturity to desire and immense self-wielding to uphold.
The question then turns to the worth of such toil. The first step is establishing the routine; the second is keeping sight of its value. When I, who in no way meets the word-count requirement for daily prayer, want to discuss with a friend something powerful in prayer, something that shook me right awake and brought me closer to Existence, I am too often deprived. I find that many people that I care about are at a loss to translate even a single line of prayer.
This saddens me deeply. What is meant to be an exalting bout with self and All Else becomes a lull of inaudible listlessness. Where we are to be exuding and expounding our very selves, we mumble in haste to fill a quota. This is not prayer. We’d be just as well off reading the words of Woodstock the bird. Connecting to a single line of resonating mantra is far more worthwhile than reciting hundreds of unintelligible phrases. Unlike the words of Woodstock, which (arguably) are lines and only so, the words of prayer beckon for the due diligence of learning to access the thoughts they impart. The phonemes of prayer are epically useless without their morphemes.
So we grapple with the language that isn’t our own, rein in translation and reign over word. This, most excitingly, is only the beginning. We shall take The Amidah as an example. Once the words are ours in their translations, it is in our power to make them ours in what they express. The compartmentalization of values and desires in each blessing creates a blossoming niche for focused formation and formulation of our innermost selves. With this newfound access to the words we use, our creativeness is unleashed to inform the themes of each niche. These themes then follow us and layer our idle thoughts with what we decided, while praying, is worth thinking of each day. Then our days return with us into each prayer-niche and lead to powerful, novel assessments. Not circular; ever spiraling.
Post learning what, no, that I am actually speaking in prayer, and after beginning to understand how I relate to prayer, the two facts most formative of my prayer have been: that prayer is a meditation, and that prayer is yours. Prayer is a meditation in that it is the time you set aside for confronting your inwardness. Prayer is yours in that you get to layer each word with your very own meaning; for example, Et Tzemach David has worlds of significance when your beloved father’s name is David, as is mine. Prayer is yours in that you have every right to pause in one of those hearthful niches and use your very own words, preformulated or not, in whatever tongue you should choose, to express your very essence, and soar.