This is also Judaism

Do you think you know what prayer is?

It’s a tough question, and one we try to answer during our Jewish meditation sessions.

Maybe it’s time spent in quiet thought, sitting alone in your room, an office maybe or of course, a sanctuary.

I’ve found recently, that people of all ages have a really hard time defining prayer and even more so, connecting with it and with God.

I’ve also found that people do not have as hard a time connecting with and understanding the purpose of mediation, mindfulness and chanting.

I recently led a session in which someone commented they could never get this hour of relaxation and connection in services, it’s just not the same. Well, I think we need to start asking ourselves “why not?”

Here’s one major difference:

In Jewish meditation, we spend 10 mintues on one prayer, chanting it together and then meditating on it. Everyone  knows that we don’t talk, or walk in and out of a session unless absolutely necessary. It’s understood that these things are distracting from the task at hand, which is meditation, stillness and mindfulness.

At services, we tend to informally come in and out, sing and talk. There are moments of excitement and joy and also moments of distracted conversation and schmoozing.

Here’s the thing, the culture of our services is a beloved thing and people are used to the informal nature of our davening and I think a lot of people really enjoy it.

But many more struggle to find a source of meaning within traditional services.  Does that mean I’m going to ask you all to start mediating and chanting every week? Not at all. But prayer must be more than a recitation of words and melodies that are fulfilling an obligation but not fulfilling us.

Some people view Jewish mediation as an alternative to davening, but it is anything but that. Think of it as a diving board that allows you to appreciate the depth of the liturgy. Did you know the early Rabbis of the Talmud would meditate for an hour before morning prayers?

Jewish meditation or Intentional Davening is the prayer experience we lost over centuries of rote prayer recitation. It’s time to reclaim it; It’s time for us to take a step forward and allow prayer to be a time of transformation.

Our services are actually a 2.5 hour meditation session but we don’t see it yet. When we do begin seeing it, it can really change the way we experience prayer and synagogue life.

Here are five suggestions to transform your prayer experience at Beth El.

  1. Come to shul prepared-with an intention in mind ( I will let go of my anger today or I will make peace in my home today)
  2. See your prayer time as spoken meditation, therefore stillness and quiet are paramount
  3. Don’t keep up- There’s no rule that you have to be on the same page as the service leader- spend 3-5 minutes on a page and really absorb it.
  4. Stay in the service- stillness is a very power tool for prayer and mindfulness. If prayer is a type of meditation, than getting up disturbs the process.
  5. Be emotional- Prayer is an emotional experience, it challenges our assumptions, it humbles us and lifts us up.

Bonus: Be Grateful. Look at all that you have in your life and thank God for this beautiful sanctuary that allows you to express that .

Attached is a promo video for tomorrow’s Shir Yachad. Here’s the text of the prayer:

 

 

Source of Mercy,
With loving strength
Untie our tangles.

Your chanting folk
Raise high, make pure
Accept our song.

Like Your own eye,
Lord, keep us safe
Who union seek with You!

Cleanse and bless us
Infuse us ever
With loving care.

Gracious source
Of holy power!
Do guide Your folk.

Sublime and holy One,
Do turn to us
Of holy chant.

Receive our prayer
Do hear our cry
Who secrets knows.

Through time and space
Your glory shines,
Majestic One.

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin

Hazzan Asa Fradkin is the hazzan at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. He is a native of Baltimore.