The Spiritual Dynamics of Prayer
Where Does Prayer Come From?
Rabbi Mike Comins
In my experience, and in observing others, discussions about prayer gravitate almost immediately to speculation about God. Does God exist? Does God "answer" prayer? Lately, I haven't been thinking about the great mystery to Whom I pray. I've been thinking about where I pray from.
The former never gave good results, because thinking about God is often abstract and speculative. But thinking about the source of prayer within me has been fruitful, not because I remove God from the equation or take a narcissistic approach. Rather, I find that thinking about God does not connect me to God. But dwelling on the spiritual dynamics of prayer - focusing on how to create "God-moments" rather than dissecting "God-ideas" - helps to connect me to God on a regular basis.
I start a prayer session with two deliberate moves. First, instead of jumping into prayer, I drop into my body. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, taking a bath in my own awareness. Where do I feel tense and agitated? I breathe into points of tension. Sometimes I discover that I already feel calm and relaxed. But usually it takes some time to get there.
I try to get out of my own way, by letting go of my neurotic, thinking mind, so that I can listen to the stirrings of my heart without judgment or control. I try to create the space for truths to emerge that are usually covered by the busy routines of my life.
Then I'm ready for step two: finding kavvanah by gathering my focus and setting an intention.
I listen to my heart. What state is it in? I might get an idea of what I need, and set my intention to fill that need in the course of the prayers I'm about to pray.
Sometimes I'm agitated, and I know I need peace. Here I am drawn to personal, spontaneous prayer, where I might express my frustrations and explore the causes of whatever is causing the agitation.
Sometimes I'm sad, and I know that I need to attend to it. I don't set the intention of "don't worry, be happy." Occasionally, that may be the best response, but until I listen to why I'm sad, I don't know. Usually, it is more important for me to give my sadness space rather than to try to force it into something else.
Sometimes I'm tired, and just need to unwind and get a reprieve from the tensions of work. I look for relaxation and uplift. I pray to feel the embrace of God.
Sometimes I'm feeling good, and want to share it with prayers of praise and gratitude. Then I am likely to jump right into the liturgy, which excels in this area.
And then I set a second intention: to leave my intention behind, and pray. My stated intention lingers in the background. In the foreground, I aspire to be a blank slate. (Sometimes I feel like a blank state to begin with, empty, not needing or wanting.) I want to let God and the siddur take me wherever we might go. My goal is to drop any expectations of what is supposed to happen and remain alert for what actually does happen. What insight might be triggered by a word of personal prayer or a line in the liturgy? I keep awareness on my body to see what feelings might be revealed.
By understanding as best as possible where I am and where I need to be, I bring greater concentration and focus to my prayer. I address God with clarity, even when the address is nothing more than, here I am.
More important, my prayer has already been answered. Open, receptive, and alert, I am feeling loved, called, and connected. I am in God's presence. Anything more is frosting on the cake.
And if God does send something specific my way, in this state of heightened awareness, I just might hear it.
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