Thursday, March 09, 2006


I have been thinking a lot about prayer since Tuesday night – the first in a series of five classes taught by our new rabbi Toby at Temple Micah. I came to some startling realizations about how my approach to prayer may differ from that of many Jews.

I grew up in the South as a Presbyterian, surrounded by a sea of Baptists and virtually no Jews. Most people could launch into spoken, heartfelt prayer at a moment’s notice. Everyone said grace before meals. As a young child, I said bedtime prayers. We said The Lord’s Prayer every day in school. Although I was never so comfortable with praying publicly and I confess to never even thinking about the repeated prayers like The Lord’s Prayer – I mean what child could even comprehend "hallowed be thy name"? – I developed my own communication with someone, something bigger than myself. My prayers were often supplications – help me fix this relationship, help me play this piece of music without screwing up, even help me do well on this exam. I’m not proud of asking for so much, but I did. As a Presbyterian who was supposed to believe in predestination, I always acknowledged that it might not turn out the way I wanted, so my prayers always contained a closing, "if it be your will." I would occasionally throw in a thanksgiving prayer for a success or a thriving relationship or a beautiful day.

Toby started the class by distinguishing KEVA from KAVANA. Keva represents fixed prayers. Kavana are the free-form prayers. It turns out that the Jewish liturgy is jam-packed with keva prayers, enough so that you could probably spend entire days praying and never have to repeat a prayer. And, by the way, the official keva prayers are all in Hebrew. So unless you were very learned, you would probably not even understand half of what you were saying. So where does the kavana prayer come into the picture? There is a moment in each service where the rabbi says, "And now we pray silently." I heard people around the room in the class saying, "I don’t have any idea how to offer personal prayer." My response was one of WOW! This is unbelievable.

So now I am wondering if my prayers to whatever, whomever count as personal Jewish kavana, or are they something else, some non-denominational home-grown variety of prayer that is simply mine? Whatever they are, they are a source of comfort to me. They are something that no one can ever take away from me. I sometimes wonder if God isn’t sitting up there laughing at us humans as we try so hard to make something so complicated.


Blogger Kristin said...

I like the idea of homegrown prayers. I know that mine are like that; I guess I just assumed they all were. Then, again, mine are generally giving (thanks), not so much asking. Maybe I'm not normal.

2:08 PM  

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