Kavanah, intention, כונה, the direction of the heart. this is the essential ingredient -i think- for praying rightly. not only for praying, but also for accomplishing « correctly » the rituals. there, one of the words i don’t like: rituals.
Because even though they are rituals, they are much more than that to me: they are my lifesparks, my connectors, my loveletters to the divine. the same goes for the words religion. Judaism is a religion, right so, but it’s much more than that. it’s life. it’sa religion, but it’s a connection with a people, it’s a lifestyle, a way-to-be-in-the-world, an evolving culture, a history, a prayer, literature, it’s a lifelong membership.
The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is generally translated as « concentration » or « intent. » The minimum level of kavanah is the awareness that I am actually speaking to God and have the intention to fulfill the obligation to pray. If I don’t have even this minimal level of kavanah, then my prayer isn’t considered a prayer; it is merely reading or reciting a beautiful text. Anyway, wouldn’t it be preferable to have a mind free from other thoughts, and know and understand what you are praying about and that to think about the meaning of the prayer? At least to some point, as I can’t say that I have grasped it all. I am no suh great scholar. But I put my heart into it. Or at least, try to.
That’s something I have found lacking these last weeks/months in my practice, and sometimes, lack thereof. No, not that I have started to eat porc or mix milk and meat, or have stopped backing Challot or lighting candles and such – but my inner flame has become a dim light. Judaism is demanding, but also very rewarding. Maybe it’s just one of those desert-wandering times and it’s not realistic to expect to be always 200% motivated throughout all of your life -but I wish I was. Just hang on in there, and I’ll eventually get through.
Prayer is not a service of the lips; it is worship of the heart. « Words are the body, thought is the soul, of prayer. » I read somewhere (can remember where, but jotted it down and now copied it here, sorry, no source): « If one’s mind is occupied with alien thoughts while the tongue moves on, then such prayer is like a body without a soul, like a shell without a kernel. And so it is with words of prayer when the heart is absent. Prayer becomes trivial when ceasing to be an act in the soul. »
Maimonides declares, « Prayer without kavvanah is no prayer at all. He who has prayed without kavvanah ought to pray once more. He whose thoughts are wandering or occupied with other things need not pray until he has recovered his mental composure. Hence, on returning from a journey, or if one is weary or distressed, it is forbidden to pray until his mind is composed. The sages said that upon returning from a journey, one should wait three days until he is rested and his mind is calm, then he prays. »
My mind often tends to wander. I find the fixed prayers helpful in that case as they help me. I don’t have to think about what I want to say but can concentrate on meaning them. Yet even that often has been hard recently and my prayers have seen themselves reduced to the bare minimum, guilt trip followed for sure. But honestly, with all that has been going on, have just been lacking more and more energy. But I am positive that with being more organized and gaining back some energy and creativity, and the chemo hopefully doing its work and the pain diminishing, things will brighten up on all fronts.
Heschel wrote: « How grateful I am to God that there is a duty to worship, a law to remind my distraught mind that it is time to think of God, time to disregard my ego for at least a moment! It is such happiness to belong to an order of the divine will. I am not always in a mood to pray. I do not always have the vision and the strength to say a word in the presence of God. But when I am weak, it is the law that gives me strength; when my vision is dim, it is duty that gives me insight » (Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954)