Prayer once only existed for me abstractly. As a child, it was the stock image of a little kid with her palms pressed together asking god for help before bed. At 14 it was telling my sister that only those too week to confront pain believe in god. And then at 23, it was my first time celebrating shabbat, surrounded by 11 peers who all knew how to pray, and the sinking feeling in my stomach that I did not, and that suddenly, desperately, I wanted to.
For a long time, I searched for prayer without knowing what I was looking for. I overturned meditation cushions and yoga mats. I said “thank you” out loud and often. I kept a journal. But the only practice I seemed able to maintain was returning to shul every Friday night to welcome shabbat.
At first I felt ashamed of my desire to spend friday evenings in shul. I felt lonely as an activist who was searching for a connection to a particular identity, and furthermore one tangled up with privilege and power, and I felt lonely as a Jew who was unapologetic about the serious beef I have with Am Yisrael. But as time passed and I kept choosing to sit with my discomfort, I noticed an internal shift beginning to take place.
Countless times I had walked in to shul and wondered what I needed to change about (the people, the politics, the building, the prayer, the language, etc…) in order to feel comfortable. Yet one morning, as I sat in a thursday minyan as the 10th attendee and only woman, a new question occurred to me. I found myself asking, “what needs to change in me in order to feel comfortable here?”
I believe I’ll be working to answer this question for a lifetime. AND, I realized as soon as I’d asked the question that I had an answer: I needed to learn to pray. Not in the uncommitted, ashamed, and often ambivalent way I had been for the past 5 years, but in a way that took full responsibility for the knowledge I was missing, and that trusted myself to continue to grapple with Judaism and Jewishness while fully embracing it as my own.
So here I am. It’s the 25th of Tishrei and I’ve made it through the festival season drawing strength from my new question. On Yom Kippur I made a commitment to say the brichot ha'shachar (morning blessings) the birkat ha'mazon (grace after meals) and ma'ariv (the evening service) every day. There have been many unexpected discoveries that have arisen in the last few weeks of daily Jewish prayer and so I thought it time to (begin to) write them down.
I want to dedicate my journey to those 11 peers, whose voices danced with the taught strings that connected my heart to my soul, and left me weeping.