Previously, I mentioned the opening prayer that some of my Middle School Jewish Studies colleagues and I wrote and which our Middle School community recites at the beginning of our t’fila services x2-3/week. It starts, “All I have to offer in prayer is myself/ sometimes I cannot find the Ruach (spirit) to pray alone.”
Sometimes I cannot find the Ruach to pray alone.
Yes, I’m a rabbi. Yes, I strive to find meaning in traditional Jewish t’fila. I try to find meaning in the prayers that Jews recite when we gather to pray. If I cannot find meaning in the prayers then I try to find meaning in the individual words that make up the prayers. If I cannot find meaning in the words, then sometimes I try to find meaning in the letters themselves. Other times I try to step back and see the bigger picture. I try to find meaning in the idea of prayer itself. In the fact that human beings have felt summoned, throughout the ages to express gratitude, finitude, grandeur, and humility. I try to find meaning in the fact that t’fila invites me into a simultaneously ancient and modern conversation. Sometimes, as a musician, I look for the melody, the harmony, and the rhythm in the prayers. I ask myself what words I feel inspired to set to music.
But I seldom have the Ruach to pray alone. At least in the traditional sense. If you find me, by myself, holding a Siddur, it’s very unlikely that I’m holding it with the intention of praying. Planning a t’fila? Maybe. Looking up a reference? Maybe. Seeking musical inspiration? Maybe. Praying on my own? Unlikely.
On the other hand, I find that my most prayerful moments come when I am by myself or when I am with close family or friends. These aren’t moments of prayer, mind you, but moments of prayerfulness. Times when I feel connected to the flow of the universe. Times when I feel both a part of and apart from the splendor of creation. Or quiet and intimate moments– bedtime with my children, the Shabbat table. Upon reflection, I guess these aren’t really “alone” moments, but moments of deep connection. They just tend to occur in solitude or near solitude.
So yes, for me, there’s truth in the words, “Sometimes I cannot find the Ruach to pray alone.” But that doesn’t mean that I’m not a prayerful person. It doesn’t mean that I don’t see meaning or power in prayer. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel connected to the ancient and modern conversation that is t’fila.
And for me, the opposite is true. Sometimes I cannot find the Ruach to pray in community. Sometimes I cannot find the Ruach to pray at the appointed times and appointed places of my Jewish tradition. Sometimes I cannot find the Ruach to both lead t’fila and participate in t’fila at the same time, sacrificing one for the other depending on the day.
Sometimes prayer is easy. Sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes it’s easy in a good way. It flows. It’s comfortable. It’s meaningful. Sometimes it’s easy in a bad way. It’s casual, thoughtless, uninspired. Sometimes it’s difficult in a bad way. It’s inaccessible, frustrating, stale, and irrelevant. Sometimes it’s difficult in a good way. It’s demanding, honest, reflective, and complex.