Normally, when I pray, its a struggle for me just to
keep abreast of the meaning of the words. Im not so
proficient in Hebrew, and Ive had to spend many hours
with my English/Hebrew siddur going back and forth,
back and forth, to learn the meaning of what Im saying
as I pray.
Ive never regretted my labors. The meanings of the
prayers strike deep, and I enjoy the language of prayer in
my communication with G-d. Whatever difficulties with language
and meaning I encounter are joyfully accepted.
But there are times when I get so caught up with the sound
and rhythm of the words as I form them in my mouth and then
hear them with my ears that they simply come and go, like
a flowing stream, taking on a life of their own.
When this happens, I become so enchanted by the texture and
form of the words themselves, the tempo and cadence of the
sentences, that the very act of davening, the process
itself, becomes its own meaning and fulfillment. I become
carried by prayer, rather than being the doer of it.
There is the look of the words. The shape of the Hebrew letters
themselves. The dance of black and white on the page. The
delight of having these strange lines (and the figures they
form) take on sound. The surprise when all at once four or
five of these shapes group together to make a word with length,
depth and dimension. And then, suddenly, a batch of words
will link up to become a phrase, a group of notes in a delightful
piece of music. My greatest delight is when a beat or pulse
emerges as the phrases join and reveal a rhythmic poem made
from a series of what by now have become meaningless soundssounds
that, because of their lack of meaning, come from a place
in me beyond the place that looks for meaning in words.
My favorite is the emerging cadence. Each time it is the
same. I open my siddur and begin reading. At first,
the words are strange and my mouth has difficulty forming
the sounds. My lips and throat resist the shift from English
to Hebrew and the words flow haltingly and with effort. The
lines and forms lie disconnected on the page, struggling to
attach to one another to reveal the shape that is theirs.
The rhythms are now concealed; I hear none of the beauty that
I know will soon emerge.
I have a sense of anticipation and slight frustration struggling
for the pleasure that will shortly be mine. Then, slowly,
finally, it begins. Attracted like magnets, the lines become
drawn to each other so thatsometimes touching, sometimes
notone becomes attached to the other, forming letters,
words, and eventually sounds that now flow more easily from
Soon the words comfortably emerge, faster than I can control,
urged and spurred by the familiarity and habit of days and
months and years of repetition. Faster and faster they come,
my eyes now barely able to separate one word from the other,
as the words come more from memory than sight.
And all the while, the physical transformation is mirrored
by a deeper, inner transformation. My mind quiets, becoming
absorbed and enveloped by the flow of the prayers, rising
above its limited state, leaving a bit of the world behind.
And though I am not now struggling with the meaning of each
word, there are shifting inner feelings that accompany each
paragraph; feelings that I know reflect the meaning of the
words, though the meaning of the words are not what fill my
What fills my thoughts? A million things. But I attach to
none of them. They come. They go. But dont prevail.
My awareness remains with the sounds and the rhythms and the
sights. And with my feelings.
There are times, but not always, that very deep feelings
rise, unexpected. They sometimes overcome me during this flight
of prayer. There occurs, usually, an opening of my heart.
A fullness in my chest. And then, a deep sense of companionship.
In the best of days, when I have abandoned myself to what
is for me the very tactile, sensuous experience of prayer;
when I have relinquished all resistance to the flow and rhythm
of the sounds; when my eyes and mouth and lips seem to function
completely on their own; when the flow of thoughts and feelings
rise and fall spontaneously without attachment or resistance,
I find that a strange thing occurs.
I stop feeling lonely.