Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 2 - Lost: Meaning In Davening

It’s been quite a while since I davened.

Well, that’s not really true. Actually, I davened just last Shabbos in shul. What I should say is that it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt anything while davening. Sure I stood in shul, recited the prayers, and even comprehended most of them. I said the words, stood when I was supposed to stand, bowed when I was supposed to bow and answered when I was supposed to answer. But the whole thing seemed to me to be more of a simple ritual of familiarity rather than a direct communication to a Higher Power. The words were there, the motions were there, the song was there – it was all there – except for the emotion.

When I was younger, I usually had a clear focus when davening. I knew to Whom I was praying and what it was I was praying for. I’m not going to pretend that I davened with kavanah every time, but I genuinely felt a connection when I prayed. I’m can’t say for certain what the connection was to… maybe it was to God, maybe it was just to the inner portion of my soul… but there was definitely an emotional connection which helped to give my prayers focus and meaning.

Slowly, that disappeared. It’s easy to keep that enthusiasm about davening when you’re still discovering the meaning. Sure we davened in elementary and high school and sure we studied peirush hamilim in davening, but I can honestly say that while I might have understood the meaning of some of the words, I didn’t really have a clue as to what I was davening. That understanding came with the maturity that I gained in the years after high school. It was only after high school, when I started to develop an adult understanding of the world and started to move beyond the strict confines of thought imposed by my teachers that I began to appreciate the beauty of some of the tefillos. I was swept up in the enthusiasm of finding new meanings in the words that I had recited by rote for years, in the newfound appreciation for the words, and the hidden meanings behind the words in our prayers.

However, eventually, the novelty wore off. And with it, so did the enthusiasm of davening. I began to wonder whether God truly wants to hear the same thing from us day after day after day. I truly wonder if the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah (or whomever formulated our davening) did us any favors by making the daily Shemoneh Esrei the same day in and day out. By having the same text recited over and over and over, it breeds familiarity, and causes it to lose its “freshness.” I suppose that’s what happened to me. After a while, I began to become… bored with the tefillos. When I finally extracted what I believed to be the final ounce of meaning that I could extract from them, they became like a grapefruit rind once all the juice has been squeezed out… just an empty husk. Except that whereas I get to throw the grapefruit rind away when I’m done, I’m still stuck with the same prayers in the same siddur.

And so, I find it… difficult, to say the least… to work up the necessary emotion to have a good davening. Oh sure, I still go through the motions, but the emotional impact has been lost to me for quite a while. And I miss that emotional impact. I really miss it.


Anonymous said...

Its ok, it takes time.
Once you realize that ritual is all man made, you can find other ways of finding spiritality that work for you.

I think 6 months is optimistic, but once you open the box, it gets messy and difficult especially with family. I think it takes a few years to free oneself from the frum mindset.

At least you can see from the blog world that you are not alone.

FinallyMe said...

STOP DAVENING FROM A SIDDUR AND START DAVENING FROM YOUR HEART!!! Davening in a prescribed form can seem very impersonal and can quickly become rote. Hashem wants us to want him, and I think He'll accept prayers from your heart anytime over prayers from a book. Having said that, I find that saying the brochos in the morning and concentrating on the words really does imbue me with appreciation and thankfulness to Hashem for all He has given me, and even more for what He HASN'T given me.
Good luck in your quest.

Anonymous said...

Thank your lucky stars you're not a male, with the encumbent 'three-times-daily-with-a-minyan' routine is a REAL killer.

And of course Chasidim have to buy and wear TWO pairs of tefillin, just because there is a machlokes going back 1,000 years... Sigh.

Six Month Malkie said...


Thanks for the interesting suggestion. There are times that I do leave the strict text of the siddur, but I often feel guilty about doing so. Even so, it still doesn't always seem to help. But I'm going to keep trying.

bankman said...

the book by aryeh kaplan called meditation really helped me. It nailed home (i think) what the rabbis thru their clairvoyance were trying to capture in repeating the same tefilos over and over again. That is a common technique for meditation which is really what tefilah should be - connceting you spirit to G-d or whatever it is you believe your soul is connected to. fascinating book.

Anonymous said...

You still have a beautiful connection.