Wednesday, November 14, 2007

May I make an appointment?

Sometimes I wish I could be the stereotypically good, frum girl. You know the kind...fresh out of seminary, zealous about all the mitzvot and halakhot, the kind who makes you say your brachot out loud so she can say amen. Of course, being put on the spot like that makes you freeze up and forget the bracha altogether (which is silly, since you've been saying brachot your whole life) and then you just feel stupid and...and not as good as her, for some reason (and yes, this seems to happen to me quite a lot).

This stereotypical girl takes so long to say shemona esrai that when you're finished, you chew on your lip and wonder whether her siddur has an extended version that you never learned because you don't think you rushed your way through, garbling words. No, you clearly remember saying every word. You even spent a little extra time in Refaeinu to daven for someone's friend or relative and you spent a few additional seconds in shma koleinu to ask for a good grade on your midterm. But you still feel like you've done something wrong, something off, because you're finished too early. There are all the good, carefully frum girls around you, so engrossed in modim that their eyes are closed, their faces scrunched up in concentration. They are swaying fiercely, no, not swaying, shuckling. Get the lingo right!

Why can't my davening be like that? Why do I speak words, understand them, even, but not feel? I feel like I do two types of praying. I do the regular, normal prayers that everyone does, I say the words everyone says, I go through the motions, but I'm not really praying. No, my true praying comes at random points in the day when I look outside, see a tree, and wonder, how did this tree become a tree? Who put it there? Who made it so beautiful, so green, so big? Who made the wind that is pushing its way rudely through the branches, shaking them to and fro? God, of course. God, who created this incredible world on which we live. God, who gave us life, who gave us families and friends and teachers and schools. God, who gave us countries and cultures and languages and literature! And then I appreciate God. I am filled with a deep, overwhelming love and adoration for Him and His creations.

When else do I pray? When I am scared. When I am lonely. When I am nervous. When I am worried. I think to God, asking His advice, asking Him for help, for strength, for everything to work out just fine. I think so hard, hoping that my thoughts reach all the way up to Him.

I feel this deep, intimate connection with God. I have always been able to turn to Him in times of need, in times of joy, in any time, really. But not with the words of prayer that are found in the siddur. It is not during that prayer time that I feel this way. It is during my own prayer time. It is almost like I have to make a separate appointment with God in order to get my true prayer in because I can't do it in the appropriate, alloted time that everyone else uses.

But I want to be able to feel God when I daven in the morning. I do. I don't want it to be just words coming out of my mouth. But it's so not in the moment. It's so hard to take feelings that I feel when I am most in the position to feel them and transport them to a time when I'm hardly feeling anything at all - when all I'm really thinking about is how tired I am and that I hope they have the big cookies in the caf for breakfast. And perhaps if I was able to train myself to feel this way during actual prayer time, I might be more inclined to remember to daven Mincha, as well.

I keep thinking of the Judy Blume book, Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. Part of that is so true with me. I think to God all the time. I have one-sided conversations with Him. I really do have a relationship with Him. Just... at a private appointment instead of when I'm actually supposed to be praying.


Princess said...

This post reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine earlier this year. Earlier that afternoon I had gone to the Mincha minyan in Koch, and when I finished Shemoneh Esrei (which as it happens I think I did rush through a little), I looked around and saw that almost nobody else had finished Shemoneh Esrei. As I was sitting having dinner with my friend that night, I asked her (somewhat jokingly) if I had missed out on the "slow davening" class by not going to Israel. She replied that I had not missed any such class, and that while some of these girls are legitimately slow daveners, unfortunately, some of these girls are just faking it.

I'm a slow davener (at least in terms of Shemoneh Esrei). I have been since like 7th or 8th grade (which is when I started to take davening seriously). I shuckle, I do the turning thing (not at the same time, but I do both), I have my eyes closed and my face buried in my siddur at times, and (unless I'm rushing it) I do a good 5-minute Shemoneh Esrei, sometimes longer.

I used to hate the fact that I wasn't the stereotypical "Stern girl." I started wearing tights and trying to dress in the sterotypical Stern outfits to try and be like that. But then I realized that there's no point to it. So what if you're not that girl? You have your own relationship with Hashem, and that's a much better thing. Your connection is personal and not something that was manufactured on some assembly line.

It took me a good three years, but I finally came to accept my relationship to the average Stern girl (and to her relationship with Hashem/davening). I wear the tights, but not because it's the Stern girl thing to do, I wear tights because I like them (and because I like the shoes that I wear with tights and I can't wear these shoes with socks). I daven, and if my davening takes half as long as any other girl, that doesn't matter. I have my own connection to Hashem, and for me that's better than having this same connection as everyone else.

I hope that you also come to find some way that you can accept your way of davening and your own connection to Hashem without comparing yourself or your davening to everyone else.

Madd Hatter said...

Wow. Incredible post. I feel like you were writing the thoughts that have resided in my head for ages waiting to be spoken. I pray exactly the same way, and I used to feel self-conscious that I couldn't have the "typical" connection to G-d through standardized prayer. I too had the nagging feeling that somehow I was less close to G-d as a result. But, at some point, I began to think differently. Most people are not sensitized enought to G-d's creations to connect to him through them. Most people don't think to call out to G-d in their times of need if it doesn't fall out during Shacharis, Mincha, or Maariv. I feel so lucky that I have that connection to G-d, and you should too. I think standardized prayer is important and we should all work on having more concentration, but I think a true connection can manifest itself in various ways. What's going on inside of you is so much more important than how "frum" or "zealous" you appear to those around you.

Scraps said...

I have a similar relationship with G-d, I think. It's harder to "feel" the words of the davening than it is to recognize Hashem in everything, to cry out to Him in pain or joy or both or neither. But it's gotten easier for me over the years...sometimes you just need to find a reason to care about the words, even once or twice, and then it's easier to tap into that feeling again once you've found it before.

Chana said...

I also speak to God, as I touched on in this post. Here is something that helped me and allowed me to feel validated...perhaps it will help you, too.

Ahuva said...

This was a beautiful post-- and I think it's fine to daven that way. It's the connection to Hashem that matters and you have that already.

Stubborn and Strong said...

My rabbi told me there is two reasons why rabbis made davening for people right after 2nd beit hamedish burned down, one is to make jews unity since that time they see people are spread out so they made davening to make Jews very unity. Which is so true from my extensive trips all the around of the world, (Rome and Venice in Italy, magor cities in China, Panama Canal, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Etonia and a list goes on.) Even though we all have different languages to express our country's languages but you could def could count to daven another shul that is not your country but you both have same language and daven same way or similiar way. When you go to shul, you will feel so connected with another jew. It is amazing feeling! and of course the second reason, to make connection to hashem, rabbis don't "believe" that we are actually going to remember that Hashem rule this world everyday, people tend to be forget so they daven daily so we won't forget.. The rest of davening feeling is all up to you. You should really study in depth of what is in davening like shimono esra for example, do u notice there is 19 bracha and it defines all our requests from G-D, and so on....

corner point said...

I remember learning that the women of the previous generation back in Europe were phenomemal daveners, and so many of them never even opened up a siddur. Their Tefilla was the type you described--the day-to-day praying to G-d for whatever they needed. Technically, according to halacha, some poskim hold that if a woman davens a shevach, bakasha, and hoda'ah in her own words, she's yotzei. I think it's really important to be able and want to pray that way whenever you feel like you want to or need to.

And another thought--
I know plenty of people who do the whole shukling, swaying, kavana-looking bit, and really inside their heads they're off somewhere else. I shuckle myself sometimes, but I'm not one who prays with my prayer on my face, or in my hand gestures. For me, I think I have more kavana when I'm still and alone. Body language does not necessarily mean heartfelt tefilla.

Great, great post! Thanks :)