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Why We Pray

07/24/2013 02:50:02 PM

Jul24

Invigorating Prayer: Why Are We Praying? 
Rainbow Reporter, December 2006

(I wrote the following article in Fall of 2006. I am happy to say that since writing it our own services have in many ways be transformed. I am reposting it along with other related articles about prayer this month in preparation for my two part class Prayer: Expanding the Spiritual Landscape, October 15th and November 19th.  In this class we will not only be exploring what feels prayerful but how to craft our prayer experience individually and as a community.)

I don’t think it is too radical to say that synagogue worship fails for many people.  It is also probably not too big a statement to say that synagogues of America would be radically different places if a majority of the Jews who belonged to them regularly experienced prayer and services as meaningful. A common measure for a healthy church is whether or not they regularly have 80% of their members at services. I would argue that in the Jewish world a congregation in which 20% of the members show up is consider successful.

While there are many factors that feed this phenomena I think that one of the biggest is that when we do show up to services we often don’t know what we are trying to accomplish. We don’t know what we are praying for or why. Rabbi Michael Strassfeld in discussing this challenge suggests we look at some of the services to which people do show up. He argues that more people show up to Yom Kippur services than Shabbat services in large part because they know why they are there. They know that the purpose of the service is to review their lives, evaluate their sins and to seek atonement. Not only this but because they know why they are there on Yom Kippur it is more likely that they will experience the service as working.

Those who show up regularly to Shabbat services at Bnai Keshet would I think find much to appreciate. We sing, we study, we find time for quiet contemplation and we enjoy each other’s company. But I also believe that our services could go much deeper, our davening could be more accessible, the tradition could feel more celebrated and there could be a more invigorating sense of spirituality.  As a relatively young rabbi I am heartened to know that a senior rabbi in our movement like Michael Strassfeld notices these same challenges and is not sure yet how to address them.

That said, I wanted to share with you my desire to think more purposefully about how to lead Bnai Keshet into a deeper experience of communal prayer. In this process I believe we have to ask ourselves question like: What is the purpose of my prayer today? Why am I praying? And what do we need to pray for as a community?  I believe we have to ask these questions both of ourselves and of our community.  I believe that these questions and our attempts to answer them are a vital first step towards deepening our prayer experience and the meaning of services. I would encourage you to ask them of yourself the next time you pray at Bnai Keshet and pay attention to your answers.  Pay attention to whether or not your experience of services is transformed in any way by having asked the questions.

I am eager to hear your experience and I look forward to seeing you at services and praying with you.

Shalom,
Elliott

Sat, July 20 2019 17 Tammuz 5779