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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Ending Cycles Daven vs. Pray

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I've struggled to publish of late. We've had a lot going on in the community al la fundraisers and I've been engaged in that to a large degree. Something I've learned is that all the little things we're not doing well suddenly grow tremendously when something like an event is on the line. Somehow everyone recognizes that things could be better, yet mysteriously it never seems to improve. 

I text message my friends, often. We have a sort of rolling conversation in that way, and it is very reminiscent to my start into radio when a group of us would chat on and off via CB radios across town. Now in the 21st century, and the second anniversary of my 21st birthday it seems like an important link in my network of thinkers and my building theology. I have at my fingertips others with great perspectives, and a flow of imagination not unlike the kabbalahists envisioning the constant refreshment of the universe. 

Some of these people are friends I know and see all the time, some are folks across the state, the country, and even the world. An interconnected community that isn't always sharing the same physical space but often some degree of headspace. 

Then I have the physical community to which I belong. A collection of mostly 20-35 years older than me individuals. There are on paper a broader range of ages, but the people I see with regularity are older, with a few notable exceptions. These are the corps body of dedicated individuals that you'll find at our shul. The people you can expect to see at events and all our regular volunteers. Most of our board, and a measurable chunk of the ones that regularly attend services.   

We all have our own path towards an understanding with the universe, but I daven alone more than I do in a group. Our younger folks have children and mornings are chaotic. For our retired community, a career that demanded early mornings now finds repayment. I like the mornings, and I have the time and can begrudge no one choosing their own way to spend that magical time of day.  Some mornings ago, I thought, the folks that are always working on something here to keep it going, the most dedicated, they are the ones I know I'll see on a Friday night or a Saturday morning, sometimes even a weekday with me. And I thought, is it really that causal? For all these years of cultivating a practice of praying morning and night is the recitation and repetition of what we want to be better in the world steering us?  

Avot 2.4 starts: Make His [God's] will like your will, so that He will make your will like His will. Nullify your will to His will, so that He will nullify the will of others to your will. 
It's a troubling bit of Talmud as how do you know? It reminds me of Islam in as much as the word can mean a voluntary submission to God. As someone of a more mystical bend I don't know whether I'm dealing with psychology or metaphysics. I've postulated that the answer could be both. That the act of prayer is not simply petition or dialogue but that if evolution of life is the continuous stream of the divine consciousness impacting our physics, the manifestation of a great force in the universe to express itself fully in our reality, prayer is a moment to align that channel and for a moment feel a connection. It might as well be our conscious selves attempting an active programming of our subconscious self in order to bring about positive changes through the ancient communal concepts of what is good in this life. 

If the point of an observant life is to elevate the moment, every moment possible, it can be quite taxing. It's easier to stay in that place when you are among others striving to observance, psychology, metaphysics or simply obedience. Like the martial arts, it requires constant and regular practice. But does it actually build a better community? 

A 2005 Rasmussen Report found 47% of American adults reported praying daily or near daily. Further breakdowns showed, Christians over other, Protestants at the top of that list. Non white American above white, women above men, older over younger people polled. In "developed" nations or nations that fall into some standard deviations of our GDP range, America is an anomaly, way off the curve of what is the mean. But what are we getting for it? 

I would contend that observance is not the same as prayer and that the question was flawed from the start. My rabbi suggested that as Heschel states, "Prayer that doesn't change you is meaningless." It was posited that "because a bulk of the community doesn't daven, they don't change?"  

Daven is a Yiddish expression, and its root is argued. T'filla is prayer in Hebrew, yet the Jews of old Europe didn't use that word. They davend. 

I might say that when I was young I prayed, but these days I daven. To daven I think is more, it's meditative, contemplative, it is not stationary, still or silent. I don't know how to teach it, only to do it. And in a community where daveners are the minority I have reservations about escaping to that more idealized world, or at least one where we're not making the same mistakes over and over and relying on a minority to carry a majority forward.  

I don't think more prayer is the answer. The bulk of our membership show up and pray at least once a year. They seem comfortable, they must have found the answers they were looking for or perhaps an answer that superseded looking. But my community are daveners at my shul and we've felt the burden of being too few of late and I don't know how to change this.  



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