I don’t like to pray– at least not the kind of prayer that involves a prayerbook.
Sure, I can appreciate how set times for prayer create order and responsibility. I can recognize the value of fixed words meant to open channels of blessings beyond fixed measures. I can respect the power of ancient text spoken for generations by fellow soul brothers and sisters in times of need.
But still, it just doesn’t speak to me much.
Maybe its too regimented. Maybe I’m not disciplined enough. Or maybe I just never learnt how to pray.
I remember being a young student in cheder, urged by my teachers to sing louder while pointing to each word in the prayer book, careful my small index finger should not fall behind.
Then, prayer, or daavening as we called it, was about what we could project– our energy, our voices.
I remember being a high school student, praying together in our school’s auditorium, our supplications now whispered into worn prayer books. Our teachers attempted to motivate us to pray harder: “Girls, one day you’ll be married, you’ll be mothers. It will be so hard to find time to daaven with a siddur. Take advantage of this time set aside for you now just to daaven. You’ll appreciate it one day!”
Then, prayer was about reclaiming a potentially lost opportunity ten years down the line– not about the now.
I remember my year in Israel, in seminary. I would watch others deep in prayer, swaying intensely as they mouthed the words, their faces scrunched in fervor, leaning into their siddur, oozing with spiritual devotion. So much kavannah, so much intent.
Watching them pray, I felt so isolated. I would never be like those girls- could never be accepted as one of them. I was not so pious. I didn’t have it all figured out. I wasn’t comfortable putting my relationship with Him on display for all to observe. So the siddur represented a world that I could hold, but that could never hold me: I would never fit in.
Then, prayer was about some sort of class distinction– it pointed to the pious.
But where was G-d in all of it?
They say that a women’s prayer is in her work with this physical world. As mothers, every dinner we cook, every diaper we change, every time we hold our children close and kiss away their pain is a prayer to G-d.
In that case, I’ve prayed a thousand prayers. Yet it doesn’t feel that way.
I must find G-d in all of this.
I am now this busy mother, the one that was forewarned in my adolescent years, yet I don’t pine for time to pick up my prayerbook. I am not overly curious to the meaning of the words in our tefillot. And while I wish I did, I do not always find comfort in reciting tehillim, or other prayers, in times of need.
I wake up to Modeh Adi; fall asleep to Shema. My heart soars to the tune of kaddish during the Tishrei month. I cry almost every time during the blessing of the new month as we beseech G-d for a cycle of good, “for life and peace… for salvation”. I go to shul almost every week, and while I recite the words from the siddur, I mostly prefer to sit with my eyes closed, listening to the beautiful singing, my soul like a sponge to the uplifting atmosphere.
In those moments, I commune with G-d. Prayer book in my hand or not, I feel close to Him.
But to truly find Him, I just talk to Him.
Chodayah! My first language, Farsi.
Oh G-d, please.
I thank Him. Tell Him I love him. Plead. State my case. Beg.
I walk around all day with Him on my mind. Hearing His voice through the laughter of my children, through the voice of my intuition. Mumbling my appeals like a mad person.
And when I start these conversations, these monologues in my head and heart, I try to imagine myself truly talking to G-d. Whispering in His ear. Looking into His eyes. Having His undivided attention.
I want to feel like nothing stands between me and Him- least of which myself.
But as the words flow for a bit, something happens– I become aware of myself. Completely, utterly self-conscious.
I am suddenly projected out of this intimate moment with G-d, hovering over myself, detached. Suddenly awkward, stumbling on my words– overly self-critical, second-guessing everything I say.
And when this happens, I get so angry with myself, so absolutely frustrated. Why can’t I just let go of this self-consciousness as I speak to my Creator? Shouldn’t I feel comfortable with Him?
You would think that at least with G-d, I could be myself.
And then, my requests shift.
Oh G-d, please help me let go, just let it all go. Chodayah, please help me break free from all the barriers I’ve built around myself. Hashem, please help me release myself this painful self-consciousness that makes me so awkward, so closed, even with my deepest self.