Is it hard to pray?
Anyone who takes prayer seriously knows the answer to this question.
Sometimes it is the most difficult thing to do. Sometimes it is easier than breathing. It all depends on where you are at at the moment.
If you are prepared, your heart open, and you are ready to be touched by something outside of yourself, prayer is easy. If you are preoccupied or come with premade notions of what a service ought to be, you will be disappointed. I know this from experience.
I personally find it difficult sometimes when I am at services at someone else's synagogue to pray. I find myself constantly judging and reflecting on the way the shaliach tzibbur leads the service. I find myself critiquing the music or wonder why this tune was chosen and not that one. The list goes on. And then I realize that I have squandered the time that I could have been praying with petty and meaningless thoughts.
My preparation for prayer is simple and also difficult. I need to separate myself from myself. I have to actively prepare to leave my preconceptions, my biases, and my ego outside the door. It is exactly like the story of the great rabbi who visited the town and was met by the entire congregation at the train station. Each member of the community wanted to impress the rabbi and wanted to outdo the other to show the rabbi and everyone else how important they were. They took him to the synagogue to lead the prayers and his response was perfect, "I can't go in there. It is too full." The members of the community were dumbfounded. 'Too full?' they wondered. 'There is no one in the building.' The rabbi said that it was not filled with bodies but rather with egos. With everyone trying to do outdo everyone else, there was simply no room for real prayer. The community understood exactly what he was saying. I can totally relate to that story. Putting aside who we are in the secular world and leaving out in the secular world means we come into prayer empty of ego and ready to fill ourselves with a different kind of light.
And yet, we want to pray. But to do so means that we have to prepare ourselves for the time to pray. We need to put away our egos and pray that we might pray properly. Prayer is active. It takes intention and concentration - what we call kavannah. The rabbi nor the cantor can pray for you. We are too busy praying for ourselves! In fact, it would be wrong to call the clergy 'prayer leaders.' We are only guides to help you to find your own meaningful path of prayer. Once you find it, it is a place you journey with your own heart.
The coming months will bring to all of you the ways we hope to make the Days of Awe something more than simply a service or two. We hope to make the Days of Awe truly life-changing for the better.
Take the time to read the blogs. Go to the links and listen to the majestic music we do during the holy days. Acquaint yourself with the meanings of the prayers. Create an experience for yourselves unlike any other you have ever had.
The Days of Awe can change you. Will you be ready?