Finding the Prayer of Your Heart

Experiencing the Meaning & Depth of Jewish Prayer

Many complain of having difficulty finding deep meaning in the traditional prayer service. Many of us were conditioned to accept that for Jews "praying" is accomplished by simply reciting or chanting all the words, preferably in Hebrew. It is helpful and interesting to note that in the Talmud our ancestors worried that writing down their prayers could lead to just such a deadening rote recitation by subsequent generations.

While there is some comfort in repeating that which is familiar, there is deep healing and joy possible from engaging in meaningful Jewish prayer. For example, at the core of each service is a lengthy set of prayers, said while standing, known as the "amidah." While each of the numerous amidah blessings is set in a careful sequence intended to help us find the prayer of our hearts, many find the traditional amidah impenetrable.

For those who grew up without a spiritual view of Judaism, the following may prove to be a helpful, alternative portal to the themes of the amidah and Jewish personal prayer.

An alternative Amidah:

Moving in from the fringes of awareness to the prayers of one's heart:

1. Remember specific ancestors - family, creative ones, patriarchs, matriarchs, teachers. Send your awareness to the ancestor(s) who(m) you feel is/are guiding your steps most recently. Ask for their blessing.

2. Envision those in your family who have been specially blessed this week and/or those who need guidance who are close to you. Send them blessings and love. Ask that they receive guidance and blessing.

3. Touch your own heart with your hand. Let the ways in which you may feel blessed and/or desire support and guidance enter your awareness. Imagine the blessing you need, pray it. Ask for guidance and support.

4. Take a "CNN" view of the planet into your awareness. Zoom in on specific countries and neighborhoods. Send blessings and love. Ask that all creation be able to experience comfort, guidance, support and SHALOM.

Once you are comfortable finding your personal prayer, you may appreciate coming closer to each of the shemoneh esrei, 18, blessings of the traditional amidah. The first blessing, for example is about ancestors. When I chant it I like to think: "Which of my ancestors is on me with this present stage of my journey. I might sense, or wish for support, for example from my Aunt Anne of blessed memory, a real renaissance woman, or my Uncle Barney who was part of the team that created the first successful manned US space launch.

For more on this topic, please see my book Meaning & Mitzvah: Daily Practices for Reclaiming Judaism.