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This Thing Called Prayer

It's tempting to think of prayer as an eloquent form of begging.

Please let me live. Please let me get this job. Please let my team win this football game.

If we learn the "right" words to the prayers, if wecome to shul and sit and stand at the proper times, if we get it right, then our prayers will work.

It's tempting to think that's how prayer works and it is equally tempting to dismiss it as a fantasy of wish fulfillment. But that's not what prayer is.

From the time of the book of Job and Ecclesiastes through the destruction of our ancient Temples and the Holocaust, we've all known that that there is no connection between piety and protection.

As Johnny Cash put it, "If I bow my head, and beg God for His forgiveness, will He breathe within me and bring her back to me?"

No, He won't. We know it doesn't work that way.

So what then is this thing called prayer?

The Jewish mystics believed (and some of their spiritual descendants still do) that the world emerged into being by Ein Sof, the Boundless Essence. This is not a character named "God" with a personality and emotions, but the primordial energy out of which the world exploded. The Kabbalists knew nothing of astrophysics, but it seems they knew something of the Big Bang.

That primordial energy is ever present and the mystics called it shefa, or constantly flowing abundance.

Shefa is the Divine energy that allows stars to explode, the earth to spin, flowers to bloom and us to breathe. It is ever present and ever ignored.

One of the goals of a truly religious life is to live attuned to that shefa; to sense that flow of energy in our lives.

More than anything else, this thing we call prayer is practice, training. It's the exercise that enables us to become ever more aware of shefa, until we, perhaps, can reach the level of Moses our teacher, who was so attuned to the flow of Divine Energy that it appeared to him as a flaming, speaking presence. That's attunement. That's what this thing called prayer is all about - to transform ourselvs into ever more receptive satellite dishes.


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