A friend was describing her experience in chaplaincy. The other chaplains-in-training felt very comfortable formulating their own spontaneous prayer. But she realized that even as a knowledgeable Jew, spontaneous prayer wasn’t something she felt trained in. Give her a siddur, no problem. But to pause in the middle of the day and start offering prayer felt foreign. And as I reflected on our conversation, I wondered if the point of a Jewish ritual structure is to make room for spontaneity.
In reading “Creating Sacred Communities” by Dr. Ron Wolfson and Rabbi Brett Kopin, Dr. Wolfson explains the necessity of a check-in. A check-in should begin each meeting. An opportunity to feel as if you are wholly present because you are encouraged to bring your whole self to any meeting or setting. He shares a story in which at one meeting, his team leaders explained that during a check-in, one person confided, “My father was just diagnosed with terminal cancer.” The check-in paused and the rabbi leading the meeting asked everyone to pray for healing. Within a structured moment, Dr. Wolfson built openings for spontaneity. Someone might share their celebrations; another might vent their frustrations. But if the check-in is present, there remains a chance to share oneself.
We have check-ins throughout our liturgy. But we have forgotten how to use them. After reciting Modeh Ani each morning, do we pause and offer gratitude for our individual blessings? At the end of a book of the Torah, we stand and recite the words, “Hazak, Hazak, v’Nithazek.” We declare strength in returning to our sources of knowledge and faith. But do we take the moment to explore which areas of our own lives need strength and resilience? Our rituals begin to lose meaning when we rush through, forgetting to add our own voice to the thousands of years of history that sit within our hands.
Keva and Kavannah. Fixed prayer and thoughtful intention. Routine may give us solace in knowing what comes next. But life occurs in between.
Responding, reacting, wondering, asking, struggling, growing, living.
May Jewish life offer a sense of rootedness.
And may Jewish life offer a sense of awe.
In partnership with The Jewish Journal, you can also find Rabbi Guzik’s blog post HERE.