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Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Shabbat, 18 Tammuz 5769
Friday 10 July, 2009

 
Dear Community,
 
‘Rabbi, I hope you won’t think I’m a traitor if I tell you the truth. Perhaps I’m the only one, but I find prayer extremely difficult. In fact, I really can’t pray. I hope you won’t think the worse of me for telling you this.’
 
I’m always grateful for conversations like this, of which I’ve had several over the years. It’s hard, but important, to be so honest and the truth is that we all, or virtually all, find prayer difficult much of the time. Such comments offer an opportunity to think together about something we seem communally to assume that we can just ‘do’, but on which we generally spend little time in reflection.
 
‘Prayer’ was in fact the subject of the last three lessons with my lovely, wonderful class of Year 10’s at Haderech (I’ve rarely been so sad to see a school term end). ‘We’re going to talk about prayer’, I said lazily, as I handed out my source sheets. Then I quickly snatched them back and asked the small group: ‘Before I show you what anyone else thinks, what do you consider prayer to be?’ I never did have to distribute those texts.
 
‘I think prayer is about connection’, said one of the girls. That single comment kept us busy for the rest of the lesson.
 
One of the greatest barriers to finding faith in God is that our mind is burdened with the imagery of who we think we’re supposed to think God is. One of the greatest challenges to our prayer life may be the received vocabulary which governs what we think prayer is meant to be. We can try so hard to reach up to heaven, where we’ve been taught that God is supposed to be, that we cannot travel down into our own hearts, or the hearts of others, where God most certainly is.
 
If prayer is connection, as that girl said, consider the following reflection, one of the most striking and helpful short comments about prayer I’ve ever encountered: ‘Prayer is a call to partnership, a conscious placing of our spirits and intentions in alignment with the creative spirit. This call to partnership is always noticed. It affects the whole. It can help tilt the balance, draw forth hidden resources’. (Gale Warner). That’s why we can pray with a tree (not ‘to’, but ‘with’), with someone we care for, with our community, with a river, with a horse, with the sky. To me the small Siddur contains all of these, because it is the repository of our ancestor’s spirits, and its music is the code to how they found God.
 
I can’t say much more in a page. But there is nothing equal, among all the activities we pursue, to this shared endeavour to connect to the greater consciousness that links our hearts, flows through our souls and binds with all life, including the generations who have gone before and those who come after.
 
Shabbat Shalom
 
Jonathan Wittenberg