One of the most meaningful and enriching programs I’ve participated in since I arrived at Temple Emanuel Sinai is our “Making Prayer Real” class that just recently concluded after over a year studying together. I intentionally use the word participate even though I facilitated the curriculum, because I felt just as much a student as the other participants. My understanding of and connection with prayer grew and intensified, and I feel like most if not all of us had a similar experience.
One of the many fascinating exercises was taking a deep dive into some of the prayers. We didn’t just read the translation; we looked at the Biblical or historical background, looked at key words and themes, discussed how we did – or did not – relate to the theology in the prayer, and we connected our own stories to the prayers. We could have spent hours and hours on one prayer, and even one hour dramatically transformed our relationship with each passage of our sacred, ancient liturgy. For the last class, we even composed prayers of our own and discovered prayer in poems and modern texts by other authors.
My conclusion is that spending time with our prayers makes a positive difference in our worship experience. The prayer reveals itself to us and we can find ourselves somewhere in the words, bringing us closer to the Divine, closer to the community, inspired to social justice and compassion, and so much more.
I decided that we should all have this experience in a practical, reasonable way. It doesn’t make sense to dedicate an entire Shabbat service to one prayer. Instead, each month will have a prayer as its focus, and we’ll spend some time in each service that month focusing on one or two aspects of the prayer through multiple access points including listening, conversation, music, meditation, learning, and more.
We begin in August, and the month will be spent in liturgical preparation for the High Holy Days. I chose the text/prayer “Etz Chayim” which concludes the Torah service and is usually sung as we put the Torah away. The last line of the passage is “Hashiveinu Adonai eilecha v’nashuva, chadesh yameinu k’kedem – Return us to you Adonai, and we will return; renew our days as before.” (Lamentations 5:21)
Teshuvah, often translated as repentance, really means to turn or to return. How will we begin the process of turning as we approach the High Holy Days? And how will God and prayer help us? Join us for Shabbat Services as we discuss Etz Chayim – the Tree of Life and returning to God.