My last post was on how one prepares to pray… Getting in the mindset of who we are talking to… And expecting positive results.Next (and following Rabbi Irwin Katsof’s great book How To Get Your Prayers Answered, is that we have to understand what we are saying… both the meaning and the weight of the words, which is why for me and for now, I pray in mostly English… with Hebrew when I am certain I get it and am connected.
In Duties Of The Heart, Bachya Ben Joseph Ibn Paquada says:
“Understand that the words of prayer expressed by the mouth are merely the shell. The heart’s meditation upon these words is the inner kernel. Words of prayer are like a body, while meditation is the soul. One who prays only with his tongue while his mind wanders resembles and empty body, a husk devoid of a kernel.”
Ah, the wandering mind… a troublesome battle for me in prayer and meditation. I know how to deal with it in the latter… and maybe the “technique” can be used in prayer, too… since I do believe that prayer and meditation go hand in hand.
Closing your eyes… breathing… letting your mind go and trying to connect to a higher source… Hmmm… Sounds familiar!
As for the meditation, I had a friend give me an amazing tip, which has been immensely helpful. You do not fight the competing thoughts, you simply acknowledge them and imagine they are leaves, gently falling off a tree, landing in a flowing stream and drifting away.
And speaking of nature, Rabbi Nachman Of Breslov, who is my new hero, has some amazing insight as well. It has been amazing how many times I will read a moving and brilliant quote and it always seems attributable to him!
“As often as you can, take a trip out to the fields to pray. All the grasses will join you. They will enter your prayers and give you strength… when no words come, do not despair. Come back day after day to your secluded spot and wait. Just wanting to speak to G-d is in itself a very great thing. Even if all you can say to G-d is “Help!” it is still good. Repeat this over and over again, until G-d opens your lips and words begin to flow from your heart.”
Rabbi Nachman also says: “Pray with emotion, and G-d will forgive you. Pray with an attentive heart, and see all of Heaven’s doors open before you. Pray with joy and watch your requests ascend straight to G-d’s chamber.”
Mindful… blissful… joyous… Those are the goals of mediation and prayer. Every once in a while, and not nearly often as I would like, a smile will appear on my face when I pray or meditate. I can literally feel the joy enter my body, and it is quite an amazing thing. That joy is what Rabbi Nachman was all about, and if we can find that on a daily basis… in every single thing… and certainly in our prayer… think about the power and the bliss we would also obtain.
And this might be an odd thing to say, but finding joy often takes work and effort, and we should never take it for granted. Rabbi Katsof says “Ideal prayer includes three components: praise, requests and thanks.”
Expressing gratitude is essential.
And here’s the notion that hit me the hardest and really clarified how much of a true partnership and relationship prayer is and must be, and how it is not sitting around and waiting for miracles to happen.
Rabbi Katsof says: “You might not be ready to receive what you are praying for until you do some work to earn it…. Self-transformation means that you can make of yourself a person who deserves a yes.”
In other words, we always need to be working on ourselves!
So prayer is not stagnant.
We need to prepare. We need to expect. We need to pray with joy.
We need to know that Hashem is the creator… is our Father… and wants to answer our prayers… But we also need to make sure we are ready and in the best position to receive what we are asking for. Prayer takes practice, work and effort, but the connection, relationship and rewards are priceless.