Friday, August 6, 2010

Hearing the Prayers of Others

As in communities all over the world where there exist a significant Muslim population, in Jerusalem one can usually hear the call to prayer at some point during the day. Since arriving in Jerusalem on Monday, I have been able to hear the last of the five daily calls to prayer. Usually the sound is sort of captured on the wind and depending on the direction, the volume varies.

I have no understanding of Arabic, and frankly attempting to learn and understand Hebrew is time consuming enough. However, what I can understand is the passion that is behind the melodious voice.

Whilst listening to the prayers of others whose words I do not understand, I began to wonder how would our t'fillot sound to an outsider. Would they be filled with passion like the voice I hear every night, or would they be weighed down, carrying a sense of burden. The obvious answer is that it depends on the circumstances, and the group who can be heard. Some probably sound like a burden, and others probably sound like they are overflowing with joy to be standing in prayer.

I am not suggesting that davening communities put on a show in the event that they are being witnessed or overheard. What I am suggesting is that each participant with maximum effort by being truly present. Leaving the shaliach tzibbur (public messenger) out to dry takes away from the atmosphere. Similarly, overtaking the shaliach tzibbur creates a feeling of confusion. Having been in both situations, I can tell you that neither is particularly pleasant.

So how do we apply the passion of the Islamic prayer leader? I propose studying the dynamics of each prayer space and evaluating the intention and commitment that you as an individual are bringing. If this means taking a few moments before prayer to collect your thoughts, if it means stretching, meditation, please do it. I must qualify by saying that not every entrance into a prayer space is consumed with overwhelming meaning, but that by putting the most into it, we stand to get the most out of it. Perhaps by using some innovative methods, we can be sure that our passion in prayer mirrors that which I hear on a nightly basis.

As always I welcome your suggestions and comments.

Note: If you would like to post, please let me know, as this is a communal effort, and I want this blog to continue to grow.

Shabbat shalom.


Paige said...

I attended an African Methodist Church service a few months ago, as we were running a bone marrow drive there that day. I was so inspired by their prayer. Each person in that room was up, saying thank you to God in their own way. Whether they held their hands up to the sky, held onto themselves or sang their hearts out (or all of the above), you could feel their passion. My colleague and I looked at each other at the end and said, "Why are Jewish synagogues not as exciting as this? Everyone would want to go!" I think that it would introduce a new action of prayer, bringing more personal meaning to an individual's prayer. It's important that we are are able to know that this action of prayer exists elsewhere, and become inspired to express ourselves in our own prayer.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, your commentary on the "Call to Prayer" is very interesting and inspiring. I think it represents a deepening understanding and experience of another culture and its traditions. You are very fortunate to be able to experience it on a daily basis.