I really like wearing tefillin. There's something about the act of removing them from their velvet pouch, unwinding them, rewinding them around my arm and head. There's something about how I think about the act, and what it means to me. There's something about how tactile it all is, the way the leather feels, its faint scent. And there's something about the way the process feels, independent of its intellectual associations. I just...like it. A lot. Trouble is, I don't get to do it very often. Tefillin are only worn for weekday morning davvening, and my schedule doesn't always permit me to pause for a whole morning service.
But at Ohalah earlier this month, one of my colleagues told me about something Reb Zalman came up with when he was working as teacher of environmentalism (and proto-Renewal) at Camp Ramah: the seven-minute davven. According to the story I heard, he went around to the different cabins and assigned them different periods of time for morning davvening. For one bunch (were they particularly rowdy or hyper, I wonder?) he pronounced seven minutes as the time they were obligated to spend with tefillin on.
"What can we do in seven minutes?" they asked. He told them to don the tefillin, say a blessing or two, say the full shema, and spend a little while talking with God -- and then take the tefillin back off. The basic structure of shacharit (morning prayer) involves four parts: first the psalms, songs, and blessings of p'sukei d'zimrah, then the section of the service that centers around the shema, then into the Amidah (the central standing prayer which many take as an opportunity for connection and conversation with God), and then a wrap-up. The seven-minute davven is a highly condensed version of that.
So this morning, that's what I did. I said a few of my favorite early blessings (modah ani for gratitude, asher yatzar for the body and elohai neshama for the soul, baruch she'amar for God Who speaks the world into being), I said the full shema, and then I stood by the tall sliding doors that lead to our deck (which looks out right now on a beautiful snowscape) and I spoke with God about my gratitude, about my hopes and needs for the day, and about some larger dreams and fears for the season to come. And then I took off my tallit and tefillin, made myself a cup of tea, and sat down to check my morning email.
I did miss parts of the service that I didn't say (mostly other morning blessings; for whatever reason, I get a lot out of the birchot ha-shachar, which is probably why they proved such fertile ground for poetry), but it felt good to do the grounding, calming, and connecting work of wearing my tefillin. And I came away with ideas for liturgical things I'd like to work on. Coincidence? Maybe. But I can't help thinking there's something about morning prayer that opens me up. One way or another, this is a good way to start my day.