Sometimes, when I'm leading Shabbat morning services, I pause during P'sukei D'zimrah, the series of poems and psalms which come after the morning blessings but before the formal service begins with the Bar'chu, and I say a word about all of these praises which we offer.
Many of my students over the years have asked me: why do we say all of these words of praise? Song, praise, adulation, thanks, glory, splendor -- this part of the service is positively dripping with praise. What gives? Is God so insecure that S/He needs to hear this kind of thing every day?
In my understanding, we offer these praises not because God needs to hear them but because we need to say them. Because when we place ourselves in a posture of gratitude and awe, day in and day out, something in us changes. When we recognize that we're not the center of the universe, something in us changes.
Sometimes I think that the point of prayer -- the point of all of our spiritual practices -- is to help us refine ourselves, to help us change, into the people we're meant to be.
Children benefit from routine. I am the parent of a going-on-four-year-old, and I can tell you from experience that daily routines help a lot. Just as our kid is happier and healthier when he gets meals at regular times, nap (or quiet time) at a regular time, bed at a regular time -- so I am happier and healthier when I say prayers with regularity. When I stop every day to articulate gratitude and praise to God.
Having a regular prayer practice changes me. Lighting Shabbat candles every week changes me.
And sometimes I'm resistant to change. I like the way I am now! I don't want anything to be different! I don't want to give anything up -- like maybe my autonomy or my sense of self or my self-satisfaction in the way things are!
When I catch myself writing those scripts, I try to just...notice. With compassion, without judgement. Hey, lookit that, I'm doing that thing again. Where I'm resistant to change because change is scary, growth is scary, and I'm not always ready for what's next. The critical thing at that point, for me, is to just take a deep breath and let the tension flow away. It's okay if I'm not ready to change right this instant. Take another breath. Maybe then I'll be ready. Or maybe the breath after that.
Sometimes change foists itself on us, ready or not. Major health crises can do that. So can parenthood. Getting, or losing, a job can precipitate change. All kinds of things can. But I think if we've already accustomed ourselves to the constancy of change, then when changes come along they're not so terrifying. Just as when we've already accustomed ourselves to recognizing that there's something in the universe greater than ourselves, sudden moments of awareness which bring that recognition to the fore aren't so overwhelming.
Change is always coming. The best tools I know for dealing with change are the best tools I know for dealing with life. Compassion, kindness, plenty of sleep, good hot showers, hugs, prayer. Patience with yourself when you screw it up. Willingness to try again. And again. And again.
You may have noticed that "change" appears twice in this year's set of #BlogElul prompts. Hence the (2) in this post's title. Fortunately change is something I think I could riff on every day, since my sense of change is always -- well -- changing.