Amidah tensions
"Oh my darling..."

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Have you ever slowed down with the intent to appreciate a flavor: fresh strawberries hot from the field, smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, spicy gingerbread iced with fondant? Ever taken an eternity to savor a crisp in-season apple, an ear of sweetcorn with butter, a bowl of rich mushroom-barley soup? Every now and then I have a yen to do that with prayers.

I've been reading an excellent book by Rabbi Marcia Prager called The Path of Blessing, which I will post about when I've finished it and taken some time to digest it. Anyway, there's a chapter about each word in the standard bracha formulation. (Don't think there's a chapter's worth of stuff to say about ברוך/baruch/"blessed"?  Think again.) It's making me think about how much I gloss over when I speak blessings and prayers.

The thing is, even though the practice of making blessings is designed to enable us to savor a moment, it's rare that I take proper time to savor a blessing. And if that's true for a sweet, dense little truffle one-line prayer, it's more true for longer parts of the liturgy. I've seen a fascinating chart of esoteric meanings one can read into the amidah, resonances of each word, kavvanot (intentions) to hold while praying each phrase -- but when I'm actually saying the prayer, I can't remember that stuff. Even in my shul where we pray at (what strikes me as) a reasonable pace, I can't stop and hold each word.

And most of the time, honestly, that's cool with me. But every now and then I think it would be really neat to take an hour to davven the amidah: really get inside every word, meditate on all the resonances. The closest I’ve come is at Elat Chayyim, where I've experienced interpretive and contemplative shacharit (morning prayer services). We took one line from each of the morning prayers, chanted it repeatedly to get inside it (and get it inside us), and then faded into silence to sit with the prayer for a  while. It's not my everyday mode of praying, but I've loved it every time I've done it.

That it's not my everyday modus operandi (modus davvenandi?) is actually important, I think. Slow and focused prayer takes a lot of energy. But I suspect really sinking in to contemplative prayer once or twice could help remind one not to davven at lightning speed in general, just as eating a good meal mindfully can remind one not to be satisfied with bolting food as fast as one can.

Maybe the answer is that I should try offering to run a contemplative/interpretive morning service once in a while at my shul. (Yeah, in my copious spare time.) And if anyone shows up, I could teach some simple chants, and we could spend a while studying prayers, and we could davven really slowly, as though any given prayer were an ice cream cone we were trying to stretch with as many tiny licks as possible. I think it would be fun. The question is, would anybody else?