I don't know how it happened, exactly, but this spring I fell off the prayer wagon.
Not wholly, you understand. I was still making it to Shabbat services, and still sanctifying my day with a myriad of tiny prayer practices: waking up with the blessing for gratitude, saying the blessing for the body as I tend to my morning medical needs, blessing the food that I eat, saying a prayer of gratitude each night for the day now ending. But the discipline of regular daily prayer fell away from me, or I from it, somehow.
My schedule changed and I was no longer able to make it to the weekly telephone minyan with my classmates. My life intensified and I started scrambling to get things done. I can offer explanations and excuses, but what they boil down to is this: I let it slide one day, and the next, and soon that new state of being (not-praying, and feeling vaguely guilty about it) came to seem normal.
Regular prayer is like regular exercise, in that when I'm doing it I feel great about doing it and I want to continue...and when I've lapsed from doing it, the effort of beginning the regimen again can seem insurmountable. Spiritual muscles need stretching as much as physical ones do, and when I fell out of the habit of working them, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the fact that I'm not managing to do it anymore... instead of taking the simple step of just starting again.
It took a phone call last week with two of my classmates to jolt me out of my spiritual lethargy. We got to talking about spiritual practice and how to rejuvenate it -- how to bring it back to life if it becomes stale, and how to jumpstart it if the rhythm has lapsed -- and one of my friends reminded me not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just put on tefillin and say a prayer or two, she urged.
So I did. And just like that, I was back in the swing of it again.
I haven't picked my siddur back up. Not yet. What I've been doing is putting on my tallit and tefillin and stepping outside on the deck. I sit on one of the purple wooden Adirondack chairs that Ethan built a few years ago, and I look out over the valley, and I let the prayers rise up in me naturally. This morning it was a handful of the morning blessings, the prayer which praises God Who speaks the world into being, a psalm, and then short chant versions of the three blessings surrounding the shema (and the shema itself) and a walking-meditation amidah during which I walked slowly out to our lilac bush and back, speaking quietly with God as I went.
It's a stripped-down service, but the matbeah tefilah (the structure or frame of the liturgy) is there. It gives me tangible, embodied connection with God again, in the whisper of my summer tallit against my skin and the comforting wrap of my tefillin straps. And it reminds me to take a few minutes out of my day to mindfully connect with gratitude, with wonder at light and love and redemption, and with the God Who is always there to listen if I'll just pick up the metaphysical phone and give a call.