There has not been formal prayer at Beyond Walls, though each morning and evening someone leads a meditation which features some silence and some words or prayer or song. Midweek, one of the Jewish participants suggested that we gather to daven mincha, the short service named after the afternoon grain offering which was once shared on the altar at the Temple in Jerusalem. We met on the patio behind the dining hall just after dinner on Wednesday night. The dining hall was beginning to cast long shadows across the lawn, but we walked through those shadows and into the sunshine.
We were a group of perhaps ten Jews and at least twice as many curious Christians. Rabbi Jamie said a few words explaining mincha and led us in an ashrei chant which I know and love and have sung often -- and which I did not know was his own composition! Then I led the weekday amidah: the first three blessings in Hebrew, and then the remainder in extemporaneous English. As I came to each of the bakashot (requests) I glanced at the Hebrew in my tiny pocket Koren siddur, connected with its meaning, and sang out a sentence or two in English before closing with the chatimah, the final line.
This is a mode of prayer I learned from the teacher of my teachers, Reb Zalman z"l (of blessed memory -- see Remembering my rebbe.) It seems innovative, but is actually a very old way of approaching prayer in general and the amidah in particular. Once upon a time, the shaliach tzibbur ("delegate for the community," e.g. prayer leader) would riff on the set themes of the blessings; only the final words of each blessing, which express its theme, were fixed. I love davening the amidah in this way, especially when I'm with a mixed-faith group for whom the pure Hebrew would not hold meaning.
Rabbi Jamie led us in a wordless niggun as our prayer for peace, and then an ein od chant as our aleinu. Meanwhile, my eyes were riveted on a clump of mown grass near us where a glorious orange butterfly was resting. At one point it rose up and flew away a bit, but it returned to another nearby clump of grass. I liked imagining that perhaps it was listening to our prayer. (Can butterflies hear?) Afterwards as people were thanking us for the service, others noticed the butterfly too. "It's probably dying," noted Rodger Kamenetz wryly. "What -- I'm a realist!" Well, at least we gave it a sweet send-off.
A butterfly very like the one we davened with.
Shabbat shalom to all who celebrate! And to everyone else, may your weekend be sweet.