Monday, March 23, 2009

Golf and Prayers

While I am no golfer I have heard that there is hardly a more frustrating game to play than golf. What is so unbearable to the amateur golfer is his/her sense of inconsistency. The golfer can often make several shots in excellent fashion and even come to believe s/he has got his/her stroke down, only to follow them with poor play and eratic strokes. The golfer never seems to be the master of his/her game.

In some ways our tefila often has the same frustration to it. One day we may have a wonderful experience in prayer and believe we are finally in sinc with our kavana, only to find that a day or two later try as we might we cannot seem to connect with our Creator . At times the words come oh so naturally and we feel an immediate contact with the Divine. Other times try as we might, even if we concentrate on the meaning of the words, we just can't seem to generate the feeling that we are actually in dialogue with Hashem.

While I have no idea how to help the golfer. I do have some thoughts about our intimacy with the Divine. And they come from this weeks parsha. The first words of the portion are "Vayikra el Moshe..." "And He called to Moshe...." According to our sages each time G-d spoke to Moshe He called him before He began to speak...The verse in this portion is meant to be revealing of the nature of each encounter Moshe had with Hashem. The sages point out that unlike the prophets of the non-Jews, like Bilam, of whom it said "vaykar Elokim el Bilam", " and Elokim appeared to Bilam" , without being called or addressed, without their meeting being pre-arranged, G-d calls to Moshe. In the calling their meeting is no chance encounter. Its no accident. Its formal.Its consistent. G-d summons Moshe, invites him to the rendezvous with his G-d.

The Hebrew letter aleph in the word vayikra is written in the Torah smaller than the other letters of the word. Why? With the letter aleph in small print we are actually left with the word vaykar, the same word the Torah used when Hashem appeared to Bilam, implying a kind of impromptu encounter, rather than one planned and anticipated. What are we being told here about being called to intimacy? How do we reconcile the paradox?

I believe the message here reflects a great truth about spirituality and our relationship with Hashem. Yes we all want a consistent reliable feeling of closeness to the Divine...We all want to feel called, to experience the vayikra. But the only way that will happen is if we treat our life's experiences not as if they are repeated appointments, pre-planned events, formal and regular. No, we need to see life as constantly spontaneous and wondrous in its happenstance...It is in seeing life as vaykar, as immediate and surprising, as new and unexpected that our feelings are titillated and we are awakened to experience the holy.

The paradoxical message here is that in order to know the sense of being called we need to experience the immediacy of the Divine before us, in every encounter, in every breath we take.

Its feeling the surprise of the ordinary that allows us to experience its sacredness and the immediacy of the Divine.

When I live life in relationship to Hashem as if its vaykar, spontaneous, wondrous and unexpected, then I will feel the consistency and reliability of vayikra in Hashem'e relationship with me. For my prayers to be efficacious in building a gateway to heaven day after day paradoxically I need to make my prayers not a repeat of the day, month or year before, but something entirely new, as if I have never said these words before, never had the gift of standing before Hashem in prayer before. In feeling the newness and surprise of the moment I guarantee that each time the moment arrives it will reveal all its promise and fulfill its potential.

This is what the Talmud taught when its said "anyone whose prayer are fixed will not find his/her prayers received". It is also consistent with the requirement in halacha to never say the shmoneh esrai, the core prayer of each service without adding something new.

In some circles they distinguish between religion and spirituality by saying "religion is for people who don't want to go to hell...and spirituality is for people who have been there."
I prefer to say spirituality is for those who see all their experiences as new and unprecedented.
Religion is the medium, the filter, through which to have that experience of the forever new and immediate.

To live experiencing each moment as new and unprecedented is both exciting and scary. Many will prefer to repeat the same rather than risk embracing the possibility of the new without precedent. But just as there has never been a 'you' before you, there has never been this moment before now. We cannot let fear rob us of the gift Hashem intends for us in embracing this wondrous moment. We say in our morning prayers, "G-d recreates the world anew each day"! Our task is to experience that recreation and in that know the consistency of meeting each day anew with our Father in Heaven.

Shabbat Shalom!

No comments:

Post a Comment