a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted on: January 27, 2012

Working prayer into my life in a meaningful way has been difficult.  I struggle with the idea of formalized prayers with prescribed words and informal prayers that come from the heart every day.  I think that structure and tradition has its place, but I wonder how they can remain meaningful when they are rushed through for the sake of saving time or recited for because we’re “supposed to”.  How devout Muslims make their prayers meaningful five times each day when they’re saying the same thing over and over again.  How do traditional Jews make praying three times a day a time to connect with Gd rather than just something that is prescribed?

I remember walking into a Jewish bookstore that was going out of business during 3PM prayer.  I was hoping to find a beautiful kiddush cup and felt completely out of place as the small store front filled with kippah-adorned men praying towards the Western Wall that afternoon.  I was captivated by the sight of their lips moving, the sound of their prayers, and their devotion.  Pangs of jealousy pulsed through my body and I wondered if I would ever get to that place.

As it is, I forget to recite the Sh’ma at night and don’t remember Modeh Ani until I’m in the shower.  Being at service on Shabbat seems like a nice catch all, it allows me to spend time in the presence of other Jews and pray with Jews who are just as excited to be sharing the same space as me for the purpose of celebrating Shabbat.  But I don’t want to be a Friday night only Jew.

My desire for motherhood is just as much about giving birth and nursing as it is about starting a family and making my own Shabbat traditions.  I day dream of the day, Be’ezrat Hashem, that I light candles with my family and make kiddush with my children.  For now, Shabbat has become a time to reconnect with my spirit and my connection to Gd, as well as a time to reconnect with my partner.

From The Sabbath by Heschel

One the eve of the Sabbat the Lord gives man neshamah yeterah, additional spirit…Others believed that an actual spiritual entity, a second soul, becomes embodied in(w0)man on the seventh day.  “(Wo)man is given on this day an additional, supernal soul, a soul which is all perfection, according to the pattern of the world to come.  It is the holy spirit that rests upon (wo)man and adorns him with a crown like the crown of angels”…


2 Responses to "Shabbat Shalom!"

You so often hit on what I’m experiencing, too. I try to daven three times a day. If I’m lucky, that translates into –maybe–three mornings, three afternoons, and three evenings (not counting Shabbat). And I’m lucky if they’re all on the same day.

I’ve recognized my patterns, too. I’ll have a couple of peak weeks where all my prayer connects inside of me. Then I’ll have weeks where I feel like I can’t connect, stress over it, altogether try too hard. Today during a Mincha that I actually managed to do, I stared at the blessings in the Amidah and felt very aware that I wasn’t present while I was saying them.

The best I can make out of it is how blessed are we that at least we know what it feels like to have that connection when we daven, even if we can’t maintain it all the time. In Danya Ruttenberg’s book, Surprised By God, she talks about how sometimes when you daven, it’s amazing–and sometimes it’s just rote repetition. She noted that, at least for her, even when it’s rote repetition, she still senses somehow deep down throughout her day that she has davened. That somehow the prayer did its job.

I feel a similar way after I stumble badly through a boring period of davening. Even if I’m not there, God still is. It’s like they say (and I do, too), life can’t always be kavanah, but keva gets the job done, all the same 🙂

Why do you live in Chicago again?

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