An interview with Rabbi Nancy Flam on the power of meaningful prayer is the featured story of the Fall 2014 issue of Reform Judaism magazine, and can be found at www.reformjudaism.org/revitalizing-prayer.
A new movement is emerging to transform prayer into a more powerful and compelling practice, building upon our ancestors’ recognition that we truly can effect change through prayer.
You have said, “We risk losing a core of Jewish religious life if we do not discover better ways to pray.” Why is discovering better ways to pray so important?
I believe that prayer is a fundamental, defining human need. When our hearts are full or empty, when we feel deep longing, gratitude, humility, awe, love, or devotion, many of us—even those who don’t relate to liturgical prayer in a formal service—instinctively turn toward prayer, just as a flower turns toward the sun.
One woman told me how she took a certain route each week when driving to an appointment in order to pass a beautiful field bathed in late afternoon sunlight—the sight always uplifted her. “I noticed the beauty and was grateful for it,” she told me. “Then I was grateful for eyes that could see, a heart that could understand, the happenstance of this incarnation….I’ve come to realize that my noticing is a prayer.”
Click here to read the interview in its entirety, and join in the conversation below!
I loved this — and grieve again that it is even a question as to why it is so important to find “better ways to pray” — as if the attitude is “if it’s broke why fix it”. Our perceptions of what prayer is, and what it can be, have become so limited, so constrained and tortured, that we can’t imagine any prayer being meaningful — or possible — in our lives. But, as Nancy said “prayer is a fundamental, defining human need”, perhaps also a fundamental human act. I just re-read Norman Fischer’s introduction to his book “Opening To You” where he says, dramatically, but I think truly: “Making language is prayer. Our utterances, whether silent or voiced, written or thought, distinct of vague, repeated or fleeting, are always essentially prayer, even though we seldom realize it. To speak, to intone, to form words with mouth and heart and spirit, is to reach out and reach in. What we are reaching out and into, even when we don’t know that we are, is the boundless unknowable, the unnameable. In the end, prayer is not some specialized religious exercise; it is just what comes out of our mouths if we truly pay attention.” Every word is a reaching out from the depths of our souls to connect, a cry to be known, an attempt to say “thank you” for this unlikely thing, our existence. Thank you, Nancy, for making this happen.
Great job Nancy!
I’m an 85 yr old grandmother and don’t understand the last question. In any case, I recently read a perfect explanation in the book “Abraham Joshua Heschel” by Shai Held – (p.233)… “Since a mitzvah, as we have seen, is ‘a prayer in the form of a deed,”…which tells me there are many forms of prayer – in response to Rabbi Nanxcy Flam’s article.
I read the recent article in Reform Judiasm and was glad there was a link to this website to leave comments. I believe very strongly that prayer is a critical path to building a stronger relationship with Hashem and to building a better world. For me, prayer is a journey. Along the way, I’ve found a few elements to be basic, for me, to effective prayer. First, as the article highlighted is desire. The second is compassion for others: placing passion behind a selfless prayer for others gives it a special force. Third, especially with prayers to help with one’s own needs, is humility. I do not think of humility as a state of mind, but rather as a perpetual inner struggle. Sincere humility, stating one’s own weaknesses as one prays, gives power to our desire, and highlights our need for divine intervention. In addition, I believe that attention to detail is important in prayer — not just for the inner catharsis that comes about from “laying it all out”, but often important to trigger a response from Hashem. Yes, Hashem is omniscient, but I don’t believe that is a reason to take short-cuts. Something about prayer thrives when we “lay it all out”. Our passion increases, our sincerity and commitment become evident, and a divine response is more likely. I also feel that when Hashem does respond to prayer in a direct way, not only is the deed itself a miracle, but Hashem has a second goal: to “teach” us something. It is our task to draw wisdom from Hashem’s intervention: wisdom which will bring us closer to Hashem, and fuel our future prayers. And of course, central to all prayer is love: love of Hashem, love of those we pray for, and love of who we might become through prayer. We each develop a personal relationship with Hashem through prayer, and we each need to find our own “fuel” to create effective prayer. But, I agree with the article that the importance of prayer is so great that much good can come from comparing our experiences and together seeking more effective prayer.
Thank you so very much! This has been a spiritual transformation for me and I continue to evolve with this learning experience.