I have a confession to make. During services? When everyone is singing, speaking, or praying? My mind tends to wander. You might not notice, because I say and do the right things. But that’s not where my brain is. I know, it sounds terrible.
Growing up in my Reform synagogue, where a major portion of services was conducted in English, I had always been trained to get my spiritual fix by reflecting on the words themselves. The expectation was always to follow along closely and to pay attention to what I was saying. “Spacing out” was frowned upon.
But luckily for me, I learned that Judaism is actually okay with it. I made that discovery when praying with Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Traditional services have the silent Amidah, which consists of pages and pages of Hebrew. Everyone begins together while standing, goes through at his or her own speed, and sits and waits for other congregants to finish. If you’ve never been to a service where this is done, you’d soon learn this takes many minutes. Long enough for your mind to wander from one thing to another. Long enough for you to wonder what keeps those people standing and praying so long.
That’s the beauty of it. There are parts of the service that are actually SUPPOSED to be long, and maybe a little bit (dare I say?) boring. The secret? The familiarity of the words gives the freedom to explore deeper ideas. Prayers are so routine, they become background music to a conversation with ourselves, or perhaps with God.
This month at your services – wherever you pray – I have a challenge for you. Give yourself permission to let your mind wander during some of the more familiar prayers. Call it going on “spiritual autopilot.” Go ahead and say the words, but from time to time, allow them to wash through you. Give yourself a bit of freedom to listen to what’s really going on Inside your head, inside your heart.
May the coming days be a chance for you to make new discoveries in self-reflection. May you find time to listen to your private thoughts. May you sing and pray with your congregation, yet remember that your most spiritual reflections are within you.
And? If the rabbi asks? I’m TOTALLY paying attention during the sermon.