There was a long period in my life when I used Torah study as a way to escape from the life of emotion. It was a place where I went to get away from myself and my problems; a place where I went to be tough and strong and smart. (Torah study is now one key place where my emotional life and my intellectual life meet, but that’s a story for another time.)
Prayer was never able to serve as a refuge for me in that way, but, instead, since I was very young, it served as a safe space—for a time, the only safe space—in which to feel a full range of emotions, from the most terrifying to the most deeply comforting. Prayer was where I could let down my guard; let down my walls; let down my iron-clad boundaries; open my Pandora’s box of sadness, yearning, and tears. Prayer is where I was able to be alone with God and free from the insistent voices of family, society, school, and work. Prayer was where I could stop and listen to myself–to my wants and needs, but also to my feelings of gratitude and thanksgiving. Prayer was where I could focus. Prayer was a place where I could go when I couldn’t focus.
Through this blog, I hope to learn more about what the use of tefillah [prayer] as a staging ground for experiencing emotions and for working out the primal relationship with God has meant and means to me and to classical Jewish commentaries on the siddur [prayer book].
I also expect to learn a tremendous amount from the experiences and reflections of future commenters and collaborators about how they experience the intersection between their religious and inner emotional lives. I expect to hear similarities to my experience, but also hope to hear of very different experiences.
Since I first experienced depression over ten years ago, I have been struggling to reconcile my love of Jewish learning, my experiences of alternately desperately clinging to and rejecting daily Jewish prayer, and the work that I have done in therapy in order to recover from depression. These parts of myself, which often seemed so separate and distant from each other, have increasingly overlapped. That place where they overlap is the subject of this blog.