Why prayer?

5 11 2008

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.




One response

31 12 2008

I’ll tell you this, my friend, I’m not Jewish, but I’ve lived 34 years of my life without G_d in my life. I was brought up in a secular, non-religious household so typical in the USA/West. I was recently on a long hike deep in the moutains. I had basically given up. Totally sick of western society and life in general. I simply sat for a long time and for the first time in my life spoke to that little voice inside of me, I tried my best to converse with G_d, and asked him to do whatever he wants with me. I asked him what my purpose is and found myself crying for him to help me. Well, G_d gradually led me to a Torah forum and to trying to understand Jews/Judaism in general. I’m not to the point of converting, but I’m dedicated to understanding the Jews and Judaism. To “walk a mile” in your shoes, and try to learn more and more.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want to reconcile your love of Jewish learning & prayer, then I want you to simply imagine the experience of the truly horrific depression that comes from being totally disconnected from G_d. Life without Judaism, Torah, Prayer, etc., is a recipe for depression. Judaism, Torah, Prayer, is the cure. It is the only thing that’s helped me. That’s 34 years of my life totally disconnected from G_d and Torah/Judaism saved me.

If you grew up in a Jewish household, obviously practicing Judaism, studying Torah, etc., then your soul is in wonderful condition even if you go through the occasional period where you temporarily renounce Jewish learning and prayer. Because your parents were wise enough to properly guide your soul from day one, your soul will always be in great condition. I guess what I’m trying to say is no matter what, be thankful you’re a Jew and you have had Torah/Judaism and an endless number of resources available to you for study for your entire life. Just think of what life is like without those resources. That’s the definition of misery/depression. I’ve lived it. Judaism is the answer; don’t doubt that for a second.

Since I’m not Jewish and this is a Jewish blog, I understand if you decide not to post my comment. I just wanted to share my appreciation and say thanks.

All the best to you … it was the Jews who “brought me out of darkness to light.”

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