Religion & Beliefs

Words By Heart

You know how going to a concert is way more fun if you can sing along with every single lyric? Being able to chime in without having to think about it is a really big deal. It makes it easier … Read More

By / June 21, 2007

You know how going to a concert is way more fun if you can sing along with every single lyric? Being able to chime in without having to think about it is a really big deal. It makes it easier to enjoy yourself and get caught up in the music. I’ve recently found that the same is true for prayer. I’ve been praying every day for almost eight years, and though I’ve had most of the siddur in my head for ages, it wasn’t until recently that I actually tried putting the book down, closing my eyes, and going on autopilot. Part of the reason I never tried was because praying without a siddur is strongly discouraged by the rabbis, who are terrified that you’ll forget the words or inadvertently slip up and say something along the lines of “Thanks for Jesus, and Mohammed, too. Rock on, God.” Since I only ever pray in Hebrew, and we all know how I feel about Jesus, this isn’t a big risk for me. Still, I was always nervous to close my eyes. It feels somehow scary, and too sincere to pray with your eyes closed. You know those people who gesture wildly when they pray (cantors are often guilty of this one)? I roll my eyes at them. Watching someone else pray with her eyes closed seems like spying, and if she gestures to God I just get embarrassed on her behalf. Despite all these paranoias, I recently set down my siddur and began praying from memory, at least for the Amidah. And it has been liberating. There’s something about not having any optical distractions that really helps my concentration, and I think that closing my eyes, even though it makes me feel kind of naked, is a nice way of forcing myself to be less self-conscious with prayer. Not seeing the words on the page lets me get behind the words, if that makes any sense. So I highly recommend memorizing as many prayers as possible, and seeing if reciting them by heart makes them any more effective for you. Looking for more prayer strategies and explanations? There’s a really interesting article over at Daily Om about how to keep worrying from being your most intense prayer. USCJ has published a piece about grand hand and body choreography for davening which sounds interesting, but which I’m sure I could never bring myself to do in public. The BBC’s site about Jewish liturgy is surprisingly well done and informative for a beginner. Good for someone who wants to know what’s behind everything we do at shul. Catholic liturgy works in a similar structure to the siddur, and A Nun’s Life has a nice analysis of the benefits of saying the Liturgy of the Hours.