Books

Prayer for peo­ple who don’t usu­ally pray

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • RIVKAH LAMBERT ADLER

In our li­brary, we have many books about Jewish prayer. Some are about the his­tory of prayers – who wrote them and when they be­came part of the Jewish prayer book. Some are meant to re­veal the deeper mean­ings of Jewish prayers and what se­crets are en­coded in the He­brew words. Some fo­cus on what Jewish law says about prayer – un­der what cir­cum­stances this or that prayer is re­cited and why.

Rabbi Aryeh Ben David, au­thor, founder and di­rec­tor of Ayeka: Cen­ter for Soul­ful Ed­u­ca­tion, re­cently pub­lished a dif­fer­ent kind of book about prayer. Rather than fo­cus on spe­cific prayers, in Prayers of the Lost & Found: 10 Re­flec­tions on Be­com­ing a Prayer­ful Hu­man Be­ing, Ben David asks his read­ers to con­sider the ac­tiv­ity of prayer it­self in a fresh way.

“When was the last time you had a prayer checkup?” Ben David asks, com­par­ing it to the more com­mon ac­tiv­i­ties of med­i­cal or den­tal ex­ams.

The book is com­prised of 10 ques­tions about prayer. Its ti­tle comes from the sec­ond ques­tion, “How did I lose my prayer?” While the au­thor of­fers his own re­flec­tions on each of the 10 ques­tions, the book is clearly an in­vi­ta­tion to read­ers to con­sider the ques­tions for them­selves, ei­ther pri­vately or in con­ver­sa­tion with oth­ers.

Ben David did some pre­lim­i­nary home­work in pre­par­ing to write Prayers of the Lost & Found. “Over the last num­ber of years I have asked hun­dreds of peo­ple, of all ages, about their spir­i­tual lives and their re­la­tion­ship with God. Al­most ev­ery per­son re­marked that they had never spo­ken with oth­ers about this part of their life.”

He ex­plains that many peo­ple feel awk­ward and self-con­scious about hav­ing such con­ver­sa­tions, lest peo­ple judge them and con­clude they are odd. In Western cul­ture, which speaks more eas­ily about al­ter­na­tive gen­der iden­ti­ties than about God, his aim is to make it more ac­cepted and com­fort­able for peo­ple to talk openly about their spir­i­tual lives.

Prayers of the Lost & Found is meant to be a book read­ers en­gage with, not just pas­sively read. Each chap­ter is struc­tured sim­i­larly. It in­cludes a lead­ing ques­tion about prayer, a re­flec­tion, of­ten po­etic, in re­sponse to the ques­tion, a com­men­tary on that re­flec­tion, and ques­tions for read­ers to con­sider pri­vately or to dis­cuss with oth­ers.

Early in the book, Ben David makes the point that prayer is not just words re­cited from a prayer book. Rather, he writes, “God sends each of us our own per­sonal prayer, ev­ery day, all the time .... God is al­ways whis­per­ing to us, con­vey­ing our par­tic­u­lar role in the world.”

How does a per­son lo­cate God’s prayer for them­selves? Ben David ad­vises that they need to learn to lis­ten. “Prayer is the in­ner voice of the uni­verse that beck­ons us to grow, to soul­fully re­spond to the present needs of the world. It is al­ways call­ing.”

If you’re not used to pay­ing at­ten­tion to your spir­i­tual life, Prayers of the Lost & Found may strike you as a lit­tle kooky at best and, at least ini­tially, in­ac­ces­si­ble. Some of Ben David’s lan­guage may not fall com­fort­ably on your ear. For ex­am­ple, he writes, “Prayer is not some­thing we wish for. Prayer is some­thing that wishes for us.” That sounds like it would make a great meme, but what does it ac­tu­ally mean?

To be fair, it’s clear Ben David is try­ing hard to make this small book speak ex­actly to the kind of peo­ple who are not used to think­ing about prayer, let alone ac­tu­ally en­gag­ing in it.

One of the most suc­cess­ful ways he ac­com­plishes this is to use in­ci­dents in his own life to il­lus­trate points he’s try­ing to make, and to let the reader know that he was once just like them.

“I had never had a re­flec­tive or mind­ful prac­tice. We did not talk about God or spir­i­tu­al­ity in my fam­ily. I had never tried to con­nect with any­thing holy or imag­ined I had a spir­i­tual call­ing,” he wrote about his back­ground.

Prayers of the Lost & Found is a deeply per­sonal book that bravely opens up one man’s prayer life so that oth­ers may learn and grow in their own re­la­tion­ship with God, re­gard­less of whether they think of them­selves as “spir­i­tual.”

(David W. Cerny/Reuters)

THE CHIEF RABBI of Prague prays in­side the High Syn­a­gogue in the Czech Re­pub­lic in 2017. The book pro­vides a guide to over­com­ing ob­sta­cles to pray­ing with mean­ing.

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