I used to get paid to pray.
I realize how utterly crass and unappetizing that must sound, and in truth it is a gross oversimplification of what my position as a cantorial soloist was all about, but there is some veracity in the statement. A huge chunk of the job description was all about leading the congregation in prayer, and I took tremendous pride in the sourcing of inspirational liturgical settings, as well as songs from outside of the synagogue, that would aid my community in the facilitation of their personal and collective davening.
Several years ago I began to feel like a fraud. My personal conversation with The Divine Spirit, which had always flowed so freely and unencumbered had, over time, become stale, stilted, and, so very gruelling. There was no specific incident that led to this frustration. No renaissance moment, no lightening bolt. It was a gradual process. The words on the page had become rote, and the music, in which I had previously taken so much comfort, began to seem ordinary and uninteresting. It felt like a huge part of the foundation on which I had built my entire life was crumbling, and I honestly had no idea how to deal with it.
There were times when I wished for atheism. I wondered if lack of belief was more liberating than my personal struggles. But absence of faith was never my problem. Rather, I had become distressed that the old, comfortable ways of engaging had abandoned me. I questioned my spirituality. Oh, how I loathe that word. To me, it is a catchall phrase designed to offer deistic comfort where none exists, and it fails me miserably. How could I be an effective leader of prayer if I simply couldn't find the will to engage in my own?
My recent retirement has afforded me some much needed time to ponder the dilemma. I have taken a step back from the established prayer service, and I have attempted to discover new and non-traditional ways to facilitate my personal dialogue with God. It has been frightening to abandon my comfort zone. When The Husband and I took one of the days of Rosh Hashana this year to hike through some trails near our home rather than attend synagogue, I will admit to some deep and profound feelings of guilt. (We Jews are nothing without a good dose of guilt.) But as we blew the shofar in the woods and performed our own personal tashlich (the ritual casting out of sins) in the Don River, I felt my personal connection with The Divine Spirit repair just a wee bit. I knew that God was there that day and we began the slow and painful process of reengaging our conversation.
And so, I will persist in my attempts to rediscover that which has been lost, to repair that which has been damaged, and I will continue the search for meaningful new prayer rituals. They might include Shabbat walks on the beach when I head south, or they might involve some new practices in yoga or meditation. I haven't yet decided on the path, but I have the freedom now to experiment. I have, however, realized that my personal connection with God hasn't disappeared, it has merely been transformed. It is now up to me and my perseverance to enact the changes necessary to maintain the relationship. To me, it is one worth saving.
Kein Y'hi Ratzon. May this be God's will.