On The Heart Line of America

Another case for davenen

From the heartland, the heart line, the Omphalos, the belly button of America, St. Louis, Shabbat chol ha-moded Pesach, 5771

Thanks be to those who inquired about our shalom knowing from what remains of the news these days that a twister tornado hit during Kabbalat Shabbat last night, just at the time that we were escorting the Bride to her nuptials, the roof flew off the airport and without instruments but by estimation I may be the closest synagogue to the airport in our town. I just measured by GPS — I am the closest to the disaster at the airport — where a tornado blew off a roof off the airport.

We are well. Thanks for asking.

The night before, I had gone to the local Chabad to make maariv at the 9 PM minyan. I spent earlier that day making seder at the prison (read my blog for accounts of the privilege to serve the forgotten people), returned to the Omphalos where I live in time to run a meeting for recovering drug addicts at my synagogue (the courageous people) – no time to say the holy kaddish for a yahrzeit dear to me.

Made the 9 PM minyan to say the holy kaddish. This is a week of tender tender kaddishim at my synagogue so the next night Shabbat chol ha-mo-ed was extra dear. I arrived at the synagogue with ominous weather forming but the not-news is never that clear on these subjects as it depends mostly on tweets and eye-witness accounts of people foolish enough to drive around and send messages to the news gatherers. Hunters and gatherers: the not-news.

At the synagogue most everyone stayed home except the musicians and their sweethearts (this is why we became musicians). Soon others hungry for prayers came wandering in and though we started on time without minyan within a few minutes: minyan.

Outside the lights are going on and off like a kid playing the light switch (it was lightning) and sirens going off all around us. I confess I have never understood the esthetic of non-traditional prayer forms – you talk I talk, sit down stand up, sing not-sing, prayer language interrupted with self conscious non-prayer language, avoidance of authentic inwardliness — I can’t discern the esthetic and I am always uncomfortable at the outwardliness and infantilization. I am comfortable davenen and appreciate the personal space it creates in my personal and meta-personal prayer life.

At my synagogue we have evolved a hybrid form that I think is quite unusual – our prayers are more like our performances and our performances are more like our prayers, we call it “not show business, ceremony” but on this night with the weather roiling I holler over the rising thunder “let’s daven!” We were done in twenty minutes and as we drove home through the weather danger the not-news on the radio mentioned there were some cells around the airport moving fast fast towards my home. I moved faster and made it home. No one died in the storms that night — that was the most remarkable thing.

The next day the retro-news showed that at the very moments we were making the holy prayers in record time even for traditional standards the roof was flying off the airport a couple of miles away and leveling a neighborhood quite close to the synagogue.

I realize another case has been made for davenen. Flexibility. I love my musicians, they are so loyal, and their sweethearts – they make the holy prayers with me in the most sensitive way and then emerge into the generally narcotic heartline night to their various gigs – but I realize another case has been made for davenen not very theological more about efficiency and I am working, working on integrating music and words as languages of prayer, how to make that more beautiful more inward more sensitive more elevating – knowing again that the languages of prayer include davenen not only as a remnant of the past but through its own authenticity and challenge to what we think we have learned, what we think we know and what we don’t know.


jsg, usa