Cave of the Heart (vii) : PART TWO (Conclusion)

The method I am, I suppose, “promoting” here is that if we place ourselves regularly in the presence of God silently (or sometimes not so silently) sooner or later He will do something....and it is my belief that putting ourselves in that situation is somehow of great use to Him. It all takes place in clouded internal worlds of fleeting half awarenesses.....but it changes us and makes the world we return to after such prayer different. If it is not too presumptuous to claim it, I would suggest that we grow by it into seeing things a little bit more in the way God does.

This simple method assumes that God is perfectly capable of acting if He wants to, but for that to happen we need to invite Him. It is principally a profound acknowledgement of that belief. 
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Nevertheless, it is not so “passive” a method that we are exempt from putting some work into the process ourselves. Preparation before standing in His Presence involves considerable care and effort but during the prayer session itself we will often have to work quite hard to clear away the mental clutter that blocks our path. Making an internal space, an ayin that He can fill, needs both our (chronological) time and our effort. We also have to be prepared to accept that it may not be an effort that produces a sense of fulfillment and that it may not be completed either in that session or even in our (current) lifetime…….. but “neither should we desist from the task of trying.”

Neither is it so passive a method that it consists solely of the exercise itself. The point of standing in attentive contemplation is to be open to inspiration. That is inspiration for action… both spiritual and material action. We do the work it inspires.

I recommend using a standing posture because of the way I started using this method during the liturgical Amidah which is always performed in that way. It is also practical because it does not restrict movement (should that arise) and for me it is almost essential as I fall asleep if I am sitting down!

It is in no sense suggested that actually “standing up” is a necessary posture. Elijah seems to have also used a “seated with the head between the knees” one to great effect when he was not standing at the mouth of the cave under his mantle, and all Jews once prostrated themselves in prayer until that was sadly legislated against save during the High Holidays.

The sort of contemplative “Standing” I am recommending as a method can be taken figuratively rather than posturally and it is most certainly not intended as a suggested alternative to the formal Amidah- though it can be included as part of ones’ private formal prayer.

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In this form it would consist of allowing extended silence to enter into such recitations. If you feel drawn to it, or sense its approach on arriving at a particular sentence, phrase or word in the siddur you are using…..resist rushing on through the formula and follow it into the cave of contemplation for as long as It likes.

Just “present” yourself before God and ask Him to let you come to Him. Tell him you are there to listen ….. and then “Be still”.

Making a “standing” as a separate unit of prayer, possibly at an altogether different time might also be something you might like to try.

In this form it often needs even more preparation than a formal prayer session. That preparation might be study, or a reflective period which may last days before you feel ready to approach Him. Sometimes, such a slight delay in responding to the invitation mentioned earlier can be a positive event.

Or the invitation may come totally unexpectedly and with some urgency. At such times our response may be almost instinctively rapid.

If I am “standing” as a separate prayer session I sometimes find that borrowing the “three steps back, three steps forward” ritual of the Amidah helps to focus both my body and my mind.

For any reader who would benefit from a sort of model of what I am talking about here’s one way you might like to try:

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In a room where you are not seen or heard,
find a spot where you are not likely to bump into anything.
Stand straight with your feet close together and your hands loosely by your sides.

Close your eyes and keep them closed.

(If you feel so inclined... stretch your body for a bit and then return to the same standing posture.)

After a few moments of standing in verbal or mental “talking to God” or in the recitation or singing of a prayer: ask God to permit you to stand before Him/help you to come to Him.

When you feel ready to approach,
and with your eyes still closed:

Slowly take three steps back, wait a moment....
then very slowly take three steps forward to “come into
His Presence”

Bow before Him, talk to Him or think in Him, then move on to something like the following statement:

“LORD, if there is anything that you would say to me, or something which You want to do to me…..I am here.”

Or even more simply…..try just saying or repeating:

Hineini (I am here)

After which you should “Listen” for as long as you feel you are being asked to. (That could be seconds or minutes).
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That still, silent attentiveness may be very hard to achieve or maintain, though it can be developed by repetition of the exercise over time. Distracting thoughts can either be gently dismissed or followed, they might themselves be an intended route to lead you to the same moment of encounter. What counts is that you are trying not to be concerned about yourself or what you are doing so much as trying to be prayerfully available to God, even though it may be for a very short space of time.

What counts is your “attempt” to be attentive to Him.

In presenting this “model”, I have to leave the reader at that “hineini” point. Each individual needs to grapple with the “creation of the empty space” using their own experience and creativity. This is not a cop-out. Everyone is unique and needs to find their own ways to do this.

For those who want it, there are a million meditation books dealing with ways to promote “stillness” or “attentive silence”. They may help, or they may confuse. Reading about prayer can be a good way to avoid doing it. Nothing beats the “suck it and see” approach because in the end… are your own teacher.

The important thing is your attentiveness to Him.

The m’arat ha-lev is not a metzar (a confined space) it is a merchavyah (a wide open expanse). Should you feel like singing or dancing or moving or whatever after some time being still and silent, let it happen. That may actually give you what you are meant to hear or receive.

If nothing happens or it seems that nothing is happening, remember that “no” and “ not yet” are also answers and that they do not necessarily imply a rejection.
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Again: The important thing is your attentiveness to Him

If you have never done anything like this before or if you feel silly doing it despite really wanting to do it… my suggestion is that you persist in making the experiment for a reasonable period on a regular basis before giving up. The fact that contemplative prayer or meditation is a lot less glamorous and “eventful” than your hopes or expectations may have led you to expect should not be allowed to put you off. You are doing it for Him more than for yourself after all.

As to how often you should perhaps do this kind of meditation: My advice to someone unfamiliar with this kind of prayer is to do it every day, or every few days, or once a week, or whenever you feel called to…..but, if possible, more or less regularly and for a reasonable length of time.

I’ll leave the definition of what that might be to you but ask you to remember, if you’ll pardon the anthropomorphism, God seems to enjoy an old-fashioned lengthy courtship.

If you find it produces no results (in your life)….then leave it. It might not be the “right time”…… but you may feel unexpectedly called back to it at a later date.

Or perhaps it’s just not a way meant for you, in which case He will surely offer you another one.

The particular method I’ve proposed and the personal attitudes and reflections in which I have framed it in this booklet are not at all important. Developing our deep attentiveness in personal prayer is….. for all Jews.

Israel’s response at Sinai was/is “We will do and we will hear.” That is most often interpreted with the meaning: Israel hears God’s voice by observing the commandments.
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That is most certainly true.

A complementary interpretation occurs to me.

I’m absolutely certain that there are no accidents.

It surely must be of primary significance that the first command in the principal prayer of Judaism, is Shema….Listen! Judaism has been focussed for centuries on "doing".  But the time is coming when the significance of "listening" will grow.

It is time for us to "listen" in contemplative prayer because it is only by paying attention  in receptive contemplation that we can become the prophets, or sons of the prophets, that we are all destined to be.

Aharon Nachman ben Avraham
[Norman R.Davies]
Ist edition Erev Iyar 15 5765 / May 23rd 2005

2nd edition 26 Adar1 5776