Finding Meaning While Waiting for the Morning BART Train

As part of my rabbinic training I am learning to deepen my daily prayer practice. My initial motivation was the graduation requirement to be fluent and facile in our understanding of the services and to be comfortable in leading them. As I grow in my understanding of the components of prayer, I see that the service takes one on a journey.  Most often these days, from the time I rise, make my way to BART and stand on the platform waiting for the train, I internally engage in Shacharit, the morning service.  My morning begins with gratitude that I awoke; awareness that each day is full of potential and thus one has the responsibility to do good in the world; and acknowledgement that there is a power that nurtures and directs all things (some would say God).

Initially I was wary of embarking on this prayer journey. After all, I am a rational woman with my feet grounded in science. How could I find meaning in this mandatory endeavor? As I have become more familiar with the words on the page, as the Hebrew has morphed from just sounds which I struggled to enunciate, to words with meaning, I have begun to recognize the signposts of the prayer journey. The path through the service has become comforting and profound. Much to my surprise, the words and the concepts have begun to resonate… bein yom oovein laila (who gives the heart understanding to distinguish day from night…Shema (Listen Israel, everything is One)…v’natati esev b’sadcha (the rain will fall, or it won’t because our actions have consequences)… honen deah (You grace humanity with knowledge and teach mortals understanding).  The service has come alive for me in ways unexpected, meaningful in a profoundly personal way.

In the morning service on many days we recite is a section entitled “Tahanun,” supplications. Until now I generally have dismissed this section as just another thing to get through… but the translation “supplications/pleadings” does a disservice to the immediacy of the endeavor.  Behind this lofty language is the opportunity to express what we personally need in our lives now. For example, it may sound trite, and I acknowledge that this is “a first world problem,” but my morning commute gives me a lot of stress.  Every day from the moment I open my eyes to the time I board the train, I worry I won’t find a parking place and I won’t get a seat.  Today, after these thoughts ran through my mind, happily and surprisingly, I found an open spot on the street as close as possible.  And as I stood this morning on the BART platform, thinking “please may I get a seat for the hour journey into SF,” I realized that I was actually pleading to the powers that be for something that I needed in the moment.  Tahanun came alive for me.

As I grow in my comfort with personal prayer and my skills at leading community services, both are profoundly meaningful to me and I feel blessed to share this journey with you. (And yes, I did get a seat on the train this morning!).

May we grow from strength to strength,