Backstory: The Three Spiritual “Goals”
When I moved out of my parents’ house, I had three spiritual “goals” for myself.
- Starting some form of daily prayer
- Saying a blessing before and after eating
- Keep a fully kosher kitchen
I use the term “goals” pretty loosely because they were really “things I thought I would like to do” vs. “things I am actively making a plan and taking measurable steps towards achieving” – I have never set a true “actively making a plan and taking measurable steps towards achieving” goal in my life.
The only goal that actually got achieved is #3 largely because my mother did pretty much all of the work because she is the nicest person in the world and also because I am useless and incompetent. I did wind up keeping Shabbat, although that actually wasn’t one of those original spiritual goals. That happened because I got into a stupid argument with my mother (the aforementioned nicest person in the world) and in the midst of argument, I told her I wasn’t breaking Shabbat anymore.
But that is besides the point. The point is that even though #1 & #2 were the low-hanging fruit with no requirements other than will and discipline, (unlike #3, which required learning about the laws of kashrut, purchasing new cookware and utensils and/or re-kashering existing ones for meat, dairy, pareve, and just generally not screwing the whole kitchen up) they didn’t happen.
Anyway, this post will focus on #1, the daily prayer (although #2 deserves its own blog post at some point).
Why Daily Prayer?
I flirted with Orthodoxy in high school and college and even a bit after college. I mean flirting in the literal sense; the “Eitan” character in this poem is based on a real person. I also found myself romanticizing the idea of becoming Orthodox. I didn’t necessarily see myself praying daily (or multiple times daily) with the synagogue community. Especially because in Orthodox Judaism, women don’t count towards a minyan (quorum needed for key prayers), so although the local Orthodox synagogue would have welcomed me (which isn’t always a given….), my presence at daily minyan would not actually have benefitted them.
Still, I liked the idea of some form of daily individual prayer by myself in my room. I felt that I had been richly blessed and that it was appropriate to thank G-d for the blessings in my life. I didn’t feel a need to necessarily recite the full Shacharit (morning) service, but certainly an abbreviated version would be appropriate, right?
I also had romanticized the idea that taking on the observances of Orthodox Judaism would turn me from a person who was hopeless at time management and maintaining any kind of routine to a person who excelled at good habits. Like going from useless duckling to functional adult swan.
I’ve written before about how I learned that if you suck at time management and then attempt to become Orthodox, you remain bad at time management. Unsurprisingly, if I wasn’t a creature of routine, Orthodoxy wasn’t going to make me one. And in fact, I am not a creature of routine or habit. I don’t wake up, got to bed, drink coffee, eat breakfast, leave for work, or do anything else at the same time day to day. I’ve tried many times, but I’ve never managed to make any habit, be it a gym habit or a skin care regimen, last for more than a day or two at best at a time. So daily prayer, even the minimal amount I was shooting for, also failed to last.
The Habit That Oddly Stuck
A few years after graduation, a former college classmate of mine was killed in a freak car accident. We weren’t close, but we’d had a few classes together and were friendly.
The next morning, I got in my car to go to work, and I found myself saying the Modeh Ani, which is traditionally said immediately upon waking up to thank G-d for restoring one’s soul. I did the same thing the next morning, and the next and so on and so on. This went on for years of commuting weekdays. Impressive given my track record.
You’re really not supposed to recite normal daily prayers in your car. You’re supposed to pray with the appropriate props – siddur (prayer book), tallit (prayer shawl), etc. You’re supposed to create a sacred space and say them with intention. Even during the pandemic, congregations and communities put out tips on how to create sacred space at home for virtual services.
But in a way, reciting Modeh Ani in the car made sense to me. I saw the Modeh Ani prayer as essentially about thanking G-d for giving me another day. Statistically speaking, driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day. But maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better.
Then there was coronavirus and I stopped doing any form of regular commuting, which ended my Modeh Ani habit. Not to say I didn’t attempt daily prayer again, but really never managed anything more than a two-day consecutive streak.