Saturday, April 13, 2013
Kavannah and Kevah
היום אחד שמונה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות וארבעה ימים בעמר
Today is eighteen days, which is two weeks and four days of the omer
A day of perseverance in a week of compassion
I've been working with friends of mine, teaching them about the Saturday morning prayer service in particular as well as the larger topic of Jewish prayer. Their oldest son will become bar mitzvah in early June, and they had been feeling lost in the service. I really appreciate their wanting to feel a connection to the ritual of prayer, to be able to participate in this important life cycle event in the way it was intended and not just be about the party.
Whenever I prepare teachings such as this, I learn something in the process. This assignment pushed me to get the first volume of My People's Prayer Book, edited by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman. This volume, The Sh'ma and it's Blessings, gives a good introduction to prayer in regard to both form and function. It was there that I found one way to explain the prayer experience that I hadn't thought of before.
Jewish ritual is driven by two concepts -- kavannah and kevah. Kavannah is the intention of prayer, something that comes directly from within without the filter of the words in the siddur, the prayer book. It comes from the word meaning "to direct" - your words, thoughts, emotions go directly from your soul out to God--whatever that means to you. Kevah, meaning a fixed, stable state, is exemplified by the siddur, the words on the pages, as well as the order and times of the specific prayers.
Prayer is the balance between kavannah and kevah - between the structure of the service and the words from the heart. The balance point constantly changes with the needs of the moment. Sometimes the kevah--the strict order and liturgical verses can be a barrier to what you need to express. Then kavannah takes over--you can listen to the chants, feel the support of community, yet express your own feelings in your own words. Then there are times when more grounding is needed, you're looking for guidance and meaning. The words and prayers are there, carefully chosen to bring you into a state of release, where you don't have to work to find words and you can converse with God in a way that brings comfort.
Kavannah and Kevah -- another cycle of Jewish ritual that brings openings into a sacred space.