Sunday, November 25, 2007

Davening on High Places

In many Hasidic tales an individual is sent upon a seemingly insignificant journey and upon his return discovers that the entire purpose of the trip was: while beside a particular stream or tree he was to say a particular blessing (perhaps the hand washing blessing) and thus elevate the divine sparks that had been imprisoned in that place since the time of creation.

Rebbe Nachman strongly encourages his followers to conduct their personal prayers (the practice of hitbodedut) out in the fields, or other natural settings.

Yet formal prayer outdoors, shacharit, mincha, mariv, is discouraged if not outright forbidden, especially if those locations are on mountaintops or under trees. This is because we were forbidden to take on the practices of the Cannanite nations and to destroy their high places and sacred groves. Since mountaintops and trees were used as places of pagan ritual, we are forbidden to pray in those same places.

My difficulty is: when I daven outdoors I feel so much more focused, more connected with the Divine. Perhaps this is because I feel more connected to G-d as El Shaddai, the aspect of the divine that operates in nature, the force of the hidden miracle in the natural world. When I take my annual summer camping trip, one of the things that I most enjoy is the davening in the wilderness. I love standing in prayer under the stars, or saying the morning Amidah just as the solar disc comes clear of the horizon. I can feel clarity pour into my soul. I have had more emotional upheaval and purging “out there” than I have ever experience in shul on the High Holidays.

Perhaps my journey is to elevate the sparks in our national parks.

Davening on the edge of the world,
Standing where the world falls away,
At the top of the mountains,
My prayers curve upwards into space.

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