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Prayer is difficult for me

It’s always been difficult for me. I’m going through conversion. I’ve been going to my local shul almost every Friday in 2023, and I recently started going to as many Saturday Shabbat services as I can. I’ve been meeting with my Rabbi who has asked me to write notes about my Shabbat experiences. He asked if studying or prayer is easier for me.

I told him that studying is easier, and it’s true. Throughout my religious life, prayer has often been so difficult. I’m not a person who can feel things easily at all. As a small kid, I grew up in Fundamentalist, Pentecostal churches where people would speak in tongues and writhe on the floor when they felt the “spirit.” It freaked me out. My parents eventually got less and less fervent in their religiosity, and the churches we went to got gradually less crazy. But even just raising up my hands and closing my eyes always felt weird. We became Catholic for a short while, and I fell in love with the rituals/set prayers that were a part of it. I could be dour and quiet and still be doing it “right.”

I almost never feel anything when I pray- there are some times or occasions where I absolutely do, but not usully. But God is there in my life- I know God exists, but I don’t know how God exists, y’know? Is God a feeling? Something from within? To me, it doesn’t feel like something I can reach. I’m just not great at feeling positive or spiritual feelings in general- it’s hard. Maimonides even said that prayer gets in the way of truth and that contemplating God- thinking about what God is not in silent meditation is the best way to find that connection, and I agree. Deconstructing God is what helped me want to pursue more and what led me to Judaism.

Philosopher Franz Rosenzweig was an assimilated German Jew who nearly converted to Christianity, but he stopped by an Ortho synagogue on Yom Kippur before his baptism, changed his mind, and committed himself to Judaism. But he was against denominations and said that Judaism is beyond rituals, and that to be Jewish simply means you’re called from within yourself to delve deeper and deeper into Judaism, making it your lifelong mission to learn and experience all parts of it.

But my Rabbi disregarded that when I talked about it and seems to really want me to get into prayer. I’m okay with that. I’m still learning the prayers, so half the time I don’t know what I’m reading, so that’s also part of the issue. I’m just afraid that this will be a roadblock in the future. Does anyone else have this issue?

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