Day 35: Shechinah she’b’Hod, Presence in Splendor
Spiritual practice. Specifically, a form that is both traditional and non-traditional. So-called “speed davennen”—but with a Kabbalistic twist.
Shacharit: A Spiritual Practice?
Lately, I have been reciting the traditional Shacharit morning service. By reciting, I mean a combination of singing and mumbling really fast. And by the morning service, I mean the version in The Seven Minute Shacharit by Rabbi Oren Steinitz.
True confession: sometimes I take more than seven minutes. Because, with a short service, I can slow down. Take time to think about the words. Discover new layers of meaning. And then dwell in the “aha” experience.
But, no matter how much I slow down, there are still parts of the service where I space out. Sure, I mumble each word. But with an odd kind of consciousness. My body takes over, and my mind travels somewhere else for a while. Until, suddenly, my mind wakes up again a few paragraphs later.
So, today I told myself that I was going to pay attention. But I failed. Again. I started mumbling and then the words just took over. They fell out of my mouth faster and faster and my mind could just not keep up.
A Kabbalistic Twist
And then I remembered: Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria taught his students to contemplate the sefirot as they recited their daily prayers. He assumed that they knew the liturgy by heart. So well that they could recite it without paying attention. So he told them to set their bodies to recite the liturgy. But to point their minds elsewhere. To focus on the specific quality of the day’s sefirah.
So, I decided to try Luria’s approach. Right after I recited the Shema’s first paragraph, I paused. And then I thought about the sefirah of the day. Shechinah she’b’Hod: Presence in hod. What, I wondered, might that really mean?
Well—I thought—we say that the quality of hod blends splendor, gratitude, and humility. So, how are they connected? Maybe: to be splendid, and also grateful—that is humility.
Then, I thought about what I am grateful for. So, I connected with that feeling of joy. Then, I felt good about myself, so splendid! And I felt held by the universe. Not proud of myself, but delighted by others. Then, I let the feeling fill me, surround me; I was present to it.
Then I mumbled the words of the Shema, second paragraph. No, I did not pay closer attention to these words. But now it did not matter! Because today the words appeared as a familiar tap-tap within a ring of splendid presence. They marked out a little bit of time for me to simply dwell in that presence.
These words helped me get beyond the words.
Consciousness and Spiritual Practice
So all these years, I worried that I was failing! That I was losing concentration, and ignoring important messages! Ha! I wasn’t failing at all, Instead, I was doing a different kind of spiritual practice. Enjoying a different kind of spiritual awareness. A shift of consciousness as part of the prayer experience. Maybe one that I can learn to enter on purpose.
And isn’t that an important part of spiritual practice? To develop the ability to shift our consciousness? So when unproductive anger fills us and narrows our thought, we can switch to kindness? Or when group ecstasy pulls us toward mob violence, we can stop to think before we act?
Questions for Reflection
THINKING: How does your own spiritual practice change you? And, thus, what do you think is valuable about spiritual practice?
FEELING: Do you pray any liturgical prayers? Or read a favourite poet for spiritual inspiration? If so, what does it feel like when familiar words give you a new message?
PRACTICE: Have you also experimented with approaching familiar words in different ways? Reading in different places, for example? Or at different speeds? Singing what you usually read—or vice verse? Dancing while you read? Drawing after you read? What happens?
GOD: Do you connect with God (or Spirit or the Divine) through words? Feeling? Movement? Silence? Watch yourself over time; the answer may change as you pay attention!
Image: AI enhanced image of Laura Duhan-Kaplan, commissioned by Hillary Kaplan