Dancing With God
I expected Dancing with God: How to Connect with God Every Time You Pray to be like a dozen other books about Jewish prayer I’ve read that assume that the person praying is 1) male 2) Orthodox and 3) praying three times a day, with a minyan, in a synagogue. As a Jewish woman who rarely prays in a synagogue, let alone three times a day, I get defensive about Jewish books that make the assumption that everyone reading the book is a Jewish male.
So I had every intention of not liking this book.
Dancing with God caught me off-guard in a most pleasant way. Already in the introduction, Rabbi Kunis addressed this point with his audience directly when he wrote, “The liturgy that is explored in this book is mostly trans-denominational and can be found in prayer books of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform movements.”
Having read that, I felt my defensiveness relax a bit.
Also in the introduction, Kunis wrote that “The need to pray is woven into the spiritual DNA of the Jew.” Ah! But what that prayer looks like is defined quite broadly in the rest of the book.
Kunis addresses the question of why prayer is so hard. He concludes that prayer requires much more than just the lips and even the mind. As he writes, “Prayer is a function of the heart… To pray is to feel, and feelings cannot be mechanically manufactured by reading a script of prayers. And for this reason, the Talmud implores us: ‘Do not pray as if you were reading a letter.’”
This past Friday night, as I sat in a comfortable chair, facing Jerusalem, which is just a few miles from my back porch, I felt myself slipping into a transcendent prayer zone. I don’t always, or even usually, find it easy to enter that space, especially since there are so many pages to cover in a traditional prayer book. But this past week, I felt like I hit the prayer jackpot.
Rabbi Kunis explains that most Jews today aren’t taught how to pray and they often have no idea where to begin or even what to realistically expect from a congregational prayer service. “When they walk into a synagogue they expect to be inspired like those who go to the theater or a sporting event expect to be entertained.”
The book takes readers by the hand. It seems to me that it doesn’t assume anything. Those who can read Hebrew and follow a prayer service are encouraged to skip the beginner’s instructions. But even someone who can’t read Hebrew and/or who doesn’t know the structure of a typical prayer service can still “dance with God”.
Rabbi Kunis makes the case that even the absolute beginner should make an “appointment with God” for 15 to 20 minutes a day. He offers a structure for how to spend that time in prayer. Beyond that, he teaches the importance of being involved in Torah study and acts of chesed (kindness to others) as spiritual balances.
In subsequent chapters, Rabbi Kunis introduces meditative exercises that start with pleasant imagery such as, “Imagine you are walking in a beautiful green field...” These exercises are available as audio recordings on the book's website. He also weaves in Chasidic and other Jewish stories to make certain points.
His work distills the essence of fundamental Jewish prayers such as Shema and the Amidah. And he does it in a welcoming, non-threatening, non-judgmental tone that I deeply appreciated.
Despite its cover and title, Dancing with God is not a book about going into a forest and talking to God about whatever is in your heart. That’s a worthy spiritual practice known as hitbodedut, but it’s not what this book is about.
Dancing with God is about developing a deeper relationship with traditional Jewish prayer. In an unconventional manner. At your own pace.
Rabbi Kunis has written an original book about Jewish prayer that any Jew, male or female, beginner or experienced, can draw from in order to use prayer as a vehicle to come closer to the Creator of the Universe.
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