My experience has been that, if you know where you’re going on your own journey through the prayerbook, change of song or text are far less disorienting than if you’re relying entirely on the leader to tell you “what page we’re on.” So, I thought I’d offer those who are struggling with the relatively new Mishkan T’filah something that has been very useful to me.
Joe Rosenstein, who put together Siddur Eit Ratzon ([always] “a good time to pray”) includes “guideposts” to point the way along what he calls the “spiritual journey” of the morning prayers. I’ve been using this siddur since it came out in 2003, and it has helped me immensely in understanding and relating to the traditional prayer structure.
I believe the guideposts in Siddur Eit Ratzon can be helpful to those who want to learn more about the prayer service and/or find new meaning in it for themselves. Even if one does not agree with all Joe’s theological assumptions, his description of the prayer arc, and how a “user” can relate to it, can be very helpful.
On the way to the Amidah, “the personal audience with God,” Joe describes six steps, from “becoming aware of our blessings” to “recognizing that God can make a difference.” He notes, by the way, that he did not invent these concepts but is simply recycling age-old ideas about what is in the siddur and why.
Aligning Joe’s six steps with the usual flow of prayer at Temple Micah, and with “menus” in Mishkan T’filah‘s margins, looks like this:
1. becoming aware of our blessings:
• Mah tovu, body-soul, Torah, blessings of the day
• “Tallit” through “Eilu Devarim” in “menu”
2. joining the chorus of praise to the Source of those blessings:
• Psalms 92, 145, 150
• “Baruch She-amar” through “psalms” in menus
3. finding our individual voices in that chorus:
• Nishmat Kol Chai (lovely transition, usually skipped at present)
• “Nishmat” through “chatzi kaddish” in menus
4. recognizing the many images of God:
• Barchu, Yotzeir and Ahavah Rabbah
• (as in menus)
5. understanding unity in diversity, personal God in transcendent God:
• the She’ma paragraphs (plus V’ahavta, “do this or else,” and tzitzit)
• “She’ma” through “L’ma-an tizkr’u” in menus
6. realizing that God can make a difference:
• Emet v’yatziv and Mi Chamocha
• (an in menus)
There are also guideposts for the Amidah itself and for the Torah and concluding services.