All you peoples, clap your hands, raise a joyous shout for God …. Sing, O sing to God; sing, O sing to our king. (47:2, 7)
Prayer is supposed to be a joyous, energy-filled experience. Shabbat, weekday minyan, any time when people gather together for a service (other than a Shiva minyan, of course) should be an opportunity to be enthusiastic. We shouldn’t sit back or stand in the back of the room disengaged and waiting for others to finish so we can leave. We also shouldn’t mistake enthusiasm racing through prayers as quickly as we can – that’s not necessarily enthusiasm, that is trying to get in and out as quickly as possible. In both cases, your body may be counted in the minyan, but your lack of attention and participation in the communal experience is sucking the energy out of the room.
Enthusiasm is connecting with the other people in the room and helping to carry their voices and prayers with yours, at the same time as they are enthusiastically lifting your words up with their own. Enthusiasm doesn’t simply multiply the energy in the room, it amplifies it exponentially. Enthusiasm involves using your breath, your mind, and your heart to express an emotion or an idea. One is Dale Carnegie’s guiding principles is, “If you act enthusiastic, you will be enthusiastic!” Your behavior can change your emotional state, and it is contagious. There is nothing quite like an entire room full of people using nothing but their voices and their clapping hands to sing a joyful song.
Next time you are in a religious service, try an experiment. Raise your output just a notch (making sure that you are singing with the people around you, not against them), and see how you experience prayer differently.