My son came back from school the other day with a dilemma.
"Abba," he said, "I have a problem!"
"What is it?" I enquired.
"Well, you know we have a minyan every morning in school, don't you?"
"Well, on the wall is a poster that says: תפילה בלי כוונה - כגוף ללא נשמה. (In other words, "Prayer without concentration and internalisation is like a body without a soul.") And so, " he continued, "today I took the poster seriously. I really tried to have Kavanna when I said Kriyat Shema. But do you know what? It took me so long that by the time I finished, they were well into the Shmoneh Esreh! So, Abba , what should I do? Should I have Kavanna and miss davening with the Minyan, or should I daven with the minyan and ignore the poster?"
And there he is, asking this question with such innocence and sincerity, genuinely struggling with the dilemma. And I really wanted to cry. To cry, because his question was so pure, so sincere, so earnest, so fresh, so genuine. Because he is right! How can we daven half-heartedly in the way that we pray so often?
And of course the school minyan needs to daven at a cracking pace because its only a 40 minute period, and because some kids are bored etc. But here is a kid who takes the words that we write on the walls of our shuls seriously, and we are ruining his pure approach. He is totally willing to pour his energies into putting that flaming נשמה into the dormant body of the prayer-book. Do we have to make him jaded already? Or is that just preparing a child for the reality of life, of our rushed, half-mumbled prayer services?