In the Talmud (Brachot 7A if you care) there is a "whoah, heavy" moment (Dude, have you watched the Wizard of Oz while listening to Dark Side of the Moon?) that just blew me away when I read it.
Following an assertion that God prays, the question immediately comes up, "Well, what does God pray?"
Rav Zutra bar Tovia said in the name of Rav, [God prays] “May it be My will that My mercy will conquer My anger, and that My mercy will overcome My [other] attributes. And may I deal with My children according to the attribute of mercy and deal with them more generously than the law requires.”
Huh? To whom - or is it, to Whom - is God praying? "May it be My will"? Who is controlling God's will? If it is merely God focusing God's own intention so that God remembers to be merciful, does this teach us something about our own prayers? Are they simply words intended for the one who prays? One way to deal with this is to say that God is actually powerless. Perhaps the prayer reflects Divine acknowledgment that the universe moves along and God can only say "May it be...."
And what are we to think, as we pray? Keep in mind that many of our blessings begin with this same formulation (May it be Your Will....) If we mimic God, who is praying, and if clearly God can have no object to whom Divine prayers are directed, then are we praying to no effect?
Things get stranger. This passage is followed immediately by a story:
Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha said, “Once I entered into the inner sanctuary [the Holy of Holies] to make an incense offering. I saw Achtari’eil Yah Adonai Tzva’ot, who was sitting on a high and elevated throne. He said to me, ‘Yishmael, My son, bless
’ I said to Him, ‘May it be Your will that Your mercy will conquer Your anger, and that Your mercy will overcome Your [other] attributes. And may You deal with Your children according to the attribute of mercy and deal with them more generously than the law requires.’” He bowed to me. Me.
Dude. Pass the Fritos. It could be that the previous prayer - the one that God is understood to pray - comes from this. That is, this story about Yishmael may be placed here as an explanation of the previous paragraph. So, the Talmud is saying, "How do we know that God prays that prayer? Well, Yishmael once blessed God with it, and God recognized the legitimacy of the prayer by bowing [a commentator imagines God saying "Amen"].
But it could work in the other direction [hat tip to Channah Rose for this]: it could be that God's prayer is proof that when Yishmael encountered God, the prayer Yishmael uttered was put in his head by God. So, Yishmael had the experience of praying by his own volition but was actually a vessel for words planted in him by God.
This also suggests a way to understand the meaning of prayer in our experience. Words that feel either like spontaneous outpourings of the heart, or words that come to us prescribed by the tradition, are actually words "returning to their source." Seen in this light, prayer becomes a meditation, a deep and profound meditation, with subject and object coming together; matter and maker becoming one through meditative language itself.