Makom kavua is a Hebrew term for having a set spot to sit in synagogue.
My father's makom kavua at Temple Bet El on Shabbat was on the bima. During the week he sat in the first seat on the left hand side of the aisle. When my father attended morning services when he visited me in New York he had his seat as well. Once when my parents were visiting me I attended Friday night services with my father. I sat next to my father. He then turned to me and asked me if the spot where I was sitting was my makom kavua, it wasn't. So my father told me that I ought to go sit in my usual seat. I did, because frankly, I was more comfortable davening from my spot. For my father, sitting in your spot trumped sitting next to family in synagogue.
At my daughter's bat-mitzvah I realized that while most bar mitzvah families will sit in the front row, my kids were so comfortable at our synagogue that they all at in their usual places scattered in the large sanctuary.
When you have a set spot in a room for prayer it is the perspective form where you approach the divine. Actually that spot is not just about your relationship with the divine, it's also about your relationship with the others in the room. I see Yocheved and Sharry and Steve and Mayer, and Jeremy across from me each morning, and even if they are away, I know that those are their places, so I will see them with my mind's eye even if they are sleeping late or out of town.
There are some seats that I think of as the places of people who are long dead. Because they sat in those seats for so many years it is as if their presence is there, even if they are not.
Normally our chapel holds eighty seats. This week though, thirty of our chairs are in a different room. The chair arrangement has been different each day this week. It's been interesting to see how deeply uncomfortable all of us have been each morning trying to re-figure out our right place in the room.
Some of us have shifted just one or two chairs to recreate our spots. Some of us have moved entire rows of chairs. I have decided to welcome some of the discomfort of slight displacement.
There are two big seemingly opposing values in Jewish prayer. One is keva, regularity. You need to pray regularly, to make it a practice for it to work well. Having a set place in synagogue is part of trying to achieve keva.
The other important value in Jewish prayer is kavana, intentionality, intensity. Ideally you recite the prayers each day with both regularity but also with a sense of hearing and saying the texts with with the passion one might hearing them, understanding them for the first time.
Clearly, the balance between both elements is difficult to achieve and is a constant struggle.
This week I have found that the slight dislocation I have felt each morning has actually sharpened my kavana and has helped me to say the familiar texts with a renewed focus.