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Daily prayer is the hardest form of prayer. It's natural to turn to God when things go wrong -- when you are in pain or when you are frightened or depressed. It's easy to turn to God in times of joy -- at a birth or a wedding, or on a holiday. But making the commitment to open your heart up to God every single day is quite a challenge. There are days when we feel moved, and there are days when we feel nothing. All too often, daily prayer seems like a tedious burden. We want our experiences of prayer to be inspirational, exceptional, but daily prayer is rooted in the unspectacular routine of our lives. Most of us see nothing awe inspiring about getting out of bed in the morning, or grabbing a bite to eat, or nodding off to sleep at night. But we couldn't be more mistaken.
Sometimes it takes an illness to remind us how wondrous it is wake up healthy, to be able to get out of bed and eat and work. Suddenly, the mundane routines we had taken for granted seem precious. We find ourselves giving thanks for small miracles that we never even noticed before. The first meal after surgery. The first step on our own. The first breath of fresh air. The first night at home in our own bed. Of course, we shouldn't have to suffer an illness in order to be grateful for all the ways God blesses us. Daily prayer is a far more pleasant way to achieve the same goal. Taking the time to pray heightens our awareness of God's presence in our lives. It reminds us that God is constantly calling out to us.
One of my favorite quotes from the Jewish mystical teachings is this: "Every blade of grass has an angel that hovers over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'" God is here. God is watching over us and hoping for us. God is waiting for us to notice the beauty in every breath we take, the potential in every encounter, the extraordinary possibilities of every ordinary day.
Once, a young man whose wife died in a car accident came to speak to me. He had a strong and burly build, but his eyes were soft and sad. He told me that he couldn't pray now, when he needed God most, because he felt like a hypocrite. He had never prayed before, and he didn't think he had the right to start a relationship with God when he had no history with God. I said to him, "God is already in a relationship with you. You don't need to introduce yourself. God already knows you and already loves you. God suffers with you and is longing to hear your voice."
We are in a relationship with God every day whether we notice it or not. God is waiting for our response.
When we wake up in the morning, we remember to prepare our bodies for the day ahead of us. We wash, we dress, we eat. Would you ever think of leaving the house without brushing your teeth? And yet we rarely take the time to prepare our souls for the day ahead of us. It doesn't need to take very long. Just a minute or two each morning. But a simple morning prayer can literally transform the way we think, feel, behave, and work. A morning prayer helps to remind us how blessed we are-even on those days when you sleep through the alarm, when the coffee spills on your lap, when the toast burns, when the kids are whining, when nothing seems to be going right. Even brief prayer can give us the courage to confront a difficult day, and it can give us the insight to recognize a miraculous one.
Before you race out the door take a moment. Take a deep breath in, let a deep breath out, and talk to God. Tell God your hopes for the new day and your worries too. And don't forget to notice something to be thankful for this day.
A Morning Prayer
There are so many things I take for granted. May I not ignore them today.
Just for today, help me, God, to remember that my life is a gift, that my health is a blessing, that this new day is filled with awesome potential, that I have the capacity to bring something wholly new and unique and good into this world.
Just for today, help me, God, to remember to be kind and patient to the people who love me, and to those who work with me too. Teach me to see all the beauty that I so often ignore, and to listen to the silent longing of my own soul.
Just for today, help me, God, to remember You.
Let this be a good day, God, full of joy and love. Amen.
A Prayer for the Body
Thank You, God, for the body You have given me. Most of the time I take my health for granted. I forget how fortunate I am to live without pain or disability, how blessed I am to be able to see and hear and walk and eat. I forget that this body of mine, with all its imperfections, is a gift from You.
When I am critical of my appearance, remind me, God, that I am created in Your holy image. If I become jealous of someone else's appearance, teach me to treasure my unique form.
Help me, God, to care for my body. Teach me to refrain from any action that will bring harm to me. If I fall prey to a self-destructive habit, fill me with the strength to conquer my cravings.
Lead me to use my body wisely, God. Guide my every limb, God, to perform acts of compassion and kindness.
I thank You, God, for creating me as I am. Amen.
Food on Our Table
Last winter I went to see an exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings that has been traveling around the country. One painting made a lasting impression on me. The setting is a bustling diner at lunchtime. The scene is so vivid that you can almost hear the chatter and smell the scents of eggs, burgers, and coffee wafting through the air. On one side of a crowded table a Mennonite mother sits beside her young son. Their heads are bowed in silent prayer. This private moment of devotion creates calm in the midst of the clamor. All eyes in the room are fixed on them. The expression on the bystanders' faces is a combination of curiosity and awe. It moved me.
We have the capacity to change the pace and tone of our lives in an instant. We can gobble down our food without even paying attention to what we are eating, or we can take a moment and stop.
Before you eat, take the time to breathe deeply. Look at the food in front of you. Appreciate it. Remember to thank the person who took the time to prepare this food for you. And thank God for the blessed meal before you.
Thanks to the cook
When my husband was courting me, he used to walk me home from synagogue on Saturdays. One day I invited him in. We sat talking for hours sipping tea, and it never occurred to me to offer him something to eat-I didn't know how to cook. At one point I got up to use the bathroom, and he used the occasion to hunt through my cupboards. He was starving. But all he found was a bag of stale potato chips and two cans of tuna. When I returned from the bathroom, I found him looking around my barren kitchen. He picked up a tuna can and asked, "Do you eat it out of the can like a cat?" "Well, yes," I admitted. That night Rob brought me to his apartment and cooked me a magnificent meal. The rest is history. Although every now and then for nostalgia's sake, he opens up a can of tuna and calls, "Here, kitty, kitty."
A Blessing over Food
Thank You, God, for the food on my table and for the cook who, like You, knows the secrets of creation. Thank You for plants, animals, and water, and for my own life, which You nourish and sustain each day. Please, God, answer the prayers of all those who turn to You in need. May all who are hungry be blessed with food. May I never be indifferent to the cries of those in need of my assistance. May I never take my good fortune for granted. Thank You, God, Creator of all. Amen.
It was a Monday morning. I knew in advance it was going to be a painful day. A member of my congregation was dying. I had been up all night with my one-month-old daughter, Noa, who was doing her best to turn colic into an art form. My two-year-old son, Adi, was busy taking fistfuls of mud from the ficus tree in our living room and dumping them onto the floor. This was our second day in our new home. I had a sinus infection and an ear infection. A friend of mine volunteered to watch my children so that I could visit Marty.
I drove to the hospital, made my way to Marty's room, and saw him lying there ashen and unconscious. His nurse took me aside and told me that he probably would not make it through the night. I thanked her for her honesty. Marty was only fifty. Six months before I had taken a walk with him on the boardwalk that runs along Venice Beach. I had trouble keeping up with his pace. He exercised daily, ate well, had a perpetual suntan, and was forever making fun of my pale, or, as he put it, green, complexion. "You need to get your face out of the Talmud and into the sun, Rabbi." I stood beside Marty and recited the final confessional. Then I blessed him and bade him farewell.
I took the elevator to the lobby, headed back to the parking garage, got into my car, and started driving in a total daze. My mind was on Marty, not the road. I accidentally drove my car onto a cement island that separated the lanes in the parking lot. Embarrassed and shaken, I tried to drive off the island, but my car wouldn't budge. People behind me were honking and shouting. Finally, two men got out of their cars and pushed my car off the island as I steered.
Before returning home I decided to drive back to our old apartment to check if we had left anything behind in the haste of packing. When I got there, I saw that the door was ajar. The painters were there repainting the whole place. I told them that I was the old tenant; they nodded at me. I suddenly realized that I had returned to say goodbye. I bid farewell to my son's lavender bedroom that we had painted ourselves, and to the little yard where we had kept three chickens. I stepped back inside to take a final look out the living room window, which had a spectacular view of the ocean, and I noticed something on the floor.
The painters had spread drop cloths all over the place, so at first I thought that I must be mistaken. But when I got closer I recognized it. One of the painters was standing on my tallis, my prayer shawl. It was the prayer shawl my dean had presented to me and draped over my shoulders on the day I became a rabbi. I asked the painter to step off the cloth, then I picked it up and walked out the door. It was spattered with paint. I sat down on the front step, draped my tallis across my lap, and, in honor of Marty, I turned my face to the sun. The warm light felt good against my wet cheeks.
A Prayer for Bad Days
Be with me, God. I feel so lost. I can't seem to escape the dark cloud that is hanging over me today. Help me, God. Give me strength to combat despair and fear. Show me how to put my pain into perspective. Teach me to have faith in the new day that is coming.
Thank You, God, for today's blessings, for tomorrow's hope, and for Your abiding love. Amen.
A Prayer for Those Days When Life Spins Out of Control
When I panic, God, teach me patience.
When I fear, teach me faith.
When I doubt myself, teach me confidence.
When I despair, teach me hope.
When I lose perspective, show me the way-
back to love, back to life, back to You. Amen.
Seeking the Ability to Pray
Having the desire to pray doesn't necessarily lead to prayer. There are numerous obstacles that prevent us from speaking to God. Distractions from outside combine with resistance from inside, and it is no wonder that prayer rarely comes easily. What helps? Make time for daily reflection. Don't feel inhibited by your lack of eloquence. If no great thought enters your heart, just remember to give thanks for something each day. Don't allow guilt or shame to cause you to hide from God. Search for sources of inspiration-the beauty of nature, the love of your family, your health, your hopes for this world. If no words rise up from you, say a prayer for the ability to pray.
A Prayer for the Ability to Pray
Dear God, as I pray, day after unpredictable day,
May the voice of my soul spring forth from my lips.
May I turn to You, God, in tears, in laughter, and in song.
And may my prayers be answered. Amen.
A Prayer for Daily Insight
Open my eyes, God. Help me to perceive what I have ignored, to uncover what I have forsaken, to find what I have been searching for. Remind me that I don't have to journey far to discover something new, for miracles surround me, blessings and holiness abound. And You are near. Amen.
Mentors in Unlikely Places
A couple of years ago when we were doing some construction on our home, my husband and I and our two children moved in with his parents. My mother-in-law had just bought a beautiful downy white couch. As you can imagine, they weren't eager for my children to jump on this highly stainable piece of new furniture, and I did my best to keep the kids out of the living room.
The inevitable occurred when my in-laws were gone for the weekend. My son, in search of a napkin, found the nice white couch and proceeded to wipe his hands full of peanut butter and jelly on it. The minute I saw the golden streak across the sofa cushion I started to panic. I called friend after friend asking for advice on how to remove the stain. Soda water was the most common response. Some recommended Shout. Luckily it was a slipcover, and my friend Jane recommended a very reputable dry cleaner. Needless to say, the next morning I arrived at the dry cleaner's at six and waited for him to open the store. He welcomed me in, and I proceeded to tell him the tale of the brand-new white couch with the peanut butter smeared on it and how my in-laws were returning the following day and how I needed his help. The man held the slipcover in his hands, examined it, and said, "It's my experience that the best way to handle a situation like this is honesty. After all, what if I clean the cover and it comes out a different shade of white from the rest of the couch? That would make things much worse. I think you should calmly sit down with your mother-in-law and just explain what happened." When he handed me back the slipcover, I looked at him and said, "You're not a dry cleaner, you're a rabbi!"