(this post first appeared on 7/15/09 about prayer in general, but it feels especially pertinent as we approach Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur)
God, open my lips, and my mouth will speak Your praises.
As I begin this recitation of the amida, and prepare to lay out my requests before You, I do understand the severe limitations that attend this endeavor. I will be asking that You heal me and heal those close to me, and that You provide sustenance to us all. But I know that You are committed to the notion that “the world operates according to its rules”, and that You are therefore generally averse to supernatural interventions (though Your “natural” ones are wondrous.). I will pray that You bless this world with justice and with peace, even as I acknowledge Your insistence on people having complete freedom of will, including the freedom to act corruptly and violently. I will request that You redeem us speedily from our afflictions, and soon in our days reestablish the throne of David. And though I am profoundly grateful for Medinat Yisrael the first flowering of our redemption, I fully realize that the world, in its present state, is not poised for immediate redemption. There are still too many swords out there, with the market for ploughshares and pruning hooks still severely depressed.
Yet pray I shall, not only because tradition enjoins me to do so. I will pour out my conversation before You because You are our Loving Parent, the Compassionate One whose mercies never cease, without whom there would be no life, no wisdom, and no joy. I don’t have any idea how You administer the world on a day-to-day, or even on a millennium-to-millennium basis, but I know that all that is precious to me exists only because You willed it into being. If there is hope at all, it is in You.
And I will pray because in recounting all the things that You are, I will again remember all the things that I must strive to be. A bestower of kindnesses. A lover of righteousness and justice. One who forgives abundantly. One who raises the fallen, heals the broken-hearted, protects the stranger, and feeds the hungry. I will pray, for it is through looking at You that I become conscious of myself.
And I will pray because it is during prayer that I hear Your voice. Life with people is so complex. So many things happen each day which demand decisions and responses – decisions and responses that will alter the course of people’s lives, not least, the lives of the people whom I love the most, and who count on me the most. Internal passions – of love, anger, jealousy, and pride – cloud my judgment. As I whisper the blessings that I have whispered thousands of times before, I will place my dilemmas and my struggles beneath the light of Your countenance. (I hope this is OK with You.) I will not always know precisely what the right answer is by the time I reach the end and take my three steps backward, but I will always have a much clearer idea. And sometimes, I will know the answer precisely. For You are a God who hears prayers and supplications. And You have taught us, and our parents before us, the laws of living.
I am my prayer before You.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be desired by You, God who is my Rock, and my Redeemer.