Friday, October 23, 2015

Reclaiming Morning Blessings

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Prayer is so simple. And prayer is so complicated.

Originally, the Jewish morning blessings were said only at home. In addition, each one was connected to an action. The Talmud outlines for us what morning activity connects to each blessing. For example: 
When opening one's eyes, one should say: 'Blessed is the One who opens the eyes of the blind'. When stretching and sitting up, one should say: 'Blessed is the One who loosens the bound'. When dressing, one should say: 'Blessed is the One who clothes the naked'.
It is all spelled out for us - a ritual of getting up and getting ready for the day that connects each action we take to a specific blessing.

That is not how most of us experience these blessings today. We are more likely to hear them read or chanted, in English or in Hebrew, one after the other with no chance to stop and consider what they really mean. In some services, they may not be included at all.

Prayer is so personal. And we can say very personal prayers, the prayers of our heart, in own words, which can be incredibly powerful and meaningful to us. But we also have a traditional matbeah, or order of service, a fixed liturgy that we recite day in and day out. It can be easy among all these words - which may feel either foreign and unfamiliar or so familiar that we can recite them in our sleep - it can be easy to lose the connection between the prayer and our heart and soul. It can be easy to say words and not really take them in.

Yet these traditional words are powerful. They connect us through space and time to Jews around the world and from generations gone by. The power of saying the same words our ancestors prayed, the same words that Jews from Mexico City to Tel Aviv to Mumbai are reciting holds special meaning. There is also power in the words themselves, when we take the time to slowly let them sink in. When we take the time to open our hearts to them. When we move past the ancient language, with its gender specificity, to the deep meaning in the words.

When we do that, we can have both - both traditional and personal, together in one.

With the morning blessings, I would like to suggest an alternative to the two options described above, an alternative that can bring new meaning to the words and to the act of praying them. I would like to suggest that we reclaim these blessings as a home ritual, a meditative practice for preparing for the day, and that we connect each blessing to our routine at the point that has meaning for us.

I have integrated some, but not all of the blessings into my personal routine. Here are a few of the ones I use, and how I connect them, in the order they are in my day, not the traditional order in the siddur (prayerbook):
Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the universe...
Before taking my pills: ...healer of all flesh and doer of wonders. 
Before acknowledging the Chai on a chain around my neck: ...who made me of the people Israel. 
Before putting on a neck scarf, with its connection to my mother: ...who clothes the naked. 
Before putting on my glasses: ...who makes the blind to see. 
After stepping outside: ...who gives the bird of dawn discernment to distinguish day from night. 

I have found it important to not do anything when I say these words, but to stop and to feel the words move through my body and settle in my heart. When I do this, the words have meaning in my soul. They become a prayer. They change me. They settle me. They are powerful. And I know not just in my head, but also in all of my body and all of my soul, that I am connecting across space and time to other bodies and other souls, and to That Which Is Greater than Any of Us.

I invite you to try it out. Take a look.* See what works for you. Make the morning blessings your own. After all, they are not just mine, or someone else's. They are yours. 
Prayer is so complicated. But prayer is so simple.

© 2015 Katy Z. Allen All rights reserved.

*You can find a Reform siddur with transliterations, here.
*You can find a traditional orthodox siddur with transliterations and translations here

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion. 

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