Tag Archives: modeh ani

Gratitude as a Prayer

“I am grateful to my Creator.”

People who have resolved to repeat this for five minutes a day for an entire month have found the tremendously positive impact that this exercise will have on all aspects of their life.

This is one of the most important messages you can tell yourself.

Living with this gratitude elevates you. You become a more spiritual person. You become a more joyful person. You become a kinder and more compassionate person. You become a calmer and more peaceful person. You become a person who lives in greater harmony with others.

Right this moment, imagine the joy you would feel if you were to feel an intense sense of gratitude to your Creator. Allow yourself to begin to feel some of this now.

In what ways might your envy of others be similar to this?

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Aish.com

gratitudeI posted this to Facebook the other day by way of inspiration but then I got to thinking. Since I don’t have much of a liturgical prayer life and there’s always a question of how or if one should adapt the Jewish siddur for Gentile use, what if I could make one out of “neutral” elements adapted from Jewish practice.

It would seem that Rabbi Pliskin’s suggestion of expressing gratitude to the Almighty for a meager five minutes per day would be a good place to start. After all, the goal here is to draw closer to Hashem, not to simply go through a set of words and rituals by rote.

Stating what you’re grateful to Hashem for, regardless of what you happen to be going through in life at that point, reminds each of us (especially me) that no matter how difficult you have it, there are always reasons to express gratitude.

I launched this blogspot over six years ago with a brief commentary on the Modeh Ani or the morning blessing said by observant Jews the moment they awaken. It’s the only “Jewish” blessing I have continually recited over the years and I see no reason for a non-Jew not to be grateful for the gift of life and to thank Hashem for another day.

I suspect we all have our own personal “rituals” anyway, so why not make the most of them? We don’t have to be Jewish to be children of God and in fact, all of humanity was created in Hashem’s image.

Being human is something special and each one of us, Jew and Gentile alike, is precious in His sight. It is true that Israel holds an especially cherished place in Hashem’s “heart,” but that doesn’t make the rest of us chopped liver, so to speak.

Hashem didn’t have to offer redemption to the nations through the faithfulness of Rav Yeshua, but He did. In my own personal zeal to reverse the arrogance of the Church in believing only they possess the Keys to the Kingdom, and that only they have the power to offer them to Jews by first requiring Jewish people to renounce their covenant with Hashem and convert to ham-eating Christians, I tend to overcompensate in the opposite direction. Certainly there’s a middle ground.

Modeh AniI know this mirrors many other blog posts I’ve made here, but writing at “Morning Meditations” isn’t about presenting new revelations and insights so much as sharing what’s going on in my head and heart on any given day as I proceed on my walk with Hashem.

This morning for the first five minutes of my commute to work, I recalled what I was grateful to Hashem for. That’s not easy while driving, but then again, it’s not impossible, either. I hope that by day thirty, I’ll be a lot better at being grateful than I am today. Hopefully, this will become part of the practice of a lifetime.

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Ki Teitzei: Fulfilling Gratitude

waiting-for-mannaThere is an old joke illustrating the difference between a believer and an atheist:

The believer wakes up, looks up to heaven, and with heartfelt devotion and true gratitude exclaims, “Good morning, G‑d!”

The atheist, by contrast, rolls over one last time, yawns and stretches, strolls over to the window, looks outside and declares, “My G‑d, what a morning!”

-Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum
“Keep the Faith”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Teitzei
Chabad.org

The very first blog I posted here is called Abundant is Your Faithfulness. When I originally created my “meditations” blog, I based it on something written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman:

When you get up in the morning, let the world wait. Defy it a little. First learn something to inspire you. Take a few moments to meditate upon it. And then you may plunge ahead into the darkness, full of light with which to illuminate it.

I wanted my writing to be something people could read in the morning shortly after waking up and then ponder on throughout the day. I’ll admit to a little “mission drift” in the over two-and-a-half years this blog has been in existence, but this has always been my intent.

But you don’t have to wait until you get out of bed and make it to your computer to find something inspiring. As Rabbi Greenbaum says in his commentary, observant Jews start meditating on God even before they get up by reciting the Modeh Ani:

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King for restoring my soul to me with compassion. Abundant is your faithfulness.”

I mentioned to a friend just recently that the wedding vow is the only vow Christians take before God anymore. Most people, including most Christians, probably don’t realize it, but when you say “for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, til death do us part,” we are actually taking a solemn vow in the presence of God that these words we will keep with our actions.

And yet the divorce rate in the church is virtually the same as in the secular world. As human beings, we do a lousy job of keeping our vows to God…we can’t even keep the one left that we’re supposed to take seriously. I guess that’s why Jesus said this:

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”

Matthew 5:33-37 (NASB)

But apart from vows, just how seriously do we take what we say to God? Are we too casual in our “conversations” with Him? Does it matter that we’re addressing not only a King, but literally the Creator of everything?

Referring to the Modeh Ani, Rabbi Greenbaum says:

We acknowledge our Creator and thank Him for the gift of a new day. By starting off the day full of humility and gratitude, we pledge to live up to G‑d’s vision for the world.

But, I ask you: once you’ve rolled off the bed and rubbed the sleep from your eyes, how much of the Modeh Ani do you take with you? So you spent eight seconds admitting that you owe your life to G‑d. Does that really affect the rest of the day?

Modeh-AniI recite the Modeh Ani when I wake up each morning, but I must admit, Rabbi Greenbaum gave me something new to think about. Just how much of my “thankfulness” do I carry forward into each day? How many Monday’s have I complained about when my alarm goes off, rousing me out of that last moment of “the weekend?” I can hardly add to what Rabbi Greenbaum reveals to his audience, including me, so I’ll let him finish his commentary:

The Torah advises us to “fulfill the utterances of our lips.” (Deuteronomy 23:24) Ostensibly an injunction to pay up our pledges to charity and to live up to our vows, the verse can be homiletically rendered as a directive to listen and learn from the words said while praying. It is too easy to just go through the motions, letting the familiar words roll off the tongue and into oblivion; however, G‑d wants prayer to be more than mere lip service.

The words we say must mean something. Prayer is not just dead time spent mindlessly repeating a monotonous mantra, but a unique opportunity to communicate with the divine. When we train our children to say the Modeh Ani first thing after rising, it is in the hope that the feelings and emotions encapsulated in the prayer will permeate the days of their life.

G‑d demands that we fulfill our pledges and live up to our promises. Each morning we acknowledge our Creator as King, and thank Him for gifting us with our soul again. We approach the rest of the day with the enthusiasm and knowledge that we are following the route suggested in G‑d’s guidebook. We will fulfill the oaths we made to Him, and live by our promises, for now and forever.

As Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski might say in one of his Growing Each Day commentaries…

Today I shall…

…seek to fill full all of the words I speak to God with sincerity and to carry them forward with me in each day, from morning until evening, with thanksgiving and gratitude.

Good Shabbos.

40 days.

Blessings at Night and Morning

A song of ascents. Praiseworthy is each person who fears HASHEM, who walks in His paths. When you eat the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children shall be like olive shoots surrounding your table. Behold! For so is blessed the man who fears HASHEM. May HASHEM bless you from Zion, and may you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem, all the days of your life. And may you see children born to children, peace upon Israel.

Tremble and sin not. Reflect in your hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.

Master of the universe. Who reigned before any form was created,
At the time when His will brought all into being —
then as “King” was His Name proclaimed.
After all has ceased to be, He, the Awesome One, will reign alone.
It is He Who was, He Who is, and He Who shall remain, in splendor.
He is One — there is no second to compare to Him, to declare as His equal.
Without beginning, without conclusion — His is the power and dominion.
He is my God, my living Redeemer, Rock of my pain in time of distress.
He is my banner, a refuge for me, the portion in my cup on the day I call.
Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit when I go to sleep — and I shall awaken!
With my spirit shall my body remain. HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

-Portion of the Bedtime Shema

My father said that the reciting of sh’ma before retiring at night (p. 118-124) is, in miniature form, like the Confession before death. But then one leaves the marketplace permanently, and the commerce of “Today to perform them” is finished. With the Bedside Sh’ma every night, however, one is still in the middle of the “market” and can still accomplish and achieve.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Kislev 6, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

It is said in Jewish wisdom that one should repent one day before his death. But how can you know when the day of your death will come? You can’t. Therefore repent every day as if it is your last day of life.

I sometimes have bouts of insomnia for a variety of reasons. As I write this though, I slept very well last night. In fact, I recall that I was engaged in a rather compelling dream when the alarm went off, jarring me into consciousness.

But the night before, just prior to retiring, I recited the portion of the Bedtime Shema I quoted above. I can’t necessarily credit the Bedtime Shema with my restful sleep, but I suppose it didn’t hurt. On the other hand, you’d think, given recent events, that I’d have a lot on my mind.

And so I do, but that apparently didn’t disturb my sleep.

I also recite the Modeh Ani when I wake up in the morning. Even if I do not offer God any other prayers during the day, considering Him, even for a few moments as I end my day and again as I start the next one acts like “bookends,” with God on either side of my waking experience and me existing in the middle.

But what about the middle? That’s where we spend our lives or at least the conscious portion of them. It’s where we “feel” we’re alive, it’s where we are aware of being alive. What do we do with that time?

Lots of things. Many of us have jobs where we do our work and earn our pay. Sometimes our thoughts turn to God, but most of the time we are too distracted with our work to consciously consider Him. While a tzaddik, a righteous person, is constantly aware of God, most of us aren’t. Most of us struggle to remind ourselves of God, except at certain times such as when we need God or during a scheduled time of prayer or worship.

Fortunately, God doesn’t need anything to remind Him of us. One of the blessings He gave the Jewish people, and I wish Christianity would adopt such a practice, are set times for prayer. Muslims also have set times to turn away from their common activities and to turn toward God. We in the church tend to just “wing it,” which isn’t necessarily bad, because we should all be free to pray at any moment, but it isn’t necessarily good because we typically ignore God until something comes along to remind us of Him.

Imagine if we handled our human relationships that way. Imagine that we ignored our spouse, our children, our parents, until some external factor came along to remind us of their existence and that we needed something from them. I guess some of us do handle our human relationships that way. More’s the pity. But then, what is the state of those relationships? If you ignore someone long enough, they will eventually ignore you, too.

Pain, loneliness, fear, anxiety, the spectre of death all remind us of God and how much we need Him. While we shouldn’t wait for those reminders, being human, we often do. The troubles in our lives act as God’s messengers, coming to us and telling us we shouldn’t wait too much longer. Why wait for pain or fear to tell you that God is waiting for you?

And may Heaven help us all if even then, we still ignore God.

And if not now, then when? (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

Hillel’s famous statement is a bit enigmatic. The simple answer is, “Later.” Why can’t we take care of whatever it is some other time? Granted that procrastination is not a virtue, why does Hillel imply that if not now, then it will never be?

The Rabbi of Gur explained that if I do something later, it may indeed get done, but I will have missed the current “now.” The present “now” has but a momentary existence, and whether used or not, it will never return. Later will be a different “now.”

King Solomon dedicates seven famous verses of Ecclesiastes to his principle that everything has its specific time. His point comes across clearly: I can put off doing a good deed for someone until tomorrow, but will that deed, done exactly as I would have done it today, carry the same impact?

The wisdom that I learn at this moment belongs to this moment. The good deed that I do at this moment belongs to this moment. Of course I can do them later, but they will belong to the later moments. What I can do that belongs to this moment is only that which I do now.

Today I shall…

try to value each moment. I must realize that my mission is not only to get something done, but to get things done in their proper time, and the proper time may be now.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 14”
Aish.com

When I go to sleep — and I shall awaken! With my spirit shall my body remain. HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

God allows us to awaken at the proper time, feeds us when we are hungry, gives us rest when we are tired. He is waiting for us now to do something. Tomorrow is too late.

I’m Younger Than That Now

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

“It Was a Very Good Year” (1961)
-composed by Ervin Drake

A self-ordained professor’s tongue, too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
Equality, I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
Ahh, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

My Back Pages” (1964)
-composed by Bob Dylan

This is a counterpoint to this morning’s meditation, which had a distinctively forlorn tone and pessimistic outlook. Life can be like that for me sometimes. I suppose it can be like that for some of you on occasion. But something LeVar Burton said on twitter about 1968 made me think back. I actually “misremembered” the famous chorus to Dylan’s tune as, “I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now.”

When I looked up My Back Pages (and I’m probably remembering The Byrds’s cover of the song), I realized my mistake. Then the Drake song, made famous by Frank Sinatra, popped into my head.

That’s more like it. That’s what I was thinking. That’s what I was feeling. I was so much younger then, and it was a very good year.

But this is supposed to be optimistic, isn’t it?

I’m utterly convinced that the key to lifelong success is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude.

People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.

By contrast, people who lack gratitude are never truly happy. If they succeed at a task, they don’t enjoy it. For them, a string of successes is like trying to fill a bucket with a huge leak in the bottom. And failure invariably makes them bitter, angry, and discouraged.

Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to feel more gratitude. Fortunately, gratitude, like most emotions, is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes.

-Geoffrey James
“True Secret to Success (It’s Not What You Think)”
Inc.com

That reminds me of the very first meditation I wrote for this blog, exactly 14 months ago today.

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for restoring my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness.”

Blessing Upon Arising in the Morning

It’s the one Jewish blessing I still allow myself to recite and virtually the first coherent thought I have upon awakening each morning.

I’m grateful to wake up alive.

In his article, Geoffrey James calls gratitude the “secret to success.” He talks about making a list of everything that happened to you during the day that makes you grateful and writing it all down before going to bed. He says that the more you practice gratitude, the more it will become part of your “reprogramming.”

It’s funny, but I think the Jewish sages had that idea long before James wrote his wee article for Inc.com.

Of course, that’s how we learn just about anything, by practicing. I suppose that’s true of being grateful. I suppose that’s true about having a relationship with God. Like any relationship, it takes practice, patience, and lots of attention. You reap the rewards of whatever you put into it. If you practice too little, the rewards are very few.

Both “It Was a Very Good Year” and “My Back Pages” are retrospectives on life. The former song expands the person’s vision across an entire human lifespan while the latter is Dylan’s personal presentation of his disillusionment with the folk protest movement of the early 1960s.

I periodically become aware that there are more days behind me than there are ahead, but I take some comfort in my family, the next generation I see in my children, and the generation beyond that in my grandson.

And I take some comfort in God.

But it’s difficult not to look back and ponder all the youthful wonder and immature anguish, the carefree nights and days and the painful and terrible mistakes. Was I a better person then, or now? What have I learned. Was being seventeen really better? Am I younger or older than that now?

But however it’s all worked out, I haven’t forgotten to be grateful to God. I’m alive. I have a wife and three children. I have a grandson (and I can still hardly believe I’m a grandpa). I’m working. I live comfortably. I’m able to give something back to my community, which is a blessing. Life isn’t perfect, but God has been generous.

And I’m grateful. I should practice that more.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt somehow
Ahh, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

-Dylan

But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

-Drake

How do I feel?

I feel older. But sometimes, when I’m grateful, I feel young.

 

I Will Awake the Dawn!

My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer me!

Psalm 108:1-6 (ESV)

Wake up by your own body clock, before the alarm. King David said, “I will wake the morning”—not that the morning woke him. You see, if you are only awake because it is morning, you are not really awake—you are sleepwalking. If it is morning because you are awake, however, then you are truly awake and in control.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“How to Get Out of Bed…and really mean it”
from the Multimedia Guide to Jewish Prayer series
Chabad.org

I hadn’t noticed that David said, “I will awake the dawn” before. I think most of us, when we first get up, are “sleepwalking” for some period of time, as Rabbi Freeman describes. We are waiting for morning, or our first cup of coffee, to wake us up. In his article on getting out of bed from which I’m quoting, Rabbi Freeman provides rather detailed instructions on what to do, from the first moment you realize you’re awake, through the process of entering into morning prayer. These steps are traditional for a religious Jew and so may not be particularly adaptable for the Christian.

On the other hand, there may be a thing or two we can take into our own morning routine as we prepare to greet our Creator.

As I previously mentioned, the first thing a Jew does after waking up is to recite the Modeh Ani blessing, thanking God for returning his soul to him and restoring his life. Immediately afterwards comes the Netilat Yadayim or the traditional handwashing, followed by other specific routines to prepare for prayer.

You can read Rabbi Freeman’s article in full at the links I’ve already provided, so I won’t go into a step-by-step description of the awakening process of a Jew preparing for prayer. Frankly, I don’t believe most of it specifically applies to the Christian and that these are rituals uniquely Jewish in nature.

However, there are a few things we might want to pay attention to, especially activities that a Jew should avoid prior to tefillah (prayer):

  • Don’t eat a meal.
    Eat what you need to focus your mind in tefillah. Maybe that’s just a hot drink. Maybe a light snack. But stop there. First connect your soul, then feed the body.
  • Don’t check the news.
    Sure it’s important to know what’s going on in the world. Starting from the event of the greatest, earth-shaking import. And that is that you are about to talk to the Creator of the Universe. Keep your head clear. You’ll need it.
  • Don’t visit a friend.
    This is a classic, mentioned in Talmud. You’re about to greet your Maker, so it’s not good protocol to visit someone else first. If you do see someone you haven’t seen for a while, the custom is to not say, “Shalom Aleichem” or even “Shalom”. Shalom (peace) is a name of G-d, so we don’t use it for anyone else until we’ve spoken with Him personally. “Good morning, how are you?” is fine.
  • Don’t check your email or otherwise take care of business.
    Getting tough? Consider each day to be like a mini-week, and the late night and early morning comprise the mini-Shabbat.
  • Don’t get into distracting conversations.
    You don’t have to be rude. But once those conversations start, there’s no end. When you try to put your head into meditation before tefillah, everything you heard and said that morning keeps rattling around in your head. Why add noise, when it’s already so hard to quiet down the mind?

Do you pray in the morning before launching into your day? I must admit that I don’t do so very often. I have a morning routine, but while it contains time to read from the Psalms and the Gospels, it doesn’t accommodate itself to a specific and formal prayer time. I’m not saying that I’m right in this, only that I don’t feel really good about formal prayer while I’m still in my PJs or unshowered, and by the time I take a shower, it’s time to zoom out the door to work.

Would my day go better if I read from the Bible and regularly prayed in a formal manner to God? I can only assume it would. So why don’t I?

Habit, I suppose. Here’s what a typical (actually ideal) morning looks like for me during the week.

  • Wake up and recite Modeh Ani.
  • Use the bathroom.
  • Make coffee and drink a glass of water while I’m waiting.
  • Read various comic strips on the computer which helps my brain wake up.
  • Finish one cup of coffee and one glass of water and then (if I’m very good) head off to they gym.
  • Return home after the gym, drink more water, and publish the day’s “morning mediation” blog.
  • Eat breakfast.
  • Shower, brush my teeth, and shave.
  • Read from the Bible, usually a page of Psalms and a chapter from the Gospels.
  • Pack my lunch for the day and head out the door.

Believe it or not, including the workout at the gym, that covers from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. and I make it to work by around 7:30 a.m. depending on traffic.

Pouring waterDoesn’t sound much like how Rabbi Freeman describes a morning for a traditional religious Jew.

I hate to make this sound dry, but in many ways, holiness is a habit. Like many people, I tend to do the same things each morning when I get up as a matter of routine, not because it’s better or worse than any other way of waking up. I suppose there are some very diligent Christians and Jews who have extremely disciplined morning routines that are infused with the presence of God. There may also be a large number of Christians and Jews who have a routine that is more or less like mine.

A Christian tends to think of prayer life, like most other aspects of the Christian lifestyle, as “free,” that is, you can pray pretty much any time you’d like. This is true and it’s true in Judaism as well. However, there is also a formal aspect to Jewish prayer that dictates specific times when one is to pray (ideally with a minyan) in a ritual manner. The morning prayer service is called Shacharit and is one of the three times a day a Jew is commanded to enter into prayer.

I mentioned in my last morning meditation that God desires we voluntarily enter into a relationship with Him, and this is true. However, I also mentioned that for the Jew, there is a certain set of connections, rituals, and traditions that are part and parcel of being a Jew. There is a “belonging” and a “commandedness” to being a Jew that few Christians truly understand. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, only that it is a Jewish thing.

A few months ago, I wrote that the Roman Centurion Cornelius (see Acts 10) seemed to have adopted the Jewish tradition of fixed prayers, probably because having come to faith in the God of Israel, it was the only available model for his prayers. This suggests that fixed times of prayer are not forbidden to the Christian, even though they are not formally commanded of us by God.

I can find all kinds of reasons why I should pray in the morning, but it is entirely up to me to choose to initiate such prayer or to disregard it. To incorporate morning prayer as a daily routine, I will need to change my habits which, as I’m sure you’re aware (assuming you have habits, too) is easier said than done.

But having admitted a need to improve certain areas of my life, which includes a more intimate relationship with God, what else can I do but either take God seriously or discard His presence?

When I imagine other Christians or anyone who shares a faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I imagine them in the morning, entering into deep and meditative periods of prayer with God. But that’s my imagination and it can be used to fuel a sense of guilt, because I don’t have such a time in my morning, admittedly by choice. On the other hand, I’ve heard numerous Christians say they “share” their first cup of coffee with Jesus, praying to him in the morning (but even Jesus said we are only to pray to God the Father) as if they were talking to a neighbor or acquaintance sitting around the kitchen table.

I apologize if this sounds offensive, but I’ve always been put off by that image. One does not approach the throne of the King with a cup of coffee in one hand and a folding chair in another, sit down next to His Throne, and then address the King of the Universe in the same way as you’d chit chat with a casual acquaintance.

I think that’s one of the reasons I hesitate to pray in the morning. When am I really prepared to enter into the presence of the King? When am I clean enough? How should my hair be combed? Should I be hungry or full? Should I be sleepy or well “caffeinated?”

Is it just my own “hang up” that I think morning prayer or any formal, regular prayer should contain a sense of formality, respect, and awe of God? Is this something that only the Jews have retained and that the church has tossed in the gutter, in favor of a casual dip into the shallow pools of grace and freedom?

But I’ll never be “good enough” to actually enter into the august and majestic Throne room of the Almighty and All-encompassing King of Everything. How do you even do that? Is that why Christians “dumb down” prayer for the most part? Should I emulate the Jewish “style” even though I’m not a Jew, for lack of any better model?

I’m tossing this question out to you readers. What do you think?

You might think that the more lowly the created being, the lower the divine spark it contains.

Just the opposite: Only the highest of sparks could descend to the lowest of places and retain their power to sustain such an existence.

That is why the deepest truths are so often found in the darkest of places.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Taller They Are…”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

How can I wake up the dawn?

I’m Alive!

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” -Dr. Seuss

I admit, thank, surrender before You, to Your essential being, O King, He who speaks the world into being and who is the source of all being, who is alive and the source of life, and who is enduring, sustaining, and unchanging. Because You have returned within me and You are recharging me with my breath of life by and with Your gracious compassion. Great and magnificent is Your faithfulness.

Modeh anee lifanecha melech chai vikayam, she-he-chezarta bee nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha.

-Modeh Ani

You just woke up. I just woke up. It’s a new day and we’re alive!

I’m continuing to follow the path of preparing a day before God. I’ve written about the activities that ideally lead up to this moment including An Introduction to a Prayer, Dream Not of Today, and Morning Rebirth, to mention just a few of the most recent blog posts in this series. In preparing for this moment, you have allowed yourself (again, ideally) to  dedicate your evening to reading, and studying, and meditating on God and His eternal Word, and praying the Bedtime Shema. Then, within the confines of His arms and blessing, you have fallen asleep.

And now it’s morning. And now you’re awake. What are the first thoughts that come to you? According to Rabbi Freeman, those thoughts should be of God, which is what you’d expect, and how grateful you are for returning you to this life, since sleep is where you approach the realm of death. You are reborn for another day. The breath of life has been restored to you, much in the same way God breathed life into the first man (Genesis 2:7). I can’t imagine what Adam must have thought in those first few moments of his existence, and if he really understood that prior to that moment, he did not exist at all, and then he was alive and the first living man. If he could possibly have comprehended all that God had done, how God had created the entire Universe for the sake of a man, how grateful would Adam have been?

There’s no way for us to understand the experience of the first man, but we can understand our own experience upon awakening, when we realize we are alive and we have lived to see another day.

I realize that most of you take that for granted. When you go to sleep, you expect to wake up the next morning. You expect to get up, use the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, check your email, take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, and so on, and so forth, just like you have a thousand mornings before.

Just like the sun is supposed to rise in the east every morning like clockwork. You don’t even worry that it won’t.

But what if you were severely ill? What if your living from day to day wasn’t such a sure thing? What if you had a medical condition that might result in you dying in your sleep. Even trying to go to sleep might make you anxious or even terrified, if you thought you might not wake up again…ever. If you expected that you could die in your sleep and then found yourself awake the following morning alive and feeling well, wouldn’t you be grateful to God for returning your life?

It is said that each beat of our heart requires the will of God, and should God withdraw His will, our heart would stop in an instant. We really take our beating heart for granted because it’s never let us down yet, has it? If it had, we would be dead. So we assume that if it’s worked all of this time without a problem, then it will just keep on going and going and going, like the Energizer Bunny.

Frankly, if we worried second by second all day long about whether or not God was going to extend our life into the next minute or the next hour, we probably would be a nervous wreck and would never be able to just get on with our day to day routine.

So, for the most part, we don’t worry. But then, are we grateful?

If you do so at no other time, the moment when you first wake up is a terrific time to express your gratitude to God for who you are and the fact that you made it to the start of another day. And just as you pondered the ancient texts and the oft-repeated tales of the greatness of God and all that He has done while you were getting ready for sleep, you can allow the awareness of Him to enter into you, and to fill you with His light as you wake up.

In today’s study, Rabbi Freeman presented a detailed, step-by-step breakdown of Modeh Ani, from which I took my rather literal translation of the Hebrew at the beginning of today’s meditation. While we won’t always be aware of the full weight and import of this deceptively short and easy morning blessing each time we say it to ourselves and to God, we should at least be aware of what we are saying before we commit to using these words to express our gratitude.

Depending on who you are, and how you conceive of God and your relationship to Him, you may never choose to adopt this particular blessing as part of your process of waking up each morning and re-entering the world that God has made.

But I hope and pray you choose (if you haven’t already done so) something similar. It’s not only because God deserves our gratitude and praise, but because we need to make the effort to integrate who we are into who He is. Otherwise, what is our life without His love?

“While there’s life, there’s hope.” -Marcus Tullius Cicero