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
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.
Doesn’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
How can I wake up the dawn?