Originally posted June 3, 2009

This morning I sang all of my prayers, as I always do. That's one of the loveliest aspects of Judaism, I think - that we sing our prayers. Most Jews don't sing all their prayers, but I do. Every single one of them. I use both modern and traditional tunes. Before I wrap myself in my tallit (prayer shawl), I sing both a meditation and the blessing. I go slowly and I begin to feel enshrouded in the Presence of God the moment I begin.

Some Jews rush through these prayers and it's said to have the same effect as a chant or mantra or meditation, but I want to savor each word. Once, I expressed my worries to one of my teachers, Reb Zalman, that I didn't make it through all the spiritual realms symbolized in the progression of prayers in our siddur (prayer book). "My dear," he said to me, "stay in the Presence." So I do. It doesn't matter that I only make it through some of the prayers. It matters that the prayers I do offer emerge from my heart.

As I stand on my back deck, birds swoop down all around me, pecking at bird seed, and a sparrow puts the finishing touches on a nest it's building in one of Joe's sculptures just behind me. Facing East, I look out on an expanse of green - huge trees, a lush lawn, bushes that line the creek running behind my house.

When my longing for God feels tangible, I'm able to progressively move more deeply into an altered state of mind. In the first of the four realms, the physical, in which I pray, I sing the modah ani, a song of gratitude that I've "arrived" safely to greet another morning.

The second realm is one of emotion and praise, and I can't doubt that it's true because it's here where my heart breaks open and I begin to cry. Here are the first few lines of my favorite prayer, which I sing both in Hebrew and English:

"Melodies I weave, songs I sweetly sing:
longing for Your Presence, to You I yearn to cling.

In Your shelter would my soul delight to dwell,
to grasp Your mystery, captured by Your spell.

Whenever I speak of Your glory so resplendent,
my heart yearns deeply for Your love transcendent.

Two worlds remain - one in which I begin to feel at one with God, and the final in which my soul melts into that of the Divine. At the end, I take three steps back, re-entering the world of everyday life, and as I do, I sing a song of peace, bowing to the left (towards my Christian neighbors), to the right (towards my Muslim neighbors) and forward (towards my atheist neighbors).

As I finished these prayers this morning, I came inside and sat down to write about one of the many posts that's been buzzing through my head all week, but instead, I wrote this one, still fresh in my heart. It allowed me to bring into my home and into my everyday life what I just experienced in my prayers.


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