Thursday, September 27, 2012

On Vacation

The Morning Prayer Blog will be on vacation until October 6, 2012.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Today, a day some find tedious and boring, a day carved out of time and space, is a day I look forward to. Today I fast, spend the entire day with my community at Temple Israel to wrap up the past year, and hope I emerge with a new outlook even on a very small way I choose to live. The past month I’ve spent a few minutes each day, the days of Elul and the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, looking at myself. Some of the work is conscious, and I believe most of it is unconscious. I hope it enters right at the point where my unconscious gets me into trouble. 

Today is a gift and each tomorrow is a gift of life, a chance to get it right, a chance to be human, to make mistakes and to atone. You don't have to be Jewish to say L’chaim, It means to life. L'chaim.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


“The pain was necessary to know the truth
but we don’t have to keep the pain alive
to keep the truth alive.”
Mark Nepo

Yom Kippur is all about acknowledging we have acted badly and need to atone. We atone by asking for forgiveness from the people we know we’ve hurt and then changing our actions so we don’t do it again. One of the hardest things for me to do is to ask for forgiveness when I believe there will be no reciprocal action from the person who has hurt me. And here’s the kicker. I need to apologize and ask for forgiveness honestly whether or not that person accepts my apology, whether or not that person changes behavior, apologizes or forgives me. I need to ask for forgiveness for my own health, for my soul, for my spirit. I need to do it so I can go into the new year with a clean slate, so that I can help make the world a better place in the year 5773.

If I have hurt you during this year, if I have caused you discomfort and pain, I am truly sorry. Please forgive me.

Baruch ata with us all as we try to be better human beings, human beings full of misgivings and hopes and fears and love. May this year be a healthy one for all of us. Amen

Monday, September 24, 2012

Required Discomfort

“Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway.”  Robert Henri, from The Art Spirit

Perhaps it’s all the introspection of the Jewish High Holy Days, or maybe it’s because it’s the end of meandering effortlessly through long unplanned sunny days at our cabin or maybe it’s the autumnal equinox. I don’t understand why, but I think I’m often uncomfortable inside myself this time of year: supersensitive, touchy, antennae out for slights, feeling ungrounded in unchartered land. 
I ask myself what is going on: “Are we going to be doing anything fun?” my teenage self bursts in, hands on hips ready to argue. “Are you going to be mopey again? If so, I’m outta here.” I recognize this unspecific malaise for what it is. A return to an old way of being. I am not content.

The next two days I’ll be sitting in temple in the midst of Jews all over the world, alone with myself, listening to the litany of sins I have committed over the year, thinking of those I have hurt intentionally or unintentionally, including myself. I think a state of discontent is what is required for change. 

Baruch ata I am. I’m clearer now that what I fear is stepping out of what is familiar into the clouds of empty space. I am grateful for the time ahead to come to new truths and new ways of thinking about who I am. Amen

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Practice Practice Practice

“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same....Practice means to perform over and over again in the face of all obstacles some act of vision of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”
Martha Graham

I watched my one year old granddaughter practice walking the top of a long narrow wall about six inches off the ground over and over. It was her baby naming day and the party was in her honor. She looked like a little doll in her party dress and her determination soon got the attention of all the adults present as well as the children who were monitoring her and assuring us that when she fell and got up again she was alright. It was the only thing she wanted to do that day and she did it again and again.

Baruch ata adonai...may I get the concept of practice into my head. It’s over and over and over. It isn’t just once or twice and then declare myself a failure or accept less than I know I am capable of doing. May I be more determined to practice the personal changes I want to make this year. I have cast away my sins and acknowledged my short comings and now let me not accept their return as a failure of intent or impossible to attain. Amen

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Little Dog and a Whole Lot Human

“Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises. Imagine that we could walk through the new year always listening to a voice saying to us: I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it! Imagine!’” Henri J.M. Nouwen

What if I looked at each day as a new beginning free from yesterday’s hangover of insecurity, stress, fear, anger, memories of slights, failed hopes? What if triggers imprinted from infancy failed to go off when I feel hurt and don’t even know why I react the way I do until much later, if ever? Sometimes I’m really pissed I don’t have the generous qualities of my dog, Gracie. I’d love to wag my tail more, beg for attention, have a short memory, run around the house in a gleeful uncontrolled joyous way for no reason anyone can see. It’s not too hard for me to imagine these possibilities, but believing is another thing. What if I were committed to seeing each day as a gift full of promise and I could hear a voice saying, “ So you’re human. So what and I have a gift for you. Look. Feel it!”

Baruch ata adonai...I hear you. Start today. I hear you. It’s a practice. Being human is a practice and it’s not full of tail wagging and soulful eyes and begging for attention. It’s also full of whimpering and snarling when confronted or taken by surprise. I hear you. I can be a little dog and a whole lot human. That’s the deal. Thank you. Amen

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beginner's Mind: a great tool for Yom Kippur

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” 
Shunryu Suzuki

In Yoga we’re always reminded about “beginner’s mind.” It’s a Buddhist tradition that reminds us to start each pose as if we had never done it before. Each day a new body shows up with different qualities and abilities, and what we could do yesterday might work differently today. Moving with a beginner’s mind allows exploration with openness and dispassionate interest. I was thinking about this as I painted the other day and realized I’d become quite an expert on all the ways this canvas wasn’t working. I put everything away, took out a box of crayons, and played happily for a long time. Painting gives me a great opportunity to check in on how well I’m doing on my goal to change judgmental behavior, one of the sins I symbolically cast into the water last night. 

Baruch ata heart is open to witnessing my behavior without at the same time taking away my allowance for missing the mark. I’m grateful I was gentle with myself. Amen

Monday, September 17, 2012

Empty the Garbage

“We consider death as something that happens--or did happen, or will happen--to somebody else. but life is finite. We lease our minds and bodies for an indefinite term but with the sure knowledge that we cannot buy it out. And so, in the daily acts we perform, seen and unseen (but mostly those unseen), we are all writing our own obituaries.” 
Marshall Portnoy,

During the month of Elul I reflected on who I’ve been and particularly on all I am grateful for. Today the month changes to Tishrei and begins the progression to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It's time to take out the trash. This afternoon I'll join others at a lake and symbolically cast my sins into the water. For the next ten days I'll consider the things I did not do, the deeds and actions I don’t want to review, the behaviors I want to change. It’s not a time to blame or defend or do mental gymnastics to look better to myself than I honestly do. I believe this reflection can lead to change and that it matters. 

Baruch ata adonai...thank you for a year of blessings. You know who and what I am. Help me to be willing to know that too, not in a way that depresses me or makes me feel guilty and hopeless, but in a way that makes me feel stronger and more tender toward myself and my humanness. Amen

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Rocks in my Jar

A few weeks ago, I quoted Rabbi Laura Geller, “...Elul is the deep breath needed to get clear about what rocks fill up my jar, and promise to put them in first.” 

The first rock in my jar is a big one: continue to write from my nearly naked heart with a clear honest voice.Through writing prayers, I think I’m becoming my best self. The second rock: do things that bring joy to others and to myself. There’s a huge rock for gratitude and another for creative processes, and a rock for taking care of my body and and another for time with my family and friends. That’s it. I love having these strong rocks serve as guidelines for what I might take on in the future.

Baruch ata adonai...the new year approaches and I am clear about my intentions for 5773. I am happy I've taken the time during Elul to examine the past year, to be grateful for all I have in my life, and understand what I want to do in the new year. Thank you for helping me find my true self and for guiding me beyond my limited thinking. Amen

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

This Little Speck of Mine, I'm Gonna Let It Shine

In it's 22nd year Curiosity, the Hubble Explorer, approaches landing on Mars, and I'm listening to Radiolab, one of my favorite podcasts, tell me all about it. As I walk along Hildreth Lane in Morada, in Stockton, in San Joaquin County, in California’s eleventh congressional district, in the United States, zip code 95212, in North America, I’m just a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck, and there’s more. I’m in the Western Hemisphere, Earth, Milky Way, a speck in the the known Universe, in the year 5773 on the Jewish calendar. 

Now patched and fixed numerous times, Curiosity isn’t all young shiny newness any longer, yet it still astounds and has far outpaced any expectations anyone had for it. Just like us, wandering along the known and unknown edges of our lives, expectations surpassed, the unknown ahead. 

Baruch ata adonai...I’m so small, just a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck, and still my little drop in the universe is important to maintaining the fabric of life emanating from a small house on a small street, in a small county in a small state in a small nation. Like Curiosity, may I too keep outpacing my own expectations. May I keep on being a light in the darkness. Amen

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

When We Sign It, It's Ours

We do art projects when we get together. This time the project idea only lasted ten seconds until I thought seven year old Annie asked me about another one. “No,” she said, “not another one. I want to see your projects.” I felt like Mary Tyler Moore winning an Oscar. “You want to see them. You really want to see them!” So I showed her the five paintings I’ve been working on this year, two of which are completed. She said she really liked one. A different palette, I thought. When I asked her why, she ran her hand over the top part. "I could do this." she said. Then, “Nana, you didn’t sign them. You have to sign them when you’re finished.” 

Baruch ata adonai... my granddaughter is right! I need to learn to own the art I create. Do I have the thought they aren’t good enough to sign? They're hanging in my home along with the signed art of others.  Before Rosh Hashanah, I will sign them. Until then I’ll figure out why I haven’t. You know why don’t you, and I think you’re waiting for me to own up to it. Amen

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Willing or Not

"...One of the quickest ways to start shifting the stuck-ness is to open up a huge space of willingness around the situation you’ve become stuck in.”  --Dan Howard,
While I’ve been thinking about all the things I’m grateful for and adding to my list daily, I know I’m putting off the inevitable next step. I need to take stock in another way. I need to examine the ways I’ve missed the mark, not been what I could be for myself and for others. Hard as that is, it’s the easy part. Forgiving myself and others is harder and it starts with a great stumbling block: willingness. Am I willing to change or do I just want things to be different? Am I willing to create a different outcome? Am I willing to give up my attachment to being right?

Baruch ata adonai help me to be willing to examine myself and the ways I interact with myself and others, and then help me to be willing to do more than want. Amen

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Take a Chance: Throw open your doors and windows

“The writing life is a life lived with all the windows and doors opened....And rendering what one sees through those opened windows and doors in language is a way of bearing witness to the mystery of what it is to be alive in this world.” -Julia Alvarez

Yesterday I began my gratitude list and pondered how it happened I was willing to open my doors and windows in such a public way to the questions I am living. I’ve written prayers in journals for years, and I’ve shared how I started writing prayers in an attempt to bring me back to my center after being kicked off kilter. When I read The Help, I thought perhaps by writing my prayers like Aibileen did and putting them out in this format, I might be writing the prayers of others as well. 

I am so grateful to my friends who for years encouraged me to go public with my writing and to others who helped me set up this blog and to all of you who read my prayers and to those who write to share something that touched you. Thank you so very much. You have encouraged me to take chances I wouldn’t have done on my own. 

Baruch ata adonai when I was willing to share myself in a new way, when I trusted I had something to say, when I was willing to take a chance, I began to grow in a way unimaginable to me a year ago. I am very grateful to that part of me that is spreading wings. Amen

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Be Grateful

“Once we are grateful for what is, we can honestly evaluate whether we have helped creation attain perfection, or hindered it through our misdeeds.”
David Wolpe, Jewels of Elul 2007

The first of the Jewish high holidays is Rosh Hashanah, a time to appreciate and celebrate what we have. In the Jewish world, repentance begins with gratitude. Then we immediately begin to consider how we have sinned and symbolically cast those things away by naming them and tossing bread in the water to feed ducks and geese. I like to think by the time they snatch it up, the sin has flown off so they aren’t eating my yucky stuff. Yom Kippur, ten days later, is a day of repentance, a time to recognize how we’ve missed the mark, how we have hurt ourselves and others, and begin the work of repair. First be grateful and then on to spiritual scrubbing.

Today I’ll begin a list of the many blessings I am grateful for. I’ll read through the prayers I’ve written, go through my calendar. The big gratitudes like health and my family and friends will make the first ten easy to come up with. I’ll add another ten and more when I consider all the people and places and things that make my life so much better than it would be without them. Then are all the things I’m likely to forget, to consider my due, to take for granted. This is why I’ll be adding to my list right up to the last minute.

Baruch ata adonai, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed when I think of all I want to do. I’ve done so much explaining and so little praying. I’m going to sit here and breathe for awhile. Amen

Monday, September 3, 2012

How Often Have I Ended Before The End?

“A decision is nothing more than the creation of a picture that you decide to make stick.” 
Ginny Mancini from Jewels of Elul

This month of Elul I’m studying a few of the daunting High Holiday prayers that in past years have caught me unprepared and overwhelmed me. I’m guessing the liturgy of most religions has prayers designed to scare the crap out of you. The Jewish prayer book for the High Holidays sure does.

Un’taneh Tofef, a prayer of rhythmic almost hypnotic poetry sung to a haunting melody begins calmly enough, “And let us acknowledge the power of this day’s holiness...” and before long moves into the question of “Who will live and who will die,” and a litany of ways to do it: who by fire and who by water, and who by warfare, wildlife, hunger, thirst earthquake, plague, strangling, stoning and more. Then, not yet half way through the prayer comes the line, “Who at their end and who not at their end.” Often I stop hearing anything beyond this.

In the year that is soon to be over, 5772 on the Jewish calendar, in what ways have I come to end a friendship, a possibility, or a creative act, because I don’t know what more to do? How often have I made a decision that is nothing more than the creation of a picture I’ve decided to make stick? How often have I ended before the end? 

Baruch ata adonai please help me to stop killing off parts of myself through doubt, unease, fear or the unwillingness to work through difficult times. Help me to be courageous and willing to stay with and experience the challenges of life without ducking out at intermission. Thank you. Amen