I find some traditional prayers comforting and challenging and often surprising and quite contemporary. Some, I use in my prayer practice with little or no rewriting. Others, including some biblical psalms, I am compelled to rewrite.
Now that the sun has set, I sit and rest, and think of You.
Give my weary body peace.
Let my legs and arms stop aching.
Let my nose stop sneezing.
Let my head stop thinking.
Let me sleep in Your arms.
In traditional Judaism, when we die it is believed that our souls leaves our bodies. And sleep is believed to be a mini-death when God takes control of our souls. In the morning, when (if) we wake and are blessed with the gift of a new day, the belief is that God has restored our souls to our bodies.
To me, there is a striking commonality between the commonly known Child’s Bedtime Prayer and the Jewish Bedtime and Morning Prayers.
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Blessed are you God, who closes my eyes in sleep.
May it be your will, my God, to lay me down in peace and raise me up in peace.
Let no disturbing thoughts, evil dreams or fantasies upset me.
May my bed be complete and whole before You.
Light my eyes so I do not sleep the sleep of death,
for it is You who illuminates my eyes (allowing me to wake and see).
Praised are You God who lights the world with Your Glory.
If I translate the traditional Jewish Morning Prayer word for word from Hebrew, the phrase “You will in the future take it from me” would end with “and restore it to me at a future time to come” (meaning when the dead will be resurrected). I don’t know about being resurrected, the traditional Orthodox Jewish belief; but I do know that I am grateful every morning, every day for my life, my health, my breath, my spirit, and my pure sweet potential, all miraculous gifts from God.
The soul you have given me, oh God, is pure.
You created it. You formed it. You breathed it into me and You preserve it within me.
You will in the future take it from me (at my death).
So long as I have breath, I will give thanks to You, my God and God of all ages,
Source of all being, loving Guide of every human spirit.
Blessed are You God, in whose hands are the souls and spirits of all.
I take great comfort from two Jewish healing prayers. I’m in awe that these prayers are so powerful and “on the mark.” How did the Rabbis who composed them many centuries ago get it so right? The prayers remind us of the complexity of our bodies and the miracle of health, when our “hollows and ducts” and our organs and blood vessels all work as designed by our Creator.
This prayer is traditionally said after going to the bathroom, when it is true that hollows and ducts must work correctly or we humans (and animals) are in big trouble health-wise.
Praised are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who with wisdom formed humans and who created within them many hollows and many ducts. It is known and revealed that if one of them opens (when it should be closed) or closes (when it should be open), it would be impossible to exist and to stand before You. Praised are You Adonai, who heals all flesh and who performs wonders.
This prayer requires more from the supplicant, that he/she contributes Tzedakah on God’s behalf. It serves as a reminder that prayer is not enough, that prayer must push us to do good and righteous deeds.
Ishmael, Esau and Hagar are not included in the traditional healing prayer. But I add them because they were also blessed by God and they are our cousins and part of the Jews’ extended family. Also I change the traditional phrase “among other sick people of Israel.” I remove “of Israel” because all sick people need recovery and many of my dear ones are not Jewish.
May the One Who blessed our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon, Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel – bless and heal (names of the sick persons) because I will contribute tzedakah (do goodness and righteous deeds) on their behalf (or alternately “on God’s behalf”). In reward for this, may the Holy One, Blessed be the One, be filled with compassion for them, to restore them to health, to heal them, to strengthen them, and to revive them. And may God send them speedily, from heaven, a complete recovery for their two hundred forty eight organs and three hundred sixty-five blood vessels, among other sick people, a recovery of the body and a recovery of the spirit, swiftly and soon. And we say: Amen
I am drawn to the psalms but I struggle with them. Quite a few are about the enemies who have come to destroy the psalmist, often King David; these are affirming to read when I’m angry with individuals or the world. Other psalms contain startling truths. And others are straight-out comforting to me and to many of us. Perhaps because we know them; we have heard them over the years, at funerals, quoted by the famous and not so famous people, and they have become like old friends.
I read the psalms and think about how they might relate to our life today.
The 121st Psalm is comforting to me even though I don’t feel that God gets involved in the day to day lives of human beings. But often I lift my eyes to the sky and feel reassured and I often wish for God to be my Keeper. I modify the 121st psalm slightly. I alternate She and He because I feel that God has no gender or all genders. The sentence “Not one foot moves, nor one heart breathes without His knowledge” brings to mind what my Grandpa Henry Fuchs said: “My idea of God? An almighty creator who regulates and controls the growth of everything including plants, including woods and forests, man and animals. I don’t think anything, even a cigarette, could become a cigarette without the aid of God.”
I lift my eyes to the sky,
And view the clouds, the sun, the moon.
Muted and bold colors, pink, blue, gray, gold.
And there I find my help.
My help comes from God, the Creator of all.
Not one foot moves, nor one heart breathes without His knowledge.
She that keeps us never slumbers.
Behold He neither slumbers nor sleeps.
She is your keeper; He is the shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
Trust in Her and She will keep you from doing evil and will keep your soul pure.
God will guard your going out and your coming in from now unto eternity.
Psalm 6 is one of the angry Psalms. I adapted it when I was having major work and home troubles and aggravations. Psalm 6 includes the lines: “I am weary with my groaning; every night I make my bed swim, I melt away my couch with my tears. My eye is dimmed from anger and grief; it has aged because of all my enemies.”
Oh Lord, heal me and hear my cries and feel my tears.
My enemies frustrate me and make me angry.
If I perish who will praise You?
How can I praise You when my life is once again in ruins?
I have tried to be good and to be nice to all and I get anger back.
Help me to back off and to cry out to You in anguish.
Help me to leave them, my enemies, to sit in their own frustrations,
and to leave me be in peace
or at least in aloneness with myself and with You.
I will praise You for this place we can be
where for a moment I can have peace.
Blessed are You Adonai, God of Silence and God of Hope.