Books Prayer

Accessing the World of Meaningful Prayer

The tension between keva and kavanah in our worship is always there.  The fixed texts of our liturgy guide us through our daily moments of reflection and prayer.  They contain our history, our theology, and our deep bond with the Holy One through the millennia. There is a comfort for me in chanting the words that my parents and grandparents knew. Even when praying in English or some other mother tongue those too can have the same force that binds us to our covenant.

The kavanah, the inspirational or extemporaneous moments of prayer take me in a different direction. The words and music I craft at any given moment pour out of my lips in an effort to capture my spiritual longings of a specific moment or situation.  I am drawn increasingly to these interpretative poems and prayers to express my soul’s longing in the complex world we live in.  I search for material that will enhance the keva and at times liberate me from the keva as well.

As the one who is responsible for crafting meaningful worship for others, we rabbis and cantors are often caught in the bind between these two points.  We have a sacred duty, on the one hand, to our received tradition and to engage the worshipper for whom the fixed text is foreign, and who may only occasionally enter into moments of conversation with God. And we who long to create different kinds of spiritual connection through prayer and meditation that is still authentically Jewish but soars beyond the keva need material that can reframe and revitalize our Jewish prayer voice. This dialectic between the written texts and the inspirational texts, and impromptu prayers will always challenge us and hopefully propel us to deepen our thoughtfulness in preparing meaningful worship experiences.

This is why I appreciate deeply the poetry and prayers of Alden Solovy.  In his newest collection of prayer/poems, This Joyous Soul, soon to be published by the CCAR Press, Alden gives us some tools that will help us navigate this tension between the traditional rubrics of the service and inspired language of kavanah, specifically around Shabbat morning.

I had the opportunity to utilize some of Alden’s newest prayers as part of Shabbat morning worship with my community and in other settings.  The collection of prayer/poems accompany the keva, the fixed liturgy, in a complementary way deepening the experience for the congregation.  The themes of the morning service are woven into every line and stanza in the book.  Let’s take but one example from this new collection:

God’s Morning

Calm or wind.
Cloud or sun.
Warm or cool.
It’s God’s morning.
A gift.
A promise.
A bird gliding on a breeze,
Singing ancient songs,
That need no translation.
A ray of secret light
Stored for this very moment
Since the beginning of time.

Let us rejoice.
Let us sing.
Let us tremble with love,
While the Artist paints
The sky and the hills,
The seas and the plains,
In the colors of majesty.

It’s God’s morning.
Sent as a reminder
To love and to hope.
Sent as a reminder
To celebrate
The glory of Creation.

For me this is the Shabbat Morning Yotzer prayer filled with hints of light and God’s creation.  It refocuses me on God as the artisan who paints all of creation and the world. This refreshes my understanding of the idea of renewing creation daily and transitions me into that wide expanse of love that follows in Ahavah Rabbah.

I have shared this piece several times with different members of my community. Read in worship and in study to a person, they have each smiled to themselves as they bathe in the beauty of the painted words.  While the Hebrew of our prayers provide ancient connection for my congregation, through Alden’s words they access the world of meaningful prayer through an authentic Jewish voice.  It is not replacement for the keva, but instead a kavanah that primes me and my community for the keva.  And perhaps a way into the keva now that the table has been set.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger  serves Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA and is the immediate past-president of the CCAR.  This Joyous Soul is now available to order! 

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