Alden Solovy, author of This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, reflects on the goals behind the project, how worshipers can use his work in tandem with Mishkan T’filah, and how the book offers a sense of hope.
What inspired This Joyous Soul?
The book was inspired by my deep love of prayer, both as a form of creative expression and a path to connection with the Divine. Along with that, the book was driven by my desire to open new pathways into our classic prayers. The artistry of our prayerbook—Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur—served as the backdrop and canvas for my writing.
This Joyous Soul is structured to reflect the morning service found within Mishkan T’filah. How can readers use it in tandem with the prayer book?
In key sections of Mishkan T’filah, the left-hand pages offer alternatives to the traditional prayers found on the right-hand page. This Joyous Soul was written as a source of new “left-hand pages,” offering new poetry, meditations, interpretations, challenges, reframings, and flights of fancy based on our classic prayers. You can use This Joyous Soul side-by-side with Mishkan T’filah to enliven your prayers. Rabbis can use these new “left-hand pages” in communal worship. The book can be used as a study text to deepen your understanding of our prayer tradition. My core hope, however, is that congregations will place copies of This Joyous Soul in prayer spaces alongside Mishkan T’filah. That is my vision and ultimately why I wrote the book.
The subtitle of This Joyous Soul is “A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings.” What does this mean to you?
Jewish prayer, throughout the ages, maintains a brilliant balance between the traditional themes, content, and tone of our centuries-old prayer book, while remaining open to new expressions of spirituality in each generation. This Joyous Soul is an exploration of our common, modern experiences—in life and in prayer—in dialogue with the age-old yearnings of our people. This Joyous Soul (which has the nickname “Joyous”) offers modern expression to classic prayers as handed down for millennia. Rabbi Sally J. Priesand explains this balance in her introduction to the book.
What was the most challenging part of writing this volume?
Prayer is an intimate, personal experience. At the same time, congregational worship is a shared, communal experience. I wrote Joyous to be both a doorway into deepening one’s individual prayer practice and a volume that would resonate so strongly with Mishkan T’filah that congregational rabbis would bring the book into prayer spaces, put it in the pews, and place it on the sanctuary bookshelf alongside the siddur. My goal—to write a volume of new prayers that could be used equally well both in private prayer and in communal worship—was the core writing challenge. This volume is the result.
How can this book speak to difficult times such as the one we’re living in now?
In a word: hope. Joyous is infused with hope for ourselves, our families, our congregations, the Jewish people, all peoples, the world, and the future. There is hope without end, from the opening to the close of the volume. There are prayers of gratitude, wonder, and renewal—all leading to hope. The prayer “For Peace in the Middle East” is one example. Yet let me quote the last stanza of the book, from a prayer called “Let Tranquility Reign”:
Let these prayers ascend
To the lofty heights,
So that the nations
And peoples of the earth
Will rejoice in holiness,
Will rejoice in splendor,
And will rejoice, together, in righteousness.
Sitting at my desk here in Jerusalem, worried about the future of Israel and the rising global tide of antisemitism, there is no balm more healing, no prayer more joyous, than the hope of a better world. To that, let us say, “Amen.”
Alden Solovy is a liturgist who made aliyah to Jerusalem in 2012. He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine in Poetry and Prayer, and These Words: Poetic Midrash on the Language of Torah, all published by CCAR Press.