We are surrounded by holiness. By beauty. By wonder and awe. At the same time, we must live life as it’s offered to us, sometimes messy, sometimes challenging, potentially painful, potentially traumatic, a mixed bag of joys and sorrows. No matter what, our lives are enriched by prayer. Prayer gives our hearts a voice. There’s no moment too small for a prayer. Or too large for that matter. A single petal of a rose. A field of wildflowers. A birth. A death. And there’s no moment too small or too large for gratitude.
Composing prayers is a natural expression of my desire to move closer to God. In response to various life tragedies I began a spiritual journey of prayer, meditation, daily journaling and making gratitude lists. This writing evolved into a regular practice of composing prayers. The practice was a large part of my healing from those tragedies, including the loss of Ami z”l – my wife of 27 years – from catastrophic brain damage.
The act of creating a prayer is healing. One aspect of that healing comes in recognizing the yearning, the deep desire that needs a voice. Another element of healing is the writing itself, which attaches those yearnings to language – often lyrical, but sometimes blunt – evoking a prayer of the heart. I recommend it.
In our Siddur, whether it’s Mishkan T’filah or any other Jewish prayer book, we say that God is the one shomeah t’filah, the One who hears our prayers. The faith that our prayers are heard gives prayer power. We don’t have to be alone in grief. We have a witness, perhaps the ultimate Witness, to both our troubles and our triumphs. Our extraordinary times will be heard by the One who hears.
The core of This Grateful Heart, my newest book from CCAR Press, however, is bringing prayer into the routine flow of our lives. Waking in the morning. Going to sleep at night. The change of seasons. Holy days. Regular days. Shabbat. We recognize that the regular practice of gratitude in prayer will enrich our days and help us get through the tougher times.
To create this collection I reread every one of my pieces, more than 600 liturgical works. As you might imagine, with such a large body of work I’d lost my connection with some of these prayers. Creating This Grateful Heart gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my own prayers, to remember the love that went into each piece. To remember why I wrote each one. That was a real gift.
This book is aimed at both personal and communal prayer. That was a key challenge in creating this anthology. By design, most of the pieces in This Grateful Heart can do ‘double-duty.’ While individuals and families will find voice for their hopes and aspirations, rabbis will find prayers and readings that engage us in t’filah – in worship – as well as a rich resource for counseling congregants.
The flow and organization of the prayers, matching the rhythms of our lives, gives This Grateful Heart a unique warmth and charm. The experience is much different than reading a classic anthology organized by topic. This Grateful Heart connects deeply into the flow of time and seasons. It can be used in private prayer and in communal worship. As a book of prayers, it’s versatile. As a spiritual guide, it brings both intimacy and tenderness, as well as a sense of strength.
Prayer and gratitude elevate us. Prayer and gratitude light our way. This is not always easy. My own love affair with prayer has had rocky moments, moments when I resisted prayer, moments when I resisted my higher gut instinct that prayer would guide me to healing. That’s one of the reasons that this book moves with the cycles of our lives. Any day a prayer is needed, any day someone decides to say a prayer, or to deepen a personal prayer practice, there’s a doorway here, in this book.
We pray in joy, fear, sorrow and loss. We pray to celebrate, to mourn, to create a connection with beauty, hope and love. Prayer is an expression of our inner voice. We pray as an expression of gratitude. I hope that people will see This Grateful Heart as a prayerbook, a resource kit, a spiritual practice, an inspiration, and a source of hope.
Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist and teacher. His writing was transformed by multiple tragedies, marked in 2009 by the sudden death of his wife from catastrophic brain injury. Solovy’s teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud UK and synagogues throughout the U.S. The Jerusalem Post called his writing “soulful, meticulously crafted.” Huffington Post Religion said “…the prayers reflect age-old yearnings in modern-day situations.” Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, now available from CCAR Press.