Prayer Rabbis

Where I Find Prayer, Where Prayer Finds Me: Thoughts for Elul

I am an exercise-aholic. I count on exercising like others count on caffeine. I exercise for all of the requisite health benefits, but the real icing on the cake for me is how exercise transforms my prayer life.

No surprise that prayer plays a central role in my life: after all I am a rabbi. I say the Shema before I go to sleep and the Motzi when I eat. I create rituals filled with prayer for the peak moments in people’s lives. I extend prayers of consolation to soothe the wounds of the down heartened. I sense the thread of God’s presence connecting members of my congregation when our voices unite chanting Tefillah.

Yet my purest prayer comes when I am deep in the woods in North Carolina’s Umstead Park, traversing the miles of trails, trees buffering the sights and sounds of the world. When I first get on the trail, my mind is racing, organizing: what do I have to accomplish today; where are my children; what do I need to do for them; what is weighing on me? Deeper into the woods, my mind cannot carry all of those organizational charts, and it slowly lets go – until I fall into a rhythm of one foot in front of the other, moving forward, with no clutter, my body advancing in one fluid motion.

It is then, when my foot and the trail are flowing in tandem, at once letting go of the stuff of my world, and connecting to the entirety of it; the border melts between movement of body and meandering of path; between the acorn fallen from the tree and the forest that renews it. All is one. And at that moment, not because I have planned to offer it like all the other rituals of my life, but more that it has planned to offer me, thanks pours forth from my soul. My heart blurts out THANK YOU GOD. Pure and unadulterated thanks — ZEH ANI MODAH.

Thoughts for your personal introspection during Elul:

  • For what are you grateful?
  • How do you express thanks?
  • How does thanks express from you?

Rabbi Lucy Dinner serves as Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, North Carolina. Among several communal and professional commitments, she sits on the executive board of international relief agency Stop Hunger Now. Walking, cycling, and occasional jogging keep her in balance to be present for her family, her congregation, and her service to community.