Gratitude and Tears: Finding Hope During COVID-19

These days, witnessing and receiving acts of kindness makes me cry. In this strange time of coronavirus, most of those tears come from witnessing something online. They are gentle tears. Only a few tears at a time. Almost imperceptible to others.

I know these tears. They are the tears that weave joy and suffering with the holiness of witnessing. The kind of tears that, until now, I’ve experienced only during Kabbalat Shabbat when the shaliach tzibbur – the prayer leader – captures the essence of the Sabbath in the song. To me, the tears themselves are a prayer.

A few days ago, in one of those moments of holy tears, I understood that getting through the COVID-19 isolation will be easier for me if I seek out moments of gratitude. (Here’s my CCAR One Minute of Wonder on gratitude.) But how? I already write a gratitude list every day. Perhaps by sharing my gratitude with others, and reading about the gratitude of others. The idea jumped out as a way to strengthen my own practice of gratitude while simultaneously helping others.

As a result, I launched a new Facebook group, Grateful Heart, Joyous Soul, Precious Life, which offers the opportunity for members to post about gratitude in our daily lives. Within a day, more than four hundred people were on the page posting and reading about each other’s moments of gratitude. To help her congregants cope, Rabbi Lea Muhlstein of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Congregation in London invited her members to join and to share their gratitude in the Facebook group.

I’m posting a daily “gratitude prompt” to help us all see different ways to be grateful. Gratitude prompts will be wide-ranging—words, music, and images. For example, there will be a song gratitude day in which people are encouraged to post links to their favorite songs. We’ve already had a flower gratitude day, in which people can post photos of beautiful flowers to create an online bouquet. There will be prompts for gratitude for safety, security, family, friends, favorite appliances, favorite memories, and many more.

The name of the page was a blinding flash of the obvious for me. It’s the combination of the titles of my two current CCAR Press books—This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings—as well as the working title of my next CCAR Press book, This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer. Gratitude leads to joy. Joy and gratitude lead to a deeper understanding of the preciousness of each moment of our lives. Grateful Heart. Joyous Soul. Precious Life.

You are invited to join. And you are invited to share the link with your congregation, as Rabbi Mulstein did.

In the spirit of joy, gratitude, and the preciousness of life, here’s “Prayer of Gratitude” from This Joyous Soul:

Prayer of Gratitude

Today is a gift,
O my God,
To know Your world,
To receive Your blessings.

Rock of Ages,
Your works surround us,
Daily signs of awe and wonder,
Daily guides to joy and service.
Bless me with hands of strength,
A heart of courage,
A mind of understanding.
Bless me with a voice of praises,
A life of gratitude,
Days filled with hope and love.

“Prayer of Gratitude” by Alden Solovy, © 2019 CCAR Press. All rights reserved.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist and poet who has written five books including This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, both from CCAR Press. He is currently the Liturgist-in-Residence at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.


There is No Moment Too Small or Too Large for Gratitude

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.grateful-heart

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.