"This Grateful Heart" Connects Us to the Flow of Time and Seasons
After dawn but before sunrise, when the birds begin to sing in harmony, I pick up my small Moleskine notebook to write prayers. The 192-page, black hardcover notebook is lined, and on the last page of the notebook, I keep a running list of ideas for future psalms, prayers, and meditations.
Some mornings, an idea for a prayer will simply arrive. Other mornings, I scan the list of yet-unwritten prayers for inspiration. Some mornings, I write two, three, or more pieces. Other mornings, my voice of prayer is silent, waiting for an internal shift of the spirit.
The first light of morning signals my spiritual preparation for the day. I say Modeh Ani (a morning prayer that thanks God for another day), wash my hands, and begin my daily practice. In those early moments of morning, my heart feels closest to prayer. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Kaballah speaks of siluk hachochot (departure of faculties) that occurs during sleep, the exodus of conscious aspects of the intellect, ego, and personality. In that absence, the subconscious emerges, unbound to rational, linear thought. During sleep, the soul’s essential powers are restored and strengthened, freed from the realm of the physical and unrestricted by the complex rules of consciousness.
Midrash asserts a radical idea, based on an understanding that humans have an animal soul and a spiritual soul. When we sleep, our spiritual souls leave our bodies: “…and they sleep and all the souls rise up to Him… in the morning He returns to each and every one their soul…” (D’varim Rabah, 5:15). Sleep is a temporary journey of the soul back to God. On earth, the physical body and the animal soul are refreshed. In God’s realm, the spiritual soul is nourished and restored: “The soul fills the body, and when man sleeps it ascends and draws life for Him from above…” (B’reishit Rabbah 14:9).
I often write best in the morning, the time at which I am perhaps closest to the experience of heaven. On a rare afternoon, I’ll take my Moleskine into the Old City of Jerusalem for inspiration. Sometimes I’ll wake in the night – at home, in a tent, visiting family in the States – to write. I’ve written sitting on sand dunes in the Negev and overlooking the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. Sometimes, usually later in the morning or afternoon, I’ll use computer and keyboard.
Most of the pieces in my newly published volume, This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, were written in the first hours of the day, after saying Sh’ma the night before and Modeh Ani in the early light, soul refreshed from sleep, prayers fresh from my breath and spirit. Most were written long-hand, with pen and notepad.
I’m about to start my fifth notebook. Here’s what I’ll do: After peeling off the plastic wrap and cracking open the new notebook, I’ll transfer the list of prayer ideas from the back page of the completed notebook to the new one.
The notebook also has a small back pocket. In it, I keep a handwritten list of “prayer words,” a set of vocabulary to jog my memory in case I get stuck looking for the correct word or concept. I also keep a laminated card with T’filat haDerech, the traditional traveler’s prayer, in that pocket. I keep the notebook by my bed. Sometimes, for inspiration, I go to the shelf in my bedroom where the small, completed notebooks are lined-up, side-by-side, to browse through them.
The goal of This Grateful Heart is to provide a daily source of inspiration. It’s a resource for expressing joy, sorrow, wonder, and amazement in prayer. The idea is to give language to our dreams and our heartbreaks. The flow and organization of the prayers, matching the rhythms of our lives, give the volume a unique warmth and charm. The experience is much different than reading a classic anthology organized by topic. This Grateful Heart connects deeply to the flow of time and seasons.
The 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 prayers in This Grateful Heart are my personal selections from notebooks I’ve completed. As a spiritual guide, it brings both intimacy and tenderness, as well as a sense of strength. I hope people will see This Grateful Heart as a prayer book, a resource kit, a spiritual practice, an inspiration, and a source of hope.
Read more of Alden Solovy’s liturgy on his website, To Bend Light.