The Simple Prayer That Changed My Life

The Simple Prayer That Changed My Life

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Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam

Even before we learned the alphabet in my seminary Hebrew class, we learned this. 

We wondered aloud what it meant the same way you might taste your way through a dish at a neighborhood potluck. We rolled the words around in our mouths and picked apart the ingredients. Adonai: Lord, a substitute for the unspoken name for God. Someone pulled this from an Amy Grant song. Melek: king. Someone else pulled this from an obscure hymn they knew.

“Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, king of the universe.” Our professor aided our translation until we arrived at the right one.

And because we’d heard it first in a tantalizing foreign tongue, this sentence registered as equally poetic, its rhythm marching a gentle beat across the room as we repeated the words back to her.

This ritual formed the beginning and end of our class together. We learned to complete the prayer in traditional fashion, offering praise for the many delights of our day. I knew I had learned Hebrew when I began dreaming it and I knew it had changed me when this prayer surfaced equally mysteriously throughout the day.

“Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, ruler of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.”

“Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, ruler of the universe who makes the sun rise in the East.”

“Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, ruler of the universe who sends rain on the just and unjust alike.”

picture of cairn

 

The following summer, I taught the prayer to a group of middle schoolers I took to camp. I printed the Hebrew and English words on large poster board, holding it up in the dewy morning light of our outdoor chapel. It framed our numbered days the same way it had for me a year earlier. I stopped using the prayer after that. This wasn’t a conscious decision, just something that gradually happens, the same way a favorite shirt eventually gets pushed to the back of the closet, loved but largely forgotten.

I was reminded of it recently at a writer’s conference where rabbi and blogger Rebecca Einstein Schorr* mentioned the Jewish practice of saying 100 blessings a day. It’s a practice meant to recognize God’s presence in even the most everyday details.

I haven’t yet worked up to 100 blessings a day. Honestly, I probably average about 3, which I usually squeeze in between waking up and having my first cup of tea, then forget about in the hustle of whatever comes next. I murmur thanks over lunch, if I stop long enough to actually sit. Sometimes I pause when I prepare a lesson for Sunday, or  later when I survey the refrigerator for dinner.

Wednesday, though, I sat at the pool chatting with a friend and watching our kids play and five tumbled out–heartfelt silent thank yous for the sun, for friendship, for healthy kids, for teenage lifeguards, for water that flows abundantly enough that we just play in it.

And just like that, the ordinary suburban life–lugging kids, coolers, swimming suits and sunscreen to the pool became a holy in-breaking of God’s grace.

This, I suppose, is the point. If we parcel out our thank yous, carefully noting them to be sure we’ve reached our quota, we’ll never reach 100. But when we let the the practice guide us, attuning our hearts to the goodness all around, we might just breathe 1000 prayers in one precious, sacred, ordinary moment.

Blessed are you, Oh LORD our God, whose requirements bring light and life.


*A caveat for inconsistent memories: My friend Susan attributes this lesson to Jamie Coats, who is also taught us amazing things and is equally capable of saying it. So many wise, wonderful teachers.

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