Wednesday, August 27, 2014
#BlogElul Day 2: Blessings are expressions of gratitude
One of my favorite parts of any Jewish worship service is the section sometimes labeled 'Nisim she'b'chol Yom' - everyday miracles. We are presented with a series of 1-line sentences that all begin by blessing God as we take a moment to contemplate every little moment that has already passed since the moment we became aware that we were awake that morning, right up to the present. Blessings for the ability to stretch, to open our eyes, to place our feet on the ground, for the clothes we are wearing, and so on. I often introduce this section of the liturgy at a Bar or Bat mitzvah service because I think its something that everyone in the room can relate to and appreciate. Sometimes I see nods of recognition and see a spark as some in the room realize the power in our fixed liturgy to make us more mindful and appreciative of the ordinary - the things that we take for granted until we no longer have them. Sometimes I feel some sadness as I watch rows of young teens who are unfamiliar with communal prayer, looking uncomfortable and self-conscious, unable to accept the invitation to verbalize out loud an appreciation for something as simple as waking up. They will often smile in recognition when I admit that there are many mornings when my first thought, rather than being an expression of blessing, is more like 'Urgghh... do I have to get up?!' But that's when I realize that the power of a repetitive ritual that calls on me to recognize ordinary blessings out loud is the power to shift my whole orientation to the day ahead. Now that is miraculous!
In our new High Holy Day machzor, Mishkan haNefesh, we are offered the traditional blessings - a list that we can find in the Babylonian Talmud, indicating that they are over 1500 years old. We are also offered other, relatively more recent texts, that express the same sentiment. On Rosh Hashanah morning, one of these options is 'Miracles' by Walt Whitman. In this poem, Whitman invites us to experience the everyday through the lens of wonder and amazement:
Why! Who makes mach of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love -
or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of an August forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds - or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down - or of stars shining so quiet and bring,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new-moon in May...
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles...
To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every inch of space is a miracle...
Every spear of grass - the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women,
and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.
These blessings are not prayers that ask anything of God. They are simply expressions of Gratitude. A way of growing this character trait of beauty within each one of us. If we want to approach the New Year with an intention to change and repair, this simple practice of morning affirmations can be quite transformative if we choose to make them into a regular habit.