My dear friend Larry is spending time this summer in Israel studying Hebrew, as part of his journey into deeper practice of his Judaism. To the great benefit of many of us, he has been blogging regularly while he is there. (He talks about the path that led him to be in Jerusalem this summer here.)
Yesterday, Larry wrote a post about prayer. He began by acknowledging that, like many of us, he sometimes loses his concentration during prayer. His method for dealing with the distraction is to concentrate “on three little words” – the three words that begin every Jewish blessing: Baruch Atah Adonai. Christians would say, “Blessed are you Lord God”; Larry, as others of our Jewish bothers and sisters says, “Blessed are you, Ha’Shem.”
Whether Jewish of Christian, and by whatever name we refer to God, what Larry writes in his post can be helpful advice:
Baruch Atah Adonai. One doesn’t need to know another word of prayer. One doesn’t need another word of Hebrew. All one needs to attain true kavanah, true spirituality, true gratitude and appreciation of all that we have (“for he has made to me all that I need”) are these three little words. Blessed are you, Ha’Shem.
Repeat these words. Just these words. Repeat them when you want to pray but don’t know how. Repeat them when you see beauty. Repeat them when you are happy. Repeat them when you see misery and when you are sad — especially when you see misery and when you are sad, for you do not know and cannot know when misery becomes glory and sadness becomes joy. But you do know that without misery and sadness happiness and joy do not exist. And you do know – or I hope you do – that even in misery and sadness is the pure act of living, the pure appreciation of life that you would not know were it not for – Baruch Atah Adonai….
Baruch Atah Adonai. Nowhere are these words more meaningful than when facing existential questions. Questions of reward and punishment, happiness and misery, joy and sorrow, life and death. … Why is one serene and one troubled, one healthy and one ill, one prosperous and one suffering? Why is there sorrow? Why is there evil?…
The answers are unimportant. For what we do know is that we are alive. And to be alive is to experience the world, however we experience it. That, in itself, is a blessing. The greatest of all possible blessings. And so, Baruch Atah Adonai. Three little words that are the essence of gratitude. Three little words that are the essence of prayer.
Prayer is not really all that complicated. I was reminded by Larry’s post of Mary Oliver’s poem Praying, which includes the lines, “just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.”
Thank you, Larry, for this and all of your wonderful posts this summer.