By Laura Seymour
My favorite Jewish educator, Joel Lurie Grishaver, once said, “I learned to make brachot at the dining room table but I learned to pray on the ballfield.”
What is prayer? Do “standardized” prayers work or should my prayer come from the heart? This is something I think about often, especially as I teach children and adults who ask the questions.
In case you are frantically reading for “The Answer,” there is no right answer — there are many answers. And sometimes we are in the synagogue and words don’t come, so reading the prayer book works. Perhaps we have nothing pressing at the moment, so the prayer book helps us find words.
Prayer is a practiced art in many ways, but if we just wait for the moment we need it, we will not be ready. Often we turn to God only in crisis, but building a deeper relationship helps us, and some believe it helps God. So the challenge is to plan and prepare.
In my office, I have a framed piece that works as a prayer. It is an acrostic — a verse in which the first word in each line forms a word or message. Many Jewish prayers are written as an alphabetical acrostic with the letters of the alphabet serving as the first letter of each word or line in the prayer. Here is my piece, “The ABCs of Life.”
“Accept differences. Be kind. Count your blessings. Dream. Express thanks. Forgive. Give freely. Harm no one. Imagine more. Jettison anger. Keep confidences. Love truly. Master something. Nurture hope. Open your mind. Pack lightly. Quell rumors. Reciprocate. Seek wisdom. Touch hearts. Understand. Value truth. Win graciously. Xeriscape. Yearn for peace. Zealously support a worthy cause.”
Try writing a prayer like this or perhaps take a name of someone or something and write a prayer with each letter of their name. The writing is a good experience; it gets us thinking. Here is one more way of using an acrostic — this time with Hebrew: Jewish values from alef to tav
“Alef – Emunah. Bet – Brit. Gimmel – Gemilut Hasadim. Dalet – Derekh Eretz. Hey – Havdalah. Vav – Vikuah. Zayin – Zemirot. Chet – Cheshbon Ha’Nefesh. Tet – Teva. Yud – Yisrael. Kaf – Kavod. Lamed – Lashon Ha’Ra. Mem – Mitzvot. Nun – Neshamah. Samech – Siddur. Ayin – Aseret Ha’Dibrot. Peh – Pikuach Nefesh. Tzadi –Tzedakah. Kuf – Kedushah. Resh – Rodef Shalom. Shin – Shabbat. Sin – Simcah. Tav – Talmud, Torah and Tikkun Olam.”
Laura Seymour is director of Jewish life and learning and director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.