A prayer for prayer

24 11 2008

I found this in צלותא דאברהם, a siddur that I’ve been looking through. I thought it was beautiful.

It is a compilation of verses from Psalms that is meant to be said when one arrives at one’s prayer space in shul, but I can think of many other times for which it would also be appropriate. (I believe that there is a more formal prayer for prayer in Masechet Brachot, but I have not tracked it down yet.)

רַגְלִי, עָמְדָה בְמִישׁוֹר; בְּמַקְהֵלִים, אֲבָרֵךְ יְהוָהוַאֲנִי תְפִלָּתִי-לְךָ יְהוָה, עֵת רָצוֹן– אֱלֹהִים בְּרָב-חַסְדֶּךָ; עֲנֵנִי, בֶּאֱמֶת יִשְׁעֶךָ. הַקְשִׁיבָה, לְקוֹל שַׁוְעִי–מַלְכִּי וֵאלֹהָי: כִּי-אֵלֶיךָ, אֶתְפַּלָּל. יְהוָה–בֹּקֶר, תִּשְׁמַע קוֹלִי; בֹּקֶר אֶעֱרָךְ-לְךָ, וַאֲצַפֶּה. אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה אֶקְרָא; וְאֶל-אֲדֹנָי, אֶתְחַנָּן. שִׁמְעָה תְפִלָּתִי יְהוָה, וְשַׁוְעָתִי הַאֲזִינָה–אֶל-דִּמְעָתִי, אַל-תֶּחֱרַשׁ: שְׁמַע קוֹל תַּחֲנוּנַי, בְּשַׁוְּעִי אֵלֶיךָ; בְּנָשְׂאִי יָדַי, אֶל-דְּבִיר קָדְשֶׁךָ. אֲנִי-קְרָאתִיךָ כִי-תַעֲנֵנִי אֵל; הַט-אָזְנְךָ לִי, שְׁמַע אִמְרָתִי. אֲדֹנָי, שִׁמְעָה בְקוֹלִי: תִּהְיֶינָה אָזְנֶיךָ, קַשֻּׁבוֹת– לְקוֹל, תַּחֲנוּנָי.

My feet are on level ground. In assemblies I will bless the Lord. As for me, may my prayer come to You, O Lord, at a favorable moment; O God, in Your abundant faithfulness, answer me with Your sure deliverance. Heed the sound of my cry, my king and God, for I pray to You. Hear my voice, O Lord, at daybreak; at daybreak I plead before You, and wait. I called to You, O Lord; to my Lord I made appeal. Hear my prater, O Lord; give ear to my cry; do not disregard my tears. Listen to my plea for mercy when I cry out to You, when I lift my hands toward Your inner sanctuary. I call on You; You will answer me, God; turn Your ear to me, hear what I say. O Lord, listen to my cry; let Your ears be attentive to my plea for mercy.

This is a prayer for both the prayer–the words being uttered, to “reach God in a favorable moment,” and for the prayer–the person praying, to be heard, answered, turned to, and not disregarded. I have a particular fondness for prayers or verses that make reference to ours tears, since I have shed a lot of them. God may disregard hastily muttered rote prayers, but surely he would not disregard tears! I also love the idea of praying for our prayers to be answered. The very idea tickles something in me.

One of the verses cited here, Psalms 39:13, which starts with the beautifully evocative “שִׁמְעָה תְפִלָּתִי יְהוָה, וְשַׁוְעָתִי הַאֲזִינָה–אֶל-דִּמְעָתִי, אַל-תֶּחֱרַשׁ:,” ends with a curious phrase: “כִּי גֵר אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ,” which I would translate as “Because I am a stranger with You.” What does it mean to be a stranger with God? To me, it means feeling alienated from God, distant from God, distrusting and wary of God–something I feel not infrequently.

The new JPS translation, however, translates these four words together with the rest of the verse: “כִּי גֵר אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ; תּוֹשָׁב, כְּכָל-אֲבוֹתָי,” “for like all my forebears, I am an alien, resident with You.” What does it mean to be a “resident alien” with God? The same words are used by Abraham at the beginning of last week’s parsha, Chayyei Sarah (Genesis 23:4), when he buys a place to bury his wife, Sarah, realizing that despite his long sojourn in the land of Canaan, he doesn’t have rights to a burial plot there because he doesn’t have ancestors there.

I am feeling the tension between being a resident and being an alien right now. On the one hand, this prayer or compilation of Psalms really pulls me–I want to be there, every morning, in my place, calling out to God, asking him to hear me, certain that He will listen to me, hoping he will answer me. I want to be a resident with God, and through my strong familiarity with prayer, I feel somewhat like I am. But, at the moment, God and I are strangers. I am not there every morning, walking in to shul, with these beautiful words on my lips, ready to call out to God and be sure that he will not disregard my tears.

So, instead of praying, I write about prayer.




One response

29 12 2008

Hm–I read it as–with God I am a stranger to myself, to my companions, to all people. My ability to relate to myself when I am with God–hm.

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