Sunday, January 27, 2019

Meet Prayer Bubbe

Hi, I'm Mia Sherwood Landau, also known as Prayer Bubbe.

I love Jewish personal prayer and searched the web for years to learn about it, but found very little to read or to watch. 

So, I created my course on Jewish Personal Prayer because it's the course I was searching for, but never could find.

Photo by Alex Woods

For centuries, before the first Jewish prayer books, there was only personal prayer. In fact, group prayer is not mentioned at all in the Bible.

Both men and women always prayed to God on their own, and nothing is stopping us from praying on our own now.

Some of us didn't grow up with a Bubbe, which is a Yiddish word meaning Jewish grandma. That's why I decided to become Prayer Bubbe and to talk about praying in our own words, in our own language, simply and easily.

Collecting interviews for my book, I discovered that most of us didn't grow up hearing much about Jewish personal prayer. 

Two Kinds of Jewish Prayer

We use a siddur, a Jewish prayerbook with traditional prayers spoken daily by Jews all over the world, in our congregations and at home. There are plenty of books and courses available on traditional Jewish prayer, online and offline.

By contrast, our personal prayer is not organized or required. It's spontaneous and free-flowing, anytime, anywhere. And it's hard to find anybody to guide and inspire us.

So, I taught a class on Facebook Live on a page called OneShul. Here's one of my videos for OneShul, and even though it's not as clear as YouTube videos, you'll see and hear me talking about Jewish personal prayer for about 18 minutes. It's a summary of all nine classes in the series.

Rav Daniel Ventresca and I got acquainted on Facebook, and I encouraged him to make a little video on prayer. So, he did it. Please spend four minutes watching Daniel talk about how our prayer is our gift to God. It's priceless!

Did you watch Daniel's video? Did you hear him say this: 

"Torah is God's gift to us and it is the Word of God. It is his gift to us, but prayer, our words to the Almighty, our words to Hashem, to the Creator, that's our gift to God and God treasures every word.

"When you want to connect with the Almighty, when you want to connect to God, speak your heart, don't hold back. Let him know, let him hear, he knows what's going on in your heart. 

He knows what goes on in your mind. He wants to hear the words, every word, every heartfelt, truthful word is your gift to God.

"Don't hold back. Know he wants to hear from you, God so desperately wants to hear from you." 

Well, Daniel got to the heart of personal prayer, don't you think? He is a lawyer in Canada and I am a grandma in Texas, but we are united in our common bond of prayer to our Almighty God.

Daniel is an Orthodox Jew and I am a Reform Jew, but our common bond of prayer unites us in the most important way. It's not our lifestyle or the particular prayer book we use in congregation. It's our Jewish prayers that unite us. 

Here's a list of the lessons included in my Jewish Personal Prayer course. Let me know if you'd like more details, ok?

Type in your email address here and I'll get back in touch with you. I make journals and planners with a Jewish Personal Prayer theme and you might like to see them, too.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Prayer Bubbe Prayer

A full Jewish grace after meals is two pages long. 

My Prayer Bubbe version is shorter and easier! 
Try taking a screenshot and keeping it on your phone to use after each meal.

Mia Sherwood Landau

Friday, January 25, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - On My Own

First, the WHY - Why would any Jew or anybody exploring Judaism want or need to explore the idea of Jewish personal prayer? 

Torah gives us a 3-word Hebrew phrase to answer that question. It's Ein Od Milvado.  "You were shown to know … ein od milvado — there is none other than He.” Devarim 4:35
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There is no one, there is nothing besides God for us. That's why we need to know God and have conversations with God for our own personal lives. 

This short podcast from describes Ein Od Milvado beautifully. 

Next, the WHAT - What is Jewish personal prayer? 

An exploration of Jewish personal prayer often begins with reading what other people have to say about it. Here's a list of resources, meaning webpages, videos and books on Jewish prayer, some with sections or brief mentions of Jewish personal prayer. 

* Judaism 101on Jewish Liturgy, by Tracey R. Rich

* To Pray As A Jew, by Hayim H. Donin

* Entering Jewish Prayer, by Reuven Hammer

* My Jewish Learning on Personal Prayer, by Sylvia Barak Fishman

*Jewish Prayer and Meditation, a Jews For Judaism video by Rabbi Michael Skobac

* on Your Thoughts And The Power of Hisbodedus, by Chaya Rivka Zwolinski

* The Jerusalem Post on World of The Sages: Adding Personal Prayer, by Levi Cooper

*My Jewish Learning on Keva & Kavanah, by Arnold J Wolf

* video series on A History of Prayer, by Lazer Gurkow

* Institute For Jewish Spirituality on How Do Jews Pray? by Jonathan Slater

* The Way Into Jewish Prayer, by Lawrence A. Hoffman

* on Hisbodedus: A Time For Yourself, by Avraham Ben Yaakov

* In Forest Fields: A Unique Guide to Personal Prayer video, by Shalom Arush, translated by Lazer Brody

* video on The Power of Jewish Prayer, by Yechiel Spero

* Gedale Fenster video on Hitbodedut:The Ultimate Tool to Get You From Anxiety to Confidence (I saved the best resource for last. This video will change your understanding of Jewish personal FOREVER. Invest the hour and 18 minutes to watch, it's worth it.)

And finally, MY RELATIONSHIP WITH PERSONAL PRAYER -  I am the World's Leading Expert on the subject of my own personal prayer. Nobody else has my relationship with prayer, so nobody else can correct or criticize it. It's mine alone. I am the only one in the world who can pray my prayers. God wants to hear from me!

(Read the paragraph above out loud. Try looking in a mirror while you read it. I wrote it for you! Read it out loud to hear yourself say it. That's what we all need. We need to hear it to believe it.)

Hello, my name is Mia Sherwood Landau. I am a writer, folk musician and folk artist. Oh, I’m also a farmer We raise Lemon Verbena commercially here in North Texas.

Searching for a book on Jewish personal prayer, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. So, I decided to write the book I want to read.

My forthcoming book is called Solitary Splendor: Jewish On My Own, But Not Alone.

What I’m sharing today is part of it, so I want to thank you for being here and being part of my book in progress.

Your thoughtful comments are welcome. And, who knows? You may see them in the book someday.

Here’s a list of three thing I've discovered people think about Jewish personal prayer:

1. Many people think our personal prayers should only be inserted into the daily prayers. There’s no requirement for additional prayers of a personal, individual nature.

2. And some people are shy about speaking directly to God in their own words. It seems selfish somehow, or they are hesitant to demand time and attention from the Almighty God of the Universe.

3. All of us are subject to the sad, secular notion that talking out loud to God is a sure sign of a crazy person. Normal, sane people don’t need to speak out loud to an invisible God who may or may not be real anyway.

Those are three things I learned about personal prayer that may stop us before we even start exploring it.

Oh, there’s one more thing – personal prayer is also called hisbodedus, hitbodedut or hisbonenut. It’s all the same Hebrew word with different pronunciations. It means self-seclusion and in-depth meditation, referring to secluding yourself with the Creator of the Universe to pour out your soul in heartfelt prayer.

What I’m talking about today could be called hisbodedut, but we’re going to call it Jewish personal prayer because that’s easier to say and to understand.

I like to make prayer easy to say and understand, so that’s what I do when I’m by myself. I like to make my prayer so simple that even a child can understand it.

And why would I need to do that when I’m all by myself? Because there is a child present, for sure. It’s my inner child inside of me. My prayers need to be simple and honest, like the prayers of a child, because I am a living child of God. I really am. You might say my inner child is praying from my heart straight to my Father in Heaven.

I want to pray from the depths of my inner child to the heights of the throne of God, the Creator of us all. To me, this is how to pray as a Jew. It’s very personal. My Father in Heaven wants to hear from me, in my own words and in my own language because that’s how He made me.

Who I am and what I think and feel is not a mystery to my Creator. He made me and sincerely welcomes me to call home anytime, day or night.

As you can see, my personal beliefs about our Almighty God are showing up boldly here. Please feel free to tune me in or tune me out as you are led by your own soul. Our adventure in Jewish personal prayer together has just begun, and the truth is this – it never has to end. 

When asked my level of observance I say, "I am an Internet Jew." 

My reply tends to disturb some people who participate in their local congregations, but often rings delightfully true to other Internet Jews. We know who we are, and we know we have more access to Jewish wisdom and experience than any Jews throughout history. 

This is my first post and OneShul video exploring Jewish personal prayer on my own. It's just the beginning of my sharing about my own experience and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Make A Time

Does making a time for Jewish personal prayer feel like one more obligation in your busy, crowded schedule? 

Are you wondering what you'll have to give up in order to set aside a special time to "do it right," and secretly plotting to avoid it because if you can't do it right you're not going to do it at all?

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Each one of us has the same 24 hours every day. Most hours are filled with obligations to other people and responsibilities we’ve taken upon ourselves.

Oh, and some of us spend increasingly more and more time unconsciously looking for fun and entertainment online, like this class, for example. It’s both fun and entertaining!

How are we supposed to find time to speak to the Almighty God of the Universe?

If the idea of talking to God in my own language without a script feels like an obligation, I will resist it. I don’t want another obligation, I want more freedom from obligations.

Most of us want fewer obligations and more freedom.

We want more freedom, yet we can’t figure out how to get it. Freedom to do what we want to do instead of what we have to do is a constant moment-to-moment challenge.

Torah stands as a reminder that God is an expert on the subject of freedom. We memorialize freedom on Shabbat and at Passover. And yet, we still yearn for it daily. We long for freedom as though we were still in Egypt trudging through mud pits and gathering straw.

What’s going on with us? I think we’ve forgotten the reason Pharoah finally let the Israelites abandon their mud pits in Egypt. Do you remember the reason?

In Exodus 9:1 God instructs Moses to tell Pharoah to “let my people go…” Usually we remember that part. But do you remember the rest of the verse? The whole verse is, “Let my people go to worship me.”

There’s a reason we were set free from slavery in Egypt – to worship God.

I think we forget that reason most of the time. We forget that our own personal relationship with our Creator, our Almighty God, is a gift. God gave us the gift of freedom to worship Him.

If we feel like slaves to our schedules and our obligations to other people, it’s probably because we’ve forgotten we are already free. We’ve been set free by God to worship God.

God set us free to worship Him, which usually starts with prayer. At least it does for me. It starts with praying to God, not watching Netflix or playing Fortnite or even golf. My freedom has been, is and will be based on worshipping God.

Making time to speak to my Almighty God is how I choose to be free instead of enslaved.

God is the expert on freedom, I am not. I am human and I forget to choose freedom. I need to talk to God and ask Him to help me to live the freedom he has already given me.

Finding the time for personal prayer is easy when I remember what God had already given me, and why.

God set us free from slavery to worship Him. That’s it. And it wasn’t just a one-time Exodus event 3500 years ago. It’s right now, in our lives today.

Praying for one minute, just saying, “Thank you, Lord,” is how I choose freedom every day.

Doing that, I start to notice other things I do. I start to put them in perspective when I notice what feels like slavery and what doesn’t.

Really, I actually start noticing obligations and decisions about what I do and how I invest or spend my time. When I spend my time playing games, it’s gone forever. When I invest my time praying, it’s an investment in this life and the next.

If I start feeling like a slave I say, right out loud, “Please help me remember you’ve already set me free to worship you, Lord.”

That’s a good start. Finding the time for personal prayer is not about tips and tricks. It’s about remembering the freedom I’ve been given during the 24 hours each day I have to spend or invest. It’s my choice. That’s how I remember to prioritize the time for personal prayer – I remember I have already been set free.

Mia's Little Song - All God's Time 

God is not old-fashioned
We all need Him everyday
Gotta fit Him in the schedule
It's all His time anyway

God is not too busy
To hear our every prayer
Gotta talk and gotta listen
To our God everywhere

Here's a short video (10 years old) of Jews talking about their relationship with traditional prayers:

This is my second post sharing about my own experiences with Jewish personal prayer and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Make A Place

Finding a place for Jewish personal prayer begins by looking inside myself, not outside myself. 

We talked about finding a time for personal prayer last week, and you'll notice that's how it starts, too, meaning inside ourselves not outside ourselves. 

Finding a place for personal prayer also happens inside me, in my thoughts and priorities, not outside me where clocks and timekeepers are located. 

So, here's the reality of making a place for personal prayer - Wherever I am physically located, I can pray. Nothing is in the way of my prayer except my own beliefs and excuses. 

With the exception of certain places we may live or visit (such as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) where political, religious, academic, business or family leadership forbids prayer, any place we occupy is a place of prayer. Standing, sitting or lying down, we can pray. 

Proverbs 20:27 gives us a lovely image of each person as living, breathing lamp of God. 

"Man's soul is the Lord's lamp, which searches out all the innermost parts."

"The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the inward parts.
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This verse has inspired and motivated me for many, many years. It reminds me that God gave me breath and that my breath is my life. 

When there is no breath, there is no life. That's a fact. Having the breath and having the life that God gave me, and continues to give me each moment, is how I know that wherever I am is a place of prayer. 

Interpreting the different Hebrew words for "soul" and "spirit" and "lifebreath" is a bigger subject than our discussion of making a place for prayer. 

All we need to know right now is this - breath is life, and if we are breathing we are alive and illuminated by the One Who Gave Us Life and Breath.

We are His as long as we are breathing. We might as well acknowledge and thank our Creator for our life and our breath. We are the place where prayer happens, or not. I choose to be a place where prayer happens.

That last part of Proverbs 10:27, "...revealing all his inmost parts," is something a Hebrew Bible scholar could interpret more than one way, but it's generally understood to mean our conscience.

When we hear ourselves in personal prayer, we get in touch with our genuine thoughts and feelings, which is one way our conscience gets our attention. 

When we find ourselves completely overwhelmed and speechless, we can rest assured our very breath, each and every breath is a prayer. When it's all we can do is remember to breathe, that's enough. God knows it's plenty.

Here are 5 Easy Tips for establishing a habit pattern of hisbodedut:

This is my third post and OneShul video exploring Jewish personal prayer on my own. It's just the beginning of my sharing about my own experience and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Write And Read Out Loud

For me, and for many people who journal their thoughts and feelings, writing brings healing.

Today, an aspiring writer who wants to write a book about her dysfunctional life posted on Facebook. I commented: The writing is healing. The book is for you more than anyone else. Write to heal and live beyond your pain. Write to create your new life. Then, later, you can decide what to do with your writing. For now, just write.

Therapists and writing instructors often teach journaling for its healing potential. It's not a new idea. In fact, it's a very old, Biblical idea. Devarim 31:19 is considered the final Torah commandment, and the basis of an age-old requirement for each Jewish man to hand-write his own Torah scroll.
Deuteronomy 31:19 "Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel."

"And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel." 

Well, I am not a Jewish man. And I am not in a position to purchase kosher parchment and create a letter-perfect Torah scroll. So, I need to find meaning in the final Torah commandment, specifically for me, in my own life now.

One way I do it is hand-writing my Jewish personal prayers in spiral notebooks. Yes, old technology! I have boxes of spiral notebooks, and they are written testimony to my growth as a Jew.

Years ago, I began writing letters to other people, expressing my real feelings, you know, all those things there's never a good time or place to say. Of course I never mailed these letters. They were really for me, not for the other people.

Eventually, my letters all began, "Dear God," because I realized He's the only one capable of hearing the cries of my heart and soul. My letters to God have been the most effective writing I've ever done. I write them, pray them, and watch my life change.

My boxes of spiral notebook journals have not been violated, which is something many people worry about. They fear what would happen if somebody else reads their prayer journal. Keeping them in a safe place is ideal, but may seem impossible for you. 

I am the living embodiment of the change my spiral notebooks have created, so discarding them is certainly an option. Once written, it's not about the words on the page, it's about the change in me.

Truthfully, I could have burned the pages immediately after writing them.  The words on the paper turning to smoke and ashes would still have had the same effect because my relationship with God and prayer is not dependent on those pages.

So, here's an idea for effective private prayer journaling - write your letter to God (or someone else) and immediately read it out loud. When you both see and hear the words they are doubly effective in creating personal change. 

Writing your Jewish personal prayers and then speaking them out loud is one way to apply Deuteronomy 31:19 to your inner "child of Israel," living within you. You are teaching yourself when you write and read your prayer journal out loud.

Reading it silently robs you of hearing the words. God acknowledged our human need to hear spoken words at Mount Sinai. Hearing our own words works the same way.

Then, if needed, feel free to destroy the pages, because they have already served their highest and best purpose in you.

Janet Ruth Falon, author of The Jewish Journaling Book, says, "People instinctively realize that writing is an act of commitment, and that can be scary."

Writing your prayers as letters to God, reading them aloud as an act of prayer, and then letting them go (discarding, shredding or burning) may be a bit scary at first, but when you experience the genuine relief, you'll relax and enjoy it. 

If you like the idea of a prayer journaling program, Rae Shagalov is a calligrapher who created a beautiful, 30-Day creative prayer journal called The Secret Art of Talking to G-d:

Here's a paperback Jewish Reflection Journal with prompts for holidays and spiritual contemplation.

Finally, for the digital natives among us, online personal prayer journals can be built in Google docs or in Evernote. They are private, eco-friendly, free and available to read aloud anytime, on any device. Low-cost journaling apps are also available for PC, Mac and mobile devices. 

This is my fourth post and OneShul video exploring Jewish personal prayer on my own. It's just the beginning of my sharing about my own experience and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Speak Spontaneously

Of all the ways to do Jewish personal prayer, speaking spontaneously out loud is the probably the most common, thanks to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

Although Rebbe Nachman passed away in 1810, his unique teachings about hisbodedut, or Jewish personal prayer, are still popular today, having influenced generations of people yearning for a personal relationship with God.

There's no need to study Rebbe Nachman's teachings to practice spontaneous personal prayer. You simply begin by speaking out loud to God in your chosen place, at your chosen time and in your native language. There are no requirements as there are with many traditional Jewish prayers.

Rebbe Nachman wrote:

"If at times you find yourself unable to speak to God or even open your mouth, the very fact that you are there before Him wanting and yearning to speak is itself very good. You can even turn your very inability to speak into a prayer. Tell God that you feel so far away that you cannot even speak to Him! Ask Him to have mercy on you and open your mouth to tell Him what you need."

A wonderful thing happens whenever we hear ourselves praying out loud. It is a distinct, undeniable experience. At first, it may feel a bit unfamiliar and awkward. But when we get in the swing of it, there's a rhythm and flow that's familar and comforting. It is our very own.

Rabbis, teachers and leaders often remind us that traditional Jewish  prayers are carefully written and time-tested for us to connect mentally, physically and emotionally with our Creator. It is a communal experience for the Jewish people, for all time.

Our personal prayers are spoken outside the framework of the siddur, outside a minyan of ten people praying together and ideally, when we're outside in the great outdoors. 

This is a good place for a little historical reality check. Very simply, Jews prayed together and alone without a prayer book for centuries. Remember, the average person could not read. 

When the first siddur was written in Babylon in the year 875 CE it was designed for scholars only because they were the educated men (yes, I said men) who could read. And siddurs were hand-written only. Remember, there were no printing presses.

Men did not want their women distracted from household and childcare duties, so that means women were the experts in Jewish personal prayer for centuries. Yes! Women practiced hisbodedut inside and outside their homes long, long before Rebbe Nachman wrote about it. 

In 1469, a wealthy Italian Jew commissioned a family siddur and the scribe included several drawings of the man's daughter, Maraviglia, in his hand-written book.
Image by siddur scribe Yo'el ben Shim'on Feibush (Public Domain)
Mercifully, Jewish personal prayer has always been gender neutral. It is bedrock, basic human communication with God, just one human with just one God. 

The following audio class is an hour and 18 minute live speech, which may seem 'way too long to talk about hisbodedut. But this man has been talking out loud to God for over 10 years, with fascinating results. (Be patient with the brief introduction. The speech is very easy to hear.) 

Author Dove Elbaum shares his journey in Jewish personal prayer in his 2013 autobiography, including these words, " recent years I have developed a daily dialogue with God through prayers I create, based on my feelings each day." It's not unusual for people to go through phases in their daily, traditional prayers as well as their spontaneous, personal prayers.

This is my fifth post and OneShul video exploring Jewish personal prayer on my own. It's just the beginning of my sharing about my own experience and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Speak And Record

This is a good time to remember Deuteronomy 31 again, especially the part about, "...put it in their mouths." 

Jews have been, and continue to be obligated to speak words of Torah each day. While many understand the word Torah to mean "doctrine or law," it also means "instruction." Torah comes from the root word, "yarah," meaning "show, direct, instruct."

Some Torah is written in our siddur prayers, and some torah is spoken by us in our personal prayers. We are showing and being shown, directing and being directed as we speak aloud the cry of our hearts and souls in prayer to our Almighty God.

We are following the instructions given to us in the most basic of all Jewish prayers, The Shema, which tells us to listen, hear, love our God and speak of our love for our God when we sit in our house and when we walk on the road. Indoors and outdoors, wherever we may be, we are instructed to speak.

Listening, hearing and speaking are the most basic instructions for our daily lives. Speaking to other people might be our first thought, but speaking spontaneously to God is certainly another application, and speaking to ourselves is another.

One of the best ways I can speak to myself is to make a recording when I pray out loud. I use the Easy Voice Recorder app on my Android phone, and of course there are other options on iPhones.

I've only begun to explore recording some of my prayers in the last year, so my experience is limited. But from my limited experience I can say the practice of listening to myself pray out loud is significant and satisfying to my soul. 

Without links or references to substantiate my experience, it's understood by sound healing specialists that each human being has a unique tonal vibration which can bring personal healing. The sound of our own voice provides our unique tonal vibration. 

That's a simple, logical conclusion which may lead us to another conclusion - the sound of our own voice is not only familiar, it can be comforting and healing for us.

When I record my spontaneous Jewish personal prayer and listen to the recording later I benefit by: 1) Reviewing what I said to my Almighty God to learn from it, 2) Experiencing the emotion and sincerity I expressed, and 3) Receiving my unique tonal vibration.

Nearly everyone owns a smartphone with the capacity to record, save and replay the sound of their voice, or to download apps to do it. How many people record themselves speaking spontaneous prayers? 

I invite you to be one of the few people recording prayers and experiencing the tangible benefits. Please share your experiences in the comments to this post!

Here's a link to a New Scientist article titled, Sound of Your Own Voice May Help You Understand Your Emotions

And here's one posted by a classroom teacher who is experimenting with making recordings and posting them in Google Drive for her own and her students' access.  The teacher can assess her teaching methods and the students can fill in their notes. Everyone has the potential to benefit.

My personal prayers are certainly not lectures, but they have the potential to be highly instructive as well as healing for me. My voice recordings are valuable to my Jewish soul.

This is my sixth post sharing about my own experiences with Jewish personal prayer and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Keep A Notebook

We've talked about writing down our Jewish personal prayers. And then we went a couple steps further and looked at the idea of reading those prayers aloud, and even recording them while reading aloud.

For the moment, let's set everything aside except the writing. You've heard me say it more than once, but I'll say again - writing out personal prayers is my favorite way to communicate with my Almighty God. 

As the words flow out of me and onto the page, I am deeply involved with them. Time seems to stand still as I write, and it brings me closer to myself as well as closer to God. For me, writing is more natural than speaking. So, it makes sense that writing to God feels more natural than speaking, too.

My written prayers are often letters, beginning with, "Dear God." Many sentences begin with, "Thank you for..." followed by ideas, requests and situations which may or may not have already occured in my life. God knows I am fond of writing thank you notes in advance. 

My letters to God are usually hand written in spiral notebooks. When completed, each letter is torn from the spiral notebook and inserted into a 3-ring binder which I call my Prayer Pages. 

This photo is one of my Prayer Pages, but it is not a letter to God. It is a humble request for help understanding Parsha Yitro. When I get stuck reading the weekly Torah portion, or confused while listening to video or audio Torah teachings, sometimes I ask God for help.

Author and writing professor, Janet Ruth Falon, shared some of her written prayers in a post on The Jewish Writing Project. She calls this one A Prayer for My Elderly Mother:

Fortify me, Compassionate One, as I help my elderly mother make life-altering changes.  Teach me patience as I support her in keeping true to herself.  Help me make my contact with her loving and clear in spite of complications we’ve had in the past.  Be there with me as I hold her hand as she moves forward, and given her age, support me in trying to make each communication with her end with loving words.  And please, help me balance the needs of my mother with the needs of my daughter, and nourish me with a bottomless well of courage and stamina. Amen.

Janet has published two books, The Jewish Journaling Book and In the Spirit of the Holidays which are filled with her creative wisdom and poetry. Her books may inspire you to fill up your own notebook with poems and prayers, too.

I've received dozens of beautifully bound journals as gifts over the years, but rarely used them. Spiral-bound notebooks are inexpensive, lightweight and reminiscent of my school days long ago. They are not objects of beauty at all. The written words provide the beauty, not the binding. 

It's what's inside the notebook that matters most to me. My notebooks hold my prayer thoughts and feelings. like my body holds my soul.

Many people choose a beautiful journal because it motivates them to write, and because looking at the outside of the journal is inspiring and comforting. They really enjoy selecting and using a journal that looks classy and artistic. 

And some people create their own Jewish prayer notebook/journal as an art project. Watch Australian artist, Talia Carbis, paint her journal page on Parsha Shemot. 

Just choose a notebook or word processor and make some time to write in a prayerful way. Let the words flow out of you and onto the page or the screen, and take note of how you feel during and after the writing. 

The end goal is not perfect writing. The goal is not the writing at all. The goal is YOU, relieving and revealing you, as only the love and wisdom of your Creator can do. 

On Julie Danan's blog post called, Keeping a Spiritual Journal, she shared an important idea about writing by hand, " I think that the hands-on experience of journaling in one’s own handwriting can itself be a spiritual practice."

These notebooks give me a safe place to store my strong emotions expressed in writing to God. I can re-read them and see: 1) answers to my prayers, 2) ways I've grown and changed, and 3) tangible evidence of a real relationship with my Almighty God.

Looking back at my Prayer Pages is also a powerful experience, and a subject for another lesson in the future.

This is my seventh post sharing about my own experiences with Jewish personal prayer and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Create A Spark Chart

An asterisk is a familiar symbol on every keyboard. Asterisk means "little star," but I changed its meaning for my own prayer purposes. I call it a "little spark," because it's more Jewish and more fun for me.

Making an ongoing list of little sparks is how I do two things at the same time: 1) get inspiration whenever needed, and 2) see my progress, quickly and easily on one page.

I call my list a Spark Chart. Just as a prayer notebook or journal can be written by hand or created digitally, so can a Spark Chart. By now you can probably guess I like to write mine by hand!

The idea of a little spark is quintessentially Jewish, originating in the mystical traditions of Kabbalah. "Every soul has its own sparks scattered about in the world, which actually form an integral part of itself: no soul is complete until it has redeemed those sparks related to its being." (quote from Chabad's post on Sparks)

Here's my mentor, Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz, describing Holy Sparks in less than two mintues:

But we don't have to go deep into mysticism to understand the significance of sparks in our prayer life. We can simply look around us in the physical world and consider how things work.

A spark is required to ignite the transfer of energy. We can thank the brilliant 19th century work of British scientist Michael Faraday for his discoveries in electromagnetism and electrochemistry, and for these words describing an electrical spark, "... the beautiful flash of light attending the discharge of common electricity."

Stoves and furnaces rely on a little spark (pilot light) to start producing heat. Engines in motor vehicles rely on a little spark (spark plugs) to start operating. All our appliances and digital devices rely on electricity based on sparks.

Sparks make things work in the world and in our bodies. Our brains and our hearts cannot function without an internal electrical charge, and some highly-trained physicians are called electrocardiologists. 

What jump-starts my furnace, my truck and my heart is a spark. Very often, what jump-starts my prayers is also a spark, a "beautiful flash of light," just as physicist Michael Faraday described it.

My Jewish personal prayers are usually sparked by gratitude, as well as my questions, concerns and feelings. Those sparks arise from within my heart and soul, percolating up to my mind where I find words to express them out loud and in writing.

And when I pray, I get ideas. I call them "bright ideas." These ideas and answers to prayer are what goes on my Spark Chart, written on paper or typed on a screen.

Chasmal is a Hebrew word that means "electricity," and it also has another spiritual meaning based on the two parts of the word. "Chas" means silence and "mal" means speech. Chasmal is the elusive yet powerful flash that lights up the transfer of Divine energy from silence into speech. We might call it an "ah-ha" or "light bulb" moment, a bright idea or an intuition or revelation.

Each asterisk on my Spark Chart is followed by a brief description of one of these moments. I keep track of them because they are precious and valuable to me. These moments highlight my prayer life.

Many people create charts to summarize their hourly schedule, food intake, exercise and monthly income. They keep track of their time, energy and money regularly.

But how many people keep track of the little sparks occuring to them during or after prayer? 

Historically, Jewish women composed their own personal prayers because they did not read siddurs with men in congregations. 

Some of these prayers, called tkhines, were collected and printed in Amsterdam in 1648, about 200 years after the development of moveable-type printing presses. For centuries, Jewish women have kept track of their personal prayers, in their hearts and in their notes.

"In printed tkhine collections, each individual prayer begins with a heading directing when and sometimes how it should be recited: 'A pretty tkhine to say on the Sabbath with great devotion;' 'A tkhine that the woman should pray for herself and her husband and children;' 'A confession to say with devotion, not too quickly; it is good for the soul...” (quote from Jewish Women's Archive post on Tkhines)

In my spiritual life, each little spark represents a flash of light, a transfer of Divine energy between God and me. They are gifts, homework assignments and revelations. I value them and want to keep track of them, so I created this Spark Chart form to print for use writing by hand, or to use with my word processor.

This is my eighth post sharing about my own experiences with Jewish personal prayer and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Giving Thanks Profusely

"Gratitude is a core Jewish value. This can be affirmed by all Jews, no matter what expression of Judaism they practice or profess." Rabbi James Gibson

There is gratitude between people and there is gratitude between a person and God. Our main focus is our gratitude to God, but it's possible our experience with people will affect our experience with God, even if we don't realize it or mean for it to happen.

Between people, just as the word "love" can be powerfully charged, so can the words, "thank you." When we say "thank you" it can be a lot like saying "I love you." Our tone of voice and facial expressions make all the difference. 

Between people, those phrases can be genuine expressions of gratitude and and love, or they can be false, manipulative, empty words. How we feel about those phrases is colored by our experiences, positive and negative.

But, thanking God is not like thanking another person. Giving thanks to God is clean and free of misunderstanding on the part of the Almighty. We are safe to express ourselves with more freedom than we may experience when thanking another person.

I wrote the following Prayer Page one day when I was having a very, very difficult time with a family situation which was completely out of my control. I'd been agonizing over it for hours.

It was a messy prayer session, meaning crying and pleading out loud, writing and discarding emails to the people involved, and finally (yes, after everything else) I remembered write a letter to God.

My handwriting isn't easy to read, so here's a translation of the words in the photo above:
This is not an impossible situation.
Thank you for helping me see past the feeling that it's impossible.
I love you and trust you, Lord.
Thank you for helping me trust this situation is already handled.
Thank you for helping me care the right amount, not too much and not too little. 
I have had a lot of problems with caring too much, Lord.
Please help me not care when it doesn't work.
Thank you for that.

My example assumes it is ok to express gratitude for things that have not yet happened. Gratitude for what's already happened is basic; it's the critical first step. 

In fact, in the Modeh Ani we are thanking God for returning our soul to our bodies each day when we awaken. It is our first, daily expression of faith and gratitude, and it starts our day with an attitude of thanksgiving for the many blessings we tend to overlook.

Feeling genuine gratitude and giving thanks for things that have not yet happened is how we infuse our prayers with our faith in the limitless power of God to create in His own time and at His own discretion.

As Gedale Fenster explains in the following video, "You're either creating your life, or you're complaining." Expressing thanks to God, the Creator of us all, is key to creating our own lives in prayer.

There are countless scientific studies on the effects of positive thinking in our lives, and the use of gratitude as a specific antidote to depression. Besides prayer, counting your blessings, meditating and writing thank you notes to other people are often suggested.

Nothing, however, eclipses the combination of our gratitude and our God. Nobody else can have our gratitude for us. I am the only person who can have and express my gratitude to God.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says in the following  10- minute audio, "Jewish prayer is an ongoing seminar on gratitude."

One thing I've noticed about saying "thank you" to other people is somewhat surprising, at least it is surprising to me. Sometimes they don't like it, because it seems strange or even inappropriate to them. It's possible they don't like to hear my gratitude because they aren't having much of their own. 

As we discussed earlier, our relationship to the experience of giving and receiving thanks is based on our own, personal experiences in life, and that goes for each individual person.

I've come to understand that when I thank people out of my personal respect for God I can't be attached to how people feel about my expression of thanks or their reactions to it. Their discomfort, if any, does not signal disrespect on my part and eventually it may serve as a signal in their own inner life.

King David's Book of Psalms is full of his profuse, ancient words of thanks for past and future events,  Our siddurs, Jewish prayer books, are infused with words of gratitude and praise from King David's Psalms, words we read aloud daily and on Shabbat and Holy Days. 

The dramatic emotions expressed in Psalms are not just for King David. We all have dramatic emotions swirling around in our hearts and minds, and we can always express them to Our Almighty God in the form of heartfelt thanksgiving for our past, present and future life.

Here are seven Jewish ways to express gratitude and thanks from

This is my ninth post sharing about my own experiences with Jewish personal prayer and the experiences I'm collecting from others. Please feel free to share in the comments, or leave a message on 903-642-1449.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Jewish Personal Prayer - Let's Review

For nine weeks so far, and this week marks the 10th, we have been talking about Jewish personal prayer. If you've read my blog posts, watched and listened to the audio and videos included, as well as the 18-minute video of my presentation each week, you've accomplished something very unique in the world.

I am not exaggerating when I say this is the only course on Jewish personal prayer I've ever seen online. Please let me know if you have found another one, because I WOULD LOVE to see it! 

In other words, you have spent more time and attention studying Jewish personal prayer than the majority of people in the world. 

This sounds like I'm making it up, but it's true. The topic is under-represented in Jewish teachings, so that's why I chose to focus on it and share it with you first.

Consider yourself a pioneer in Jewish personal prayer. Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and celebrate!

Here's the course outline again for us to review all the classes:

Here's a complete list with links to all nine classes:

1. What is Jewish Personal Prayer?
2. Make a time for your personal prayers
3. Make a place for your personal prayers
4. Write out then read aloud your personal prayers
5. Speak your personal prayers spontaneously out loud
6. Speak and record your personal prayers to listen later
7. Keep a notebook of your personal prayers
8. Create a personal prayer Spark Chart to get inspired
9. Always overdo your thanks-giving in every personal prayer