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T’filat HaLev: Prayers of the Heart

Posted on September 7, 2017 by Rabbi Jonah Zinn

There is a story of a young boy who lived near the forest. Every day he would wander into the woods by himself. Over time his father became concerned for his safety. After all, the forest could be a dangerous place. So he asked the boy what he was doing in the woods.

“I go to the woods to find God,” the boy answered.

“That is beautiful,” his father responded. “I’m so glad you are doing that, but you know God is the same everywhere.”

“Yes, I know God is the same everywhere,” the boy answered. “But I, I am not the same everywhere.”

The boy acknowledged a struggle so many of us understand. Praying can be difficult. Connecting with God is a challenge. At times we struggle to find words to express our innermost thoughts and feelings. Some are unable to focus. Others are challenged by the very idea of prayer.

Mishkan Hanefesh understands this struggle, too. With the inclusion of a poem by the American poet Edward Hirsch, Mishkan Hanefesh validates how daunting it can be to connect with God and expands our understanding of what it means to offer prayers of the heart.

I Was Never Able To Pray

Wheel me down to the shore

where the lighthouse was abandoned

and the moon tolls in the rafters.

Let me hear the wind paging through the trees

and see the stars flaring out, one by one,

like the forgotten faces of the dead.

I was never able to pray,

but let me inscribe my name

in the book of waves

and then stare into the dome

of a sky that never ends

and see my voice sail into the night.

While such prayers do not always effortlessly emerge from our mouths, we know we have the power to bring them forth. It is possible for us to pray even when we have doubts about God. As we enter the New Year, let us remember that prayer does not need to be about trying to change God’s mind. Prayer is about trying to change ourselves.

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