I developed a gratitude practice years ago, inspired by an artist, Esra Mohawk, who had written a song titled “Modeh ani,” literally thanking God for returning one’s soul after a night’s rest. It’s a traditional Hebrew prayer said in the morning upon waking. I expanded the practice, thanking God for all sorts of things that happened during the day – a beautiful morning, an easy commute, or a narrowly avoided accident. I even started being grateful for the not so great stuff – if I tripped and fell, I was grateful I didn’t break a bone, if a flight was delayed, I was grateful it wasn’t cancelled. There’s an element of recognizing it could always be worse, and being able to express gratitude for that helps to reinforce how good things actually are.
My practice broadened and deepened when I began incorporating Hebrew prayers into my paintings. I started with those I was most familiar with – the blessings said on Friday night over candles, bread and wine; a prayer for peace, and a prayer of gratitude for being alive. I soon began to explore the Hebrew liturgy for other prayers, and was struck by how many of them were prayers of gratitude, giving thanks for and acknowledging the gift of a sunrise, a new moon, fruit from a tree, a thunderstorm. It not only gave me a new appreciation for how to expand my practice, it gave me a deeper appreciation for my religion. I came across a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great sage and a great man, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama. Rabbi Heschel wrote: “One of the goals of the Jewish way of living is to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.” I am inspired by these words to see that life in it’s everydayness is what our spiritual adventure is all about.
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