I confess: After 35 years of living as an observant woman, I am pretty mediocre and irregular at davening (prayer).

I have plenty of excuses: I prefer to pray in Hebrew, but didn’t learn to read and start to understand it until I was 20. It’s still not so easy.

Way back then I took on a lot of new practices, such as keeping track of milk and meat dishes, preparing for Shabbat, and so on. I was blessed with a large family, and didn’t have too many quiet I am pretty mediocre and irregular at prayermoments when they were underfoot. And I’ve never been the most structured person. Davening never became a habitual daily practice.

On an internal level, I still vacillate between two realities. There’s my passionate knowledge and belief in connecting and aligning oneself with G‑d through the beautiful and holy words in the siddur (prayerbook). I’ve experienced praying as a vehicle to connect, ask, receive blessings, and somehow soften that stubborn, crusty ego and sprinkle it with heavenly dew.

On other days, however, that stubborn, crusty, university-trained ego is sitting in the driver’s seat, asserting, “Hey, I’m in control, and no, I’m not sharing the driving with anyone, thank you very much.” G‑d, my Higher Power—all that stuff just seems a bit remote. I’m busy, got a checklist of a million things to accomplish today. Of course I believe, but I don’t have time to stand there and sway; I gotta do. When I think of those passive folks whiling away their day with that prayerbook in their hands, remnants of the outlook I was raised with whisper in my ear, “Wishful thinking. Opiate of the masses.”

What’s really going on is this: I don’t want to surrender, to connect to something higher.I’m the Higher Power here.

Laziness, ego, lack of structure, too much to see on Facebook and the Web are all part of the shtick and folly that keeps my siddur closed and on the shelf way too often. I just can’t get off the treadmill of life long enough to center, to humble myself and reach beyond.

But this summer was different. Times of trouble, of danger in Israel, shot my soul into high gear. All of a sudden, the fog lifted. I’m feeling my soul; I’m feeling the fear, the joys, the miracles, the amazement as so much of the news can be found—sometimes in allusion, sometimes pretty darn directly—in prophecies, in the siddur, in the daily Torah portion. Soul reality shoots to the forefront. My people are in trouble; they need, I need, G‑d’s loving protection—desperately. We need to feel like a child in the nook of our Father’s arm. My job, my cleverness, what’s for dinner, where I hid that last piece of chocolate—all that static of egotistic demands and bodily needs suddenly fades away into the background.

I feel the pulse of G‑d, of being a Jew, of being so deeply connected with this amazing nation that we’re almost one heartbeat. I’m re-zapped with the awareness that there’s a deeper reality underlying the news; I want to be connected to it. Maybe I can even affect the fearsome news with that quiet wellspring of power.

Like many of us, I spent a large amount of the summer’s hours incessantly following the news, checking in almost every hour. One day it hit me: Was I merely observing, or participating, fighting, helping? So I logged off and opened the siddur. I felt the strength oozing from those ancient words—the holy, timeless power. I felt the collective prayers of the nation of Israel and its supporters, those straight and good non-Jews who just get it.

©Miriam Karp
©Miriam Karp

I climbed back into that driver’s seat, clicked on my seatbelt—but with a difference. No, I was ready to admit, I was most decidedly not the boss here. I did not make those manifold miracles. And all my grandiose powers sure couldn’t beat Hamas. I was happy to surrender control and tune into G‑d’s GPS, to connect to Him.

One July night, some women got together to recite Psalms. Jews and non-Jews, in English I was most decidedly not the boss hereand Hebrew, praying and strengthening each other, feeling the waves of goodwill flow to those precious soldiers, so beautiful, vulnerable and strong.

The next day I sat alone in my favorite armchair, praying. Waves of power, of solace, of meaning, washed over me. Beautiful words and sounds, those I understood and those I didn’t. I felt I was riding on G‑d’s palm, doing my part to help His plan unfold in ease, in goodness.

As the summer wanes, we move into Elul, the month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah. A time of accounting and introspection. A time of deep mercy. Beneath the reality of back-to-school shopping, there’s another reality, of depth, closeness, trembling, as we prepare to beseech our loving and patient King for yet another year.

Usually I need this month before the New Year to start to break through my erratic praying habits of the year, to start to pick up the threads of my connection to G‑d, fix the frayed ones, try to weave them into something more solid. This year, I’m ahead of the game. I’m more ready than I ever remember. The summer’s challenges have morphed me into a daily reciter of prayers, almost without fail. When I have an extra minute, I reach for the Psalms. Hamas’s rockets have blasted more than buildings; they’ve blasted through the crust around my soul.

Each day of Elul, Jews recite Psalm 27. This year it rings truer than ever.

The absolute horror of the foiled Rosh Hashanah terror plot, when Hamas planned to wreak havoc through its extensive tunnel network, drives these words home. We beg for G‑d’s continued protection against the hatred and evil that Israel faces. There’s not even a vocabulary for this utter blackness. Only King David’s words go there, almost forcing us to wrap our minds around the unimaginable. In more placid times, his words can seem extreme, at least remote. Definitely not PC. Daily life in America, at the mall, just doesn’t reflect this reality, at least outwardly. But now it’s real, all too real:

©Miriam Karp
©Miriam Karp

When evildoers approached me to devour my flesh, my oppressors and foes, they stumbled . . . Do not give me over to the will of my oppressors, for there have risen against me false witnesses, and they speak evil. [They would have crushed me] had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the L‑rd in the land of the living.1

Last week I overheard some women talking about Carl Sandburg and the life of a poet. As I drink in the Psalms, I realize: we Jews are poets, big time. These words are the truest poetry. Achingly beautiful. Metaphoric.We Jews are poets, big time Helping us verbalize, conceptualize, on the deepest level, both the horror of what we’re up against, and our deepest, most soulful wishes for the new year, to be inscribed and sealed in the precious Book of Life—physically, emotionally, spiritually.

One thing I have asked of the L‑rd, this I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the L‑rd all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of the L‑rd and visit His Sanctuary.2

It’s a privilege to be able to access and connect to these words, words that resonate, that make our souls vibrate like a tuning fork. Words that were written down so long ago, but somehow touch and express the deepest, most personal truths.

May these eternal images of peace and wholeness be accepted On High, be revealed and unfold, not just as a vision in our hearts, but on the ground, as the reality in our lives, our beautiful homeland and our desperately waiting world.