The Modeh Ani (Modah being the female form of modeh, to give thanks) prayer is traditionally recited by (traditional) Jews upon first awakening each morning. Our Jewish ancestors apparently considered a night’s sleep to be a kind of “death” and each morning a resurrection of sorts, or at least a return of the soul to its body. The prayer is a simple one, expressing gratitude for awakening with our soul returned/intact and being able to experience a new day.
The prayer can be literally translated as “I give thanks to You, ever-living Sovereign, for restoring my soul to me in compassion; how great is Your trust.” In Hebrew, it sounds like this — or transliterated: Modah ani lefanecha, melech chay vekayam, shehechezarta bi nishmati bechemla raba emunetecha.
In Hebrew letters (without the markings for Hebrew vowels as I’ve no idea how to make those work yet with a Hebrew keyboard):
מודה אני לפניך, מלֹך חי וקים, שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה רבה אמונתך
Here’s the thing. While I love studying Hebrew language, Torah and Jewish text, I have always found the act of prayer to be a bit of a challenge. I confess to having some “prayer FOMO” when other people talk about how spiritually fulfilled they are when they take up regular prayer. But most traditional “God-language” sends me in the opposite direction: images of Fathers and Sovereigns feels medieval, made-up and not-at-all how I imagine a Universal Power or Presence to be manifest in the world or in my spirit. I often find myself feeling either disconnected or argumentative when I’m set in front of a traditional Hebrew prayer or blessing. I want to say the words, but only if they mean something to me. It’s not enough to mumble things I can’t understand; and it’s not okay to say things I don’t mean.
So when I heard friends in my Mishkan conversion cohort talking about how they’d incorporated this simple blessing into their morning routine, as a gratitude practice, I felt FOMO pangs again and decided it was time to do some work. Fortunately, I found a source on my very own bookshelf that turns out to be exactly what I needed. Poet, translator and scholar Marcia Falk wrote The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival in 1996. She has used her talent and her study to carefully reconstruct blessings in a way that honors their intent and tradition, but invites new images for divinity into the theology. I was excited to learn that her work has been adopted and adapted across a spectrum of Jewish liturgy and communities, notably feminists and progressives.
Falk’s rendition of the Modeh Ani goes like this:
נשמת חיי תברך וקרב לבי ישיר: כל עיד נשמה בקרבי מודה אני
Nishmat chayay t’vareykh v’kerev libi yashir: Kol od n’shamah b’kirbi modah ani.
The breath of my life will bless, the cells of my being sing: In gratitude, reawakening.
Ahhhhh. My gratitude practice begins tomorrow.