In my 13 years in Princeton, working alongside clergy members from other religious traditions, I have learned many lessons. There is one in particular that I want to share with you today. When we begin our multi-faith meetings, either at the Department of Religious Ministries at the Hospital or at our Princeton Clergy Association, we always begin with a prayer. I admit to you that when I first witnessed this custom, I was uncomfortable. For me, I was used to opening the meeting with a lesson (a D'var Torah) or a prayer over the food (HaMotzi) but I was not comfortable with a personal, spontaneous prayer. I was also amazed how my colleagues could create these prayers, often on the spot and always find words that were meaningful in the moment. Over time, as we discussed our opening prayers together, we agreed on certain language that was all inclusive, especially when we referred to God. We agreed that while we may all have our own personal beliefs and our own personal relationship with God, we needed to be sure to always refer to God in a way that did not alienate anyone in the room.
Over time, I have become more comfortable with this custom as I listened to others lead the prayer, hoping that I would never be called on. In fact, one of my responsibilities as the Vice President of the Princeton Clergy Association was to select someone to lead the opening prayer - this would guarantee that I would not be the one. However, I recently had a new experience, as my dear friend, Rev. Dave Davis, who is my co-chair of the Department of Religious Ministries at the Hospital, called on me to begin our meeting with an opening prayer. It was the first time I was called on and I had virtually no time to prepare.
What I recall most about the experience was the feeling as I finished. I realized that reciting a spontaneous, personal prayer from the heart is a beautiful custom. There are times when it is appropriate to read a prayer from the Siddur or to recite a scripted prayer to begin a meal - a prayer in Hebrew the language of the Jewish people. But there also many profound moments in our lives that require us to pray spontaneously and we may be better served by creating that prayer in our most comfortable language.
This weekend, I encourage everyone to take a moment to create your own personal, spontaneous prayer. It can be as you begin a meal; it can be when you sit in the Sanctuary during a Shabbat service; it can be when you gather with family and friends to celebrate something this weekend or it can be at another critical moment - perhaps just being outside to experience nature. I just encourage you to stop for a moment and pray - pray from the heart.
Here is my personal prayer:
O ever-present God, I thank you for this glorious day, for the ability to appreciate the important people in my life and for the magnificent weather all around me. I am grateful for the opportunity to be with others to share the blessings in my life, to gather with friends and family in the synagogue on Shabbat, to learn together, to pray together and to just be together. I appreciate the opportunities this weekend to celebrate both Shabbat and Mother's Day. I am grateful for the love I feel from my own mother and my mother in law, and to witness my wife fulfill her role as mother to our three children. Thank you for my renewed health and for the good health of my family. I look forward to a new week when I can continue to fulfill all of my responsibilities in my personal life and in my professional life. And I thank you for the ability to express my gratitude for all the wonderful things with which You have blessed me. Amen
Rabbi Adam Feldman