Sleep, Pray, Love


I am not a morning person. When the alarm sounds, I roll toward my husband, attempting to hold him there, hostage to the world of sleep, hoping we can linger on in the realm of delicious dreams for a few minutes more. And yet, at least one weekday morning each week, I rise early and depart for synagogue.

I am not alone.

Joel, my sweet and inquisitive third grader, whose passion for Judaism I celebrate, even as I fear its delicacy — even as I fear that I might crush it — strides briskly by my side as we make our way to services. I treasure our time together at morning minyan. But the truth is also this: I know how easy it would be for me to rationalize, “It’s too rainy to go this morning.” Or, “You’re getting over a cold, let’s do it another day.”

And so Joel, I pledge to you that we will continue.

It’s important that I honor this, because you’ve confronted many challenges already this year, transferring from your beloved Jewish day school to a bigger, more diverse public school. We believe this will ultimately prove the best decision for you and for our family, but we know you don’t completely understand our reasoning.

I still remember your burst of good cheer on that first September morning in the sanctuary: How you remarked, “I wonder why more kids don’t know about this?”; how you were enthralled by the quiet beauty of the high ceilings and the elegance of the stained glass windows; how you swayed along with the service, attempting to follow the Hebrew as best you could; and how you grinned at the opportunity to shake the lulav and etrog.

I know sometimes you grow restless among all of those grownups silently praying; and since neither of us is well versed in the siddur, I can’t instruct you as well as I’d like. But I so admire your decision to practice reading Hebrew during those quiet times. Like you, I felt exuberant when you whispered, “earth” to me, pointing to the Hebrew word adamah in the Shema prayer.

When you marveled at the way the some worshippers unwrapped their tefillin at the end of services, the unwinding of the long black straps a ritual of its own, I marveled at it too. When you talk of how one day you’ll be familiar with the tunes and the language of prayer, I believe that.

Some days, I know, we barely make it in time for the final prayers. But if we can catch an upbeat, rousing rendition of Yigdal or Adon Olam, I think you’ll agree that it’s worth our while. Other days, we need to rush off before the service ends, awkwardly slinging backpacks, and grabbing up prayer books, scrambling toward school before the gates open. Still, I am glad we went.

You know, Joel, that for a very long time I’ve wanted to go to synagogue more often, but haven’t been able to find a way to make it fit into our lives. The author Herman Wouk wrote about prayer in his non-fiction book, “This is My God.” “For the ordinary worshiper,” he wrote, “the rewards of a lifetime of faithful praying come at unpredictable times, scattered through the years, when all at once the liturgy glows as with fire.” For years I’ve yearned for that warmth.

The other day, you showed me the magnificence of “Sim Shalom” — “Grant peace everywhere; goodness and blessing.” And then, when I told you I’d like to write about our trips to morning minyan, and you joked that I’d write about being closer to God, and I said that’s not exactly what I experienced, you hinted that you sometimes did sort of feel God’s presence. And then, the next time, I felt it too.

You probed further in another conversation, wondering whether I thought there might be at least one person among those gathered who feels like he or she is standing with God during the whole service, talking directly to him or her, or whoever God is. We decided — yes.

Your Great Aunt Fonda told me, “You have to do this for him,” when I related your plan to attend services twice a week before school. And I want to, I really do. I pray that I can resist the lure of my blankets as the winter’s dark and chilly days descend upon us. There is more at stake than lost sleep.

Elicia Brown’s column appears monthly. E-mail: