Adonai, open my lips...
Sukkot harvest

A prayer for rain


Millennia ago, the earth was washed in water
connections sparked unimaginable across the water

the life we know begins cradled in water
each human being emerges in a flood of water

from ancient times we've prayed to God for water
not too much, not too little, just enough water

this year the landscape I first knew lacked water
grasslands parched, thirsting for drops of water

this year the hills where I live ran with water
seeping through roofs, swelling doors shut with water

to mark holy times we immerse ourselves in water
washing our old hurts away in water

in the city of gold rooftop tanks collect water
those who have and those who lack fight over water

in the beginning, presence hovered over water
mysterious and unknowable like deep water

the bodies we inhabit are made of water
our veins and tissues stay functional through water

we couldn't stand and offer praise without water
source of all, be kind to us: send water.

On the festival of Shemini Atzeret, in many communities, during the musaf repetition of the amidah (the extra iteration of the standing prayer), a prayer is offered which describes our holy relationship with God through the repeated motif of water. It's called tefilat geshem, "the rain prayer." That link will take you to a brief article about the prayer which also features the words of the prayer in Hebrew and, as a drop-down menu, in English.

From here on out, as we pray the amidah (the standing prayer which is central to our liturgy) daily, we'll replace the one-line request for dew with a one-line request for winds and rain. (At Pesach, we recite tefilat tal, the dew prayer, and thenceforth we daily ask for dew instead of for rain...until Shemini Atzeret.) The year oscillates between these two poles.

Many classical piyyutim (liturgical poems) take a form which looks to me, as a student of poetry, not unlike a ghazal. A ghazal is a Persian/Arabic/Urdu form which I first learned through reading the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, may his memory be a blessing. (Here's one of his poems, titled simply Ghazal.) Ghazals are written in couplets, and each line ends with a "refrain" word. A classical ghazal features meter, as well as a kind of hidden rhyme, found in the word which precedes the refrain word.

The classical prayer for rain recited on Shemini Atzeret is beautiful poetry, and I don't mean to supplant it -- rather to add to the body of liturgical poetry of which it is a part. In that spirit, I offer this "ghazal" (I'm putting that in quotes because I haven't fully lived up to the constraints of the classical Persian form), a contemporary variation on the prayer for rain spoken today, on Shemini Atzeret. May we all be washed with blessings like falling water.