Melodies for gratitude
February 07, 2011
A while back, I posted about setting the Modah Ani -- the morning prayer for gratitude -- to the tune of a Richard Thompson song. After that post went live, a number of people wrote to tell me that they'd never heard Modah Ani before and that they appreciated hearing it. I love Modah Ani -- it's probably the prayer I say most often -- and I wanted to share a few other tunes here for anyone who's considering adding this to their morning routine.
Modah Ani is the prayer for gratitude, meant to be recited first thing upon waking in the morning. ("Modah" is the feminine form of the first word, "Grateful;" men recite "Modeh ani" instead.) Here's the prayer's text in full:
מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקים שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה, רבה אמונתך.Modah ani l'fanecha, melech chai v'kayam, shehchezarta bi nishmati b'chemla, rabbah emunatecha!
("I am grateful before You, living and enduring God, that you have mercifully restored my soul to me. Great is Your faithfulness!")
On my first trip to Elat Chayyim back in 2002, I attended a contemplative morning service led by Rabbi Jeff Roth. I remember him telling us that he wanted us to focus on gratitude while we were singing these words, and that if we couldn't access gratitude in that moment, then we might choose to focus on praying that someday we might be able to feel grateful again. His version is extremely simple: just the first two words of the prayer, repeated again and again. It's also a round, though this recording is just me singing solo, so you'll have to extrapolate how the round would sound:
When Reb Jeff taught us his version, I realized I had known the prayer at an earlier moment in my life and had just forgotten it. The very first tune I learned for Modah Ani is a contemporary one, written by Cantor Jeff Klepper. Here's a video of a mother and daughter singing it together:
Modah Ani, melody by Jeff Klepper, sung by a mother and daughter duo.
There are other melodies I like to use when I'm davening on my own. Probably the one which comes to me most often is one I learned from my friend Miki when we led services together during my first week of DLTI:
Of course, there are other musical settings out there! For something entirely different, here's one I found while searching YouTube for the tunes I know and love -- a Jewish band called Pardes singing the prayer with guitar, drums, and bass:
Pardes performs Modeh Ani.
Melodies aside, here's what I love about the Modah Ani: it reminds me that I want to begin each day with gratitude. Over the last several years I've had a practice of trying to make this prayer my first thought upon waking. That hasn't always been easy, especially during the first year-and-change of Drew's life, when sleep has been at such a premium; sometimes he wakes me and all I can think is "oh, God, can't I get just another 15 minutes?" So it's not always a practice I've been able to live up to. But even if I don't wake with gratitude foremost in my heart, I can aspire to bring my gratitude to the fore -- or, as Reb Jeff Roth taught, if I can't feel grateful in this moment, I can take a moment to pray for the arrival of a time when I will be able to feel grateful again.
These days, I most often sing "Modah Ani" in the shower, or in the car as I drive Drew to daycare, or to Drew as we rock in his rocking chair and he drinks milk and I gentle him in to the new day. Sometimes I sing it through once and I'm done; sometimes I chant it repeatedly, trying to engrave its message on my heart and my spirit. It never makes me feel worse; it often makes me feel better.
Do you have morning practices for cultivating gratitude? (And/or: do you have a favorite tune for Modah Ani which I haven't included here?) I'd love to hear about them; drop a comment here and join the conversation.