Writing a spiritual will
On clementines, and there being nothing new under the sun

On prayer, gratitude, darkness, praise

It is good to give thanks to Adonai, to sing praises to the Most High!

That's a line from the psalm for Shabbat. It's running through my head because I've been practicing the guitar chords for a setting of it which is different from the one we usually use at my shul. And as I hum it, over and over again, I find myself meditating on what it means.

It is good to give thanks to God. Good for whom? Good, I would argue, for us. I don't know what impact -- if any -- our thanks have on the Holy Blessed One. But I know that when I can remember to offer thanks, the act of so doing positions me in a posture of gratitude. And that, in turn, changes how I experience my world.

It is good to give thanks, to sing praises. Good, but not always easy.

We're entering the darkest days of the year. Where I live, the recent clock change (away from Daylight Savings Time) means that the skies are darkening at 4:30pm when I fetch my son from daycare. In return we've received a temporary morning reprieve, though over the next six weeks or so as we spiral down to the winter solstice the days will shorten at both ends.

I've always been sensitive to the changing light. As the days grow colder I curl into myself, soak in hot baths, make endless pots of tea, keep a fire burning. I listen to Värttinä, hoping that in soaking up these Finnish melodies I might also be absorbing some far-northern resilience in the face of the changing season.

Sometimes on a dark and gloomy afternoon, it's hard to sing praises. Sometimes when people around me are quarreling, it's hard to sing praises. When I read awful news stories, when I hear the latest horrifying insult slung in an online battle of perceptions, when my toddler wakes screaming at 4:30am, it's hard to sing praises.

And yet I keep trying. Because my tradition tells me that it is my job to offer praise to the One Who speaks all things into being. Because I know that I am healthier and happier when I remember to say "thank you" and to respond to the world with a feeling of "wow!" And on the days when I can't quite access the praise I know I'm capable of, I try to offer whatever thank-you I can, in hopes that saying thanks will stimulate the gratitude I can't always quite feel.

In one of my old commonplace books, I copied a quote from Julia Cameron about the fallacy that in order to write one needs to be "in the mood." In the case of writing, as in the case of lovemaking (she argues), waiting for "the mood" to strike is a luxury. But if one begins to do the thing in question, the mood will arise. I feel the same way about prayer.

And yet how often do I postpone my own prayer life because there's too much to do or because I just can't seem to feel what I want to feel? This is, I think, how my yetzer ha-ra (my "evil inclination") manifests: by whispering in my ear that I don't have time to pray, or that because I'm not able to access joy or gratitude I can't articulate either one to God.

But I should know better. There is always time enough for prayer. And sometimes the best way to access thankfulness and praise is to offer them, and to hope that as I speak the words, the feeling will come.