#BlogElul 18: Pray
Practices from Ki Tavo for entering a new phase of life

#BlogElul 19: Ask | on Psalm 27, and what that psalm teaches me to ask


One thing I ask, I ask of You, I earnestly pray for...

It's traditional to read psalm 27 every day during the month of Elul. I don't always manage to daven the full psalm in Hebrew, but I try to include the psalm in every day of this month somehow.

Over the years, I've collected several different variations on the psalm -- some creative interpretations, some melodies, some poems:

Reb Zalman's translation of psalm 27

Nava Tehila melody for psalm 27, verse 8

Alicia Ostriker's psalm 27

Achat Sha'alti melody by I. Katz

R' Brant Rosen's psalm 27 - you are my light and my hope

Kirtan Rabbi's Achat Sha'alti (info) and mp3

I love these poems and adaptations and melodies. But I don't want to lose sight of the point of the practice of engaging with this psalm daily during Elul. It's not (just) about the poems and the songs we've created to bring the psalm to life. It's about the yearning which is at the psalm's heart.

What is it that I ask of God at this time of year?

The psalm leads me to ask: please let me be with You. Let me dwell in Your house -- or, maybe, let Your house be manifest in this body, and in this place, in which I dwell. When I sit meditation, let the place around me become Your place. Let me be connected with you all the days of my life -- some of our sages say, "the days of my life" would mean in the daytime, but "all the days of my life" means days and nights both; 24/7; all the time. Let me experience Your wonders. Let me be so aware, so conscious, that every moment telescopes into intimate connection with Your presence.

The psalm leads me to ask: don't hide Your face from me. I know that in my experience You are sometimes present, sometimes not -- and I know that You are always with me, even at the times when I can't perceive Your presence. But please, Holy One of Blessing, don't hide from me. Don't turn away. All of life is impermanent; even my parents, whom I love more than I can say, will someday be gone. You, God, are the One Who is always here, will always be here, forever and ever, world without end. I am like a child crying in a darkened bedroom, frightened of the thunder. Help me to remember that You are with me, even when I feel alone.

The psalm leads me to ask: teach me Your way. Give me the wisdom to yearn for Your path, and the strength to pursue it even when that isn't easy. Help me to access the discernment and the kindness and the patience and the gratitude which are the natural outgrowth of following Your way. Teach me how to be the person I most yearn to be. Help me to be better than I have been. I know that the world is full of distractions and that I am prone to reactivity just like anyone else, but I want to learn how to be the kind, generous, mindful person You have given me the capability to be.

So maybe "one thing I ask of You" is a bit of an understatement. Or maybe all of these other things flow from that one first request: that I might dwell in Your house, knowing Your beauty and experiencing Your wonder, being with You in Your holy place.

There are other things I ask for every day, many of which are in the daily amidah. Give me knowledge, give me the ability to make teshuvah, please heal those who are sick. Forgive me. Bless the elders of my community. Bless the cycle of this year, help my nation to reach justice, help those who do cruel and hateful things to change their ways. Hear our prayer. Bring us peace.

It's a lot to ask. And sometimes I struggle because I know that not everything we ask for is going to be granted. But I think we need to keep asking. In asking God for what we want and need, we articulate those needs and yearnings not only to God but to ourselves.