I gratefully acknowledge Your Face; Spirit lives and endures;
You return my soul to me with compassion; How great is your faith in me!
מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ רוח חַי וְקַיָּם שֶהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ
Modeh ah-nee lifanecha, Ru-ach chai v’kayam, she-hechezarta bee nishma-tee b’chemlah rabbah emunatecha.
ָAs human beings, we have inherited a brain from our stone-age ancestors that is particularly alert to the possibilities of danger. Neuroscientists call this negativity bias. We are programmed to first notice what’s wrong. My prayer life is designed to overcome this negative bias and open my heart to the blessing and miracle that God is giving me today.
Every spiritual tradition acknowledges that how we begin our day matters. Each day I wake up with an intention that when I open my eyes I will see and recognize God’s face in the details of the day I am about to encounter. If my very first expression is gratefulness (rather than seeing what’s wrong today or obsessing over how much I need to get done) then I step on to a path of blessing. I prepare myself for wonder.
With the first phrase of the prayer (Modah ah-nee lifanecha), I open to the miracle embedded in the day that is being given to me. For the second phrase (Ru-ach chai v’kayam), I substitute Ru-ach (Spirit) for the traditional Melech (King). I acknowledge that although my whole world is in flux, there is a Great Spirit — eternal and enduring, moving through all of it.
With the third phrase (she-hechezarta bee nishma-tee b’chemlah), I become receptive to the gift of consciousness from the Compassionate One and I open to the sense of being seen, known, loved and fully accepted by the Great Mystery that embraces me this very day.
The last phrase of the prayer (rabbah emunatecha) is taken from Eicha, the Book of Lamentations 3:23. When I experience God’s faith in me, I receive a glimpse of the widest, longest perspective. In that glimpse, I am calmed. I relax my frantic grip. I stop trying to figure it out. I begin to trust the flow of inexorable change.
As God sees me, I surrender to that faithful gaze. This Divine faith in me is what grows my own fragile faith. When I am known, seen and loved completely through this Divine faith, I can dare to rise to the challenge of loving this world with all that I am and everything I’ve got.
The fact that this final phrase comes from the saddest text of our tradition bears a profound teaching. It seems to be saying that our gratefulness and faith don’t come from denying our suffering, but rather by moving through that suffering and getting to the other side.
Meister Eckart said that if the only prayer you ever say is, “Thank You,” that would be enough.
Gratefulness connects us up to the great flow of receptivity and generosity. When we begin the day in gratefulness, we step on to the path of love.
Rabbi Shefa Gold leads workshops and retreats on the theory and art of chanting, devotional healing, spiritual community building and meditation. She has also created an app, Flavors of Gratefulness, that includes 49 separate melodies for Modeh Ani.