By: Ceceley Chambers
It was Shabbat morning, and I was on my way to synagogue. I was supposed to turn left, but instead I went right, and 40 minutes later I found myself at the beach. Armed with a blanket, a tallit, and my trusty Mishkan Tefilah Siddur (the Reform prayer book), I made my way to a clear spot in the sand. It was a somewhat miserable beach day, but the overcast, misty grey sky and choppy water did not deter me nor the other hardy beachgoers present that morning. Looking around, I wondered if I could find enough Jews there to make a minyan….
I laid down my blanket, wrapped myself in my tallit (glad for the extra protection from the wind, chill and mist), opened my siddur, and began to pray. I did some prayers in Hebrew—sometimes using the usual melodies I would be singing in my synagogue (were I there and not on the beach), sometimes using melodies from my childhood, and sometimes using melodies from non-Jewish songs. (Did you know that Mi Chamocha can be done to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”? Try it sometime!) Some prayers I did in English or I used the lovely reflective translations and readings in Mishkan Tefilah. Other times I sat silently meditating to the sound of the waves and the nearby children playing.
When it came time for the Amidah, the standing prayer, I put my siddur down and my tallit over my head. In retrospect, I can’t imagine what the other beachgoers there thought of me standing there shrouded in my rose-colored prayer shawl, but at the time, I was so into my prayers that I did not even think about them. It was very loud in my tallit-tent. The wind was ferocious—at times it almost felt as if someone was whipping me—but I continued davening this most ecstatic part of the morning prayers.
I blessed, I thanked, I prayed for peace—sometimes in Hebrew from memory and sometimes in English, improvising. When I got to the phrase “P’tach Libi” (open my heart) from the song “Elohai N’tzor” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kBQF-WAxc4], which in my usual service is often how we are brought out of silent prayer, the wind changed all of a sudden. Instead of the ferocious whipping, it felt more like being held. I had a faint memory of my mother wrapping me in a towel after a bath and then wrapping her arms around me. I felt warm and protected. It also occurred to me that it has been a long time since I wrapped my own children in that way (now that they are too big for baths and prefer unobserved showers). The last time I did it, I probably didn’t take the time to note the preciousness of that moment and how fleeting such moments are.
I finished my prayers with a rousing rendition of “Kol Haneshama Telhalel Yah,” my most favorite mantra. Then I packed up my stuff, smiled at the ocean, and drove home to spend the rest of Shabbat with my family while trying to be a little more mindful of those little sacred moments.