Music and audio © Alexander Massey 20 Oct 2014
Havayah, Sh’chinah, Adonai,
Ufi yagid t’hilatecha.
All-That-Is-Was-And-Shall-Be, In-Dwelling Presence, Yah,
Open my lips,
And my mouth will declare Your Praise.
For many years, I have joined with my community to say the Amidah, beginning it with the verse from Ps 51:17 that begins ‘Adonai …’ But I have often felt constricted by this word. In the text, the letters are actually aleph-dalet-nun-yud. So it really is Adonai, and not yud-heh-vav-heh (YHVH), the unpronounceable name of God, with which we usually substitute the word Adonai. But I feel trapped by the word. Just when I want to expand into a more open feeling of being present to the Presence, I find this word tugging me into troubled associations with a severe figure, masculine, judgemental, not a listening presence at all. It conjures up associations with my father, with whom I had a very poor relationship.
So, just as many Jews have substituted YHVH with saying Adonai, I find myself wanting to do the opposite, and replace the printed Adonai with saying something else. What can I say to step into Being, Existence, Presence, Is-ness and Becoming? I want to use the sounds that more and more contemporary Jews choose to say for YHVH, the fluid, compassionate aspect of God – Havayah – a reference to the verb ‘to be’ and ‘to become’.
But there are many aspects to God, and each time we use a different God-name, we draw into the world and into our awareness, a different aspect of God. The words Adonai s’fatai tifach begin with aleph-shin-tav, spelling eshet, meaning ‘wife’. So I think of the feminine aspect of God, the In-Dwelling Presence, the Sh’chinah.
This whole prayer is about surrendering, opening. S’fatai, my lips, are a threshold through which God can enter the world; with the power of speech, we are partners in Creation, and can play our part in speaking holiness into the world. Tiftach – as I open, I surrender, indeed in this prayer I hand over to God to open my lips for me. And in doing so – yagid – I will declare, and make manifest – t’hilatecha – God’s praise and substance.
This journey of opening begins with …
Havayah – Becoming present to Is-ness, consciously allowing …
Sh’chinah – the Presence, to dwell within me, so that now …
Adonai – the concrete experience of the physical power of God in the world feels warmer and more supportive than before – something truly to be celebrated.
I received a teach from Rabbi Anne Brener who told me that Rabbi Goldie Milgram has taught that there is a connection between the word Adonai and eh-den, meaning a ‘threshold’. I was delighted to discover that I can now also cross a threshold into the presence of God as I say or sing the word Adonai.
Suggestions for singing:
- Hum the first 8 bars to begin with, so the lips do not yet open. These first 8 bars can be repeated.
- When ready, move on to chant bars 9-16.
- These two 8-bar sections fit with each other, and can then be sung simultaneously.
- When ready, move from this yearning first half in the minor, into the second half of the text. The C major chord is the door to open up from from Am to A major, representing the shift at the boundary of the two sections, the ‘lips’.
- Bars 17-20, and 21-24 can be laid over each other in a second round.