Prayers Before and After Reading the News

For a while now I have found reading the morning paper to be a risky moment. Sometimes there is something lovely that gives me hope for humanity. Sometimes there is something flashy but arguably trivial that catches my eye and helps me avoid the rougher news. But every day there is something upsetting, saddening happening in the world. In this last month I have been reading news of atrocities in Ukraine and a new wave of terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv with a combination of hunger and nausea.

I find myself not infrequently afraid to open the morning news. I am aware that I have the privilege of not reading the paper and going about having, by most accounts, a good day. But I don’t want to be so frightened of how upset the news will make me that I stay uninformed and close myself off to the witnessing, compassion, and action that I feel this moment requires of me and of us.

So I’ve drafted these prayers for myself for before and after reading (or watching or listening to) the news, and I offer them up here to give us all ideas of how we might read the news in a spiritually intentional way. I have begun the opening prayer with the morning Elohai Neshamah prayer, acknowledging the daily freshness – and vulnerability – of my soul. For the second prayer I was moved by the dream prayer in BT Berakhot 55b, which addresses the experience of having a confusing dream and not knowing what guidance, if any, it provides.

My words work for me this week. But they will evolve. And for you, different words might be altogether better. So consider these as a suggestion, a starting point. You can go as elaborate or as simple as you wish; add physical elements (movement, breath, objects) as you need, to hold this experience of learning and witnessing in a ritual frame. For convenience, I plan to copy the words into the Notes app of my smart phone, so that I can easily find and reference them before and after reading my morning news app. I invite you to please offer your additions and alternatives in the comments section of this post.

Ultimately, the goal of this protective ritual frame is to come away from reading the news not incapacitated by dread and despair, but instead feeling moved, strong, loving, and resolute.

Before Reading the News
Elohai neshamah shenatata bi tehorah hi.

My God, the soul you have placed in me is pure and vulnerable. I am afraid that looking at today’s news will be painful. Encircle me in a robe of light so that I can witness the wounds of the world without being wounded myself. Let me learn what I need to know in order to be of my greatest use, without being overwhelmed by despair. I feel your protective light now as I open myself to the world’s suffering and the world’s joys.

After Reading the News
Ribbono shel Olam, I am Yours, and all that is in this world is Yours. Today I have read stories and seen images, but my knowledge is incomplete. I don’t know how it all connects. But I know I am connected to everyone; I take joy in their joy; I suffer with their suffering. If there is no role for me to play today then let my learning leave me wiser and better prepared. If there is a role for me to play, let clarity rise up in me to see it, even if that role is a humble one. Uma’aseh yadeynu konenehu. Lift up the work of my hands, in anything they might do for peace, for justice, for the wholeness of our planet, or for the betterment of my community. Just as you turned the curse of Balaam into a blessing, so may all my actions accrue to the good. 

[Add here a prayer for the healing of a specific suffering you read about.]

Barukh atah Adonai, shomea tefilah. Blessed are You who receives my prayer.

Closing Action
The words above may be followed by a simple act: putting money in a tzedakah box, posting words of encouragement to peacemakers online, sitting with breath, walking, moving, cooking, journaling, collaging. This doesn’t need to be a major project, but a clearly defined moment of integration.

Thank you to Rabbi Eli Herb of Salem, OR, for workshopping and beta-testing this practice with me.


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