Further thoughts on prayer as media and praxis

I would like to add to what many people are saying about the vacuous offering of “thoughts and prayers” after deliberate, predictable, and avoidable tragedies, without, I hope, sounding contrarian. Immersed as I’ve been for the last decade in prayer literature directing the Open Siddur Project, I want to say something in general about prayers, the genre of prayers as a form of public media, and their efficacy and use.

Because prayers convey messages that are known implicitly to be sincere and heartfelt, they have long been used as a public media for publicizing concerns and arousing action. This is the parallel dimension of prayer outside the realm of angels. I dare say it is one of the oldest uses of prayers published in literary form. The prayer of Ḥana1 doesn’t only pray for a child, but published and disseminated, it also shames and humbles the institution of the Temple cult. The power of such prayers in turning attention depends on the sensibility of those readers (or listeners) to receive those prayers as earnest pleas, and thus awaken in them an empathy and understanding they previously lacked.

As we often said at the ecological education school in which I taught, Teva Learning Center: “awareness is the first step.” Elevating awareness is the parallel dimension of prayers such as this. After awareness and appreciating the power of our alliances, our interconnectedness, we can commit ourselves to informed bold actions.

Earlier critical thoughts on prayer as media and praxis may be found in the Afterword to my Friday evening prayerbook, Siddur Livnat Hasapir. That entire essay is online at the Open Siddur Project, here.


  1. the mother of Shmuel the prophet; I Samuel 2:1-10

About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

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