This Pre­cious Life: Encoun­ter­ing the Divine with Poet­ry and Prayer

September 1, 2020

In This Pre­cious Life, litur­gist Alden Solovy presents prayers, poet­ry, and med­i­ta­tions inspired by encoun­ters with God. The first part draws from divine moments in our sacred texts, most­ly the Torah but also the Prophets and the Writ­ings. Using a con­tem­po­rary voice, Solovy imag­ines these holy moments as expe­ri­enced by our bib­li­cal ances­tors so we can reclaim them as our own. The sec­ond part focus­es on sacred moments in our dai­ly lives, con­nec­tions with the Divine that occur sim­ply because we are human beings cre­at­ed in God’s image. Equal­ly suit­ed to indi­vid­ual reflec­tion and group prayer, the book com­pletes a tril­o­gy with This Grate­ful Heart and This Joy­ous Soul.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Alden Solovy

  1. How do you think the author defines divine encounter? Is it dif­fer­ent in the first half of the book, which is inspired by sacred text, com­pared with the sec­ond part of the book, inspired by our dai­ly lives and per­son­al expe­ri­ences? What is your def­i­n­i­tion of divine encounter? How has it been impact­ed by read­ing this volume?

  2. Are the works in this book poet­ry or prayer? Is there a dif­fer­ence between poet­ry and prayer? If so, what are the hall­marks that iden­ti­fy a bit of verse as poet­ry and what are the iden­ti­fiers of prayer?

  3. In his fore­word, Rab­bi Leon Mor­ris writes: In the first half of This Pre­cious Life, the expe­ri­ence of our ances­tors serves as the foun­da­tion for our own encounter with God” (p. xii). Do the expe­ri­ences of one or more of our Hebrew ances­tors illu­mi­nate your per­son­al encounter with the Divine? Who? Why? Is there a par­tic­u­lar prayer-poem in the vol­ume that res­onates with your experience?

  4. Rab­bi Mor­ris writes: In This Pre­cious Life, Alden Solovy once again offers us his unique voice and does so in a way that calls us to find our own” (p. xiii). Has read­ing this book inspired or informed your per­son­al prayer prac­tice? How?

  5. In About the Rain­bow” (p. 5), the author sug­gests that God might have been sur­prised by the appear­ance of the first rain­bow. Can God be sur­prised by Creation?

  6. In The Next Gar­den” (p. 7), Solovy pos­es a ques­tion: What would we do dif­fer­ent­ly if we were read­mit­ted to Eden? What point do you think the author is try­ing to make?

  7. Where are You?” (p. 6) and The Next Gar­den” (p.7) appear side-by-side in the vol­ume. What do you think the author’s goal was for plac­ing them together?

  8. In Sarah Imeinu” (p. 15), the matri­arch is por­trayed as strong and assertive, per­haps even angry at the role she’s been assigned and how she’s been treat­ed. How does this fit (or not fit) with your under­stand­ing of the char­ac­ter of Sarah?

  9. In Fleet­ing Moments” (p. 38), the author pos­es the poten­tial for divine encoun­ters to be ter­ri­ble, per­haps ter­ri­fy­ing. Does this res­onate as true? Or are divine encoun­ters sin­gu­lar­ly pos­i­tive and uplifting?

  10. In Is this the Fast” (pp. 56 – 57), Jew­ish hol­i­days are por­trayed through the lens of tikkun olam, heal­ing the world. Is this an appro­pri­ate lens through which to under­stand holy days and sacred cer­e­monies? Does it add to or detract from your sense of the mean­ing of the festivals?

  11. The core of To Bat­tle Injus­tice” (pp. 68 – 69) is an alpha­bet­ic acros­tic. Does the author use this anti­quat­ed tech­nique effec­tive­ly in this piece? Does the tech­nique still have pow­er or resonance?

  12. Tend­ing Gar­dens” (p. 78) and Fresh Delights” (p. 79) appear side-by-side in the vol­ume. What do you think the author’s goal was for plac­ing them together?

  13. What do you think the author was try­ing to say in the prayer-poem Spir­i­tu­al Van­dals” (pp. 96 – 97)? What do you think the author means by spir­i­tu­al van­dals,” not­ing that they are lat­er called angels”?

  14. What ingre­di­ents would you add to the Recipe for a Life” (p. 107)? Are there any you would remove? Are there any direc­tions that you would add?

  15. The last sec­tion of the book is called Dis­cov­ery” (pp. 122 – 131). What is the author try­ing to achieve by con­nect­ing these pieces with the idea of dis­cov­ery? What is Solovy say­ing by end­ing the sec­tion and the entire book with Wild Bro­ken Heart” (p. 130)?

  16. What is your favorite prayer-poem in this vol­ume? What speaks to you about it?