“God, Open My Lips…”

By Lynn Klyde-Allaman


“God, open my lips, that my mouth may declare your praise.”


These words open the T’filah, one of the main prayers in the Jewish Sabbath service. “T’filah” literally means  “the prayer.” Sometimes referred to as the “standing prayer,” it’s the prayer we have been preparing for during the first half hour of the service. The prayer hearkens back to the matriarchs and patriarchs and praises God for giving us life and sustaining us.


But why do we have to ask God to open our lips in order to say the prayer?


I never really thought about this until a few weeks ago, when I took a good look at the prayer book.


Sometimes prayer is difficult. Sometimes it doesn’t come easily to our lips. Maybe we’ve had a death in the family. Maybe someone we know is sick. Maybe our marriage is on the rocks. Maybe we’re having a mental health crisis. Maybe we’re overwhelmed by the Covid pandemic. Or maybe we’re suffering in another way.


It’s at these times, when we can’t quite find the strength to do it ourselves, when we need a little help with our prayer. That’s when we need to ask God to open our lips.


And I don’t think it matters what religion you practice. Everyone needs a little help with prayer sometimes.


In the prayer book used by most Reform synagogues in the United States, the following poem is laid out opposite the introduction to the T’filah prayer:


“O God, you are as near as the very air we breathe, yet farther than the farthermost star.

We yearn to reach you. We seek the light and warmth of your presence.

Though we say you are near, we are lonely and alone.

O let our desire be so strong that it will tear the veil that keeps you from our sight!

Let your light release our darkness and reveal the glory and joy of your presence.

As the fish gives himself to the sea, as the bird gives herself to the air, so may we give ourselves to you.”


At times God seems so far away from us. Yet God’s presence is everywhere. When I can’t seem to feel that presence, I need a little bit of help starting my prayer.


“God, open my lips, that my mouth may declare your praise.”

Leave Comment