Even though I am Jewish, and orthodox at that, this spiritual dances through my mind from time to time. After all, who among us does not need prayer? These past months have been quite a challenge for me as I find myself “recareering.“ The changes life brings can be and have been enormous. Yet, despite the numerous changes, everything stays the same. Like the words of this beloved song, written who knows when, “it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
What is prayer? There are a plethora of ways to answer this question. For far too many in our western culture, I fear that prayer is little more than a wish list–a Santa Claus list–of all the things we want. To others, prayer is nothing more than vacuous rhetoric spoken to an unknown entity in the nether world; little meaning, little benefit. When things don’t go our way, we throw up our hands, declare “what’s the use,“ and dismiss prayer as an exercise in futility. To many, though, there is the realization that we are not “top dog”; there is a higher power and purpose to this universe far beyond our comprehension. Rather than seeking “my way,” good or bad, I think that ultimately prayer is our effort, feeble at times but also quite noble when nobility is required, to connect and communicate with this higher power.
Why should I pray? At its most intimate level, prayer is about relationship, more precisely, our relationship with the Almighty, with G-d. As a mother, I liken that relationship to a parent wanting to hear from her children. I don’t need my children to “do” anything to curry favor with me. I don’t expect gifts. I don’t require stellar achievements. I just want time with my kids, to embrace them and shower each with love. I want to know how their days are going. I long for the sound of their voices with their individual and unique drawls and lilts. The relationship with my children is strengthened when we communicate on a regular basis. This may sound simplistic, but think about it. Too often we know that Mom or Dad are “there,” but in our busy lives we don’t often enough chat with them. In a pinch we contact them. When we need cheering up, or a financial loan, or even a babysitter for their “favorite” grandchildren, we are quick to call. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to our parents when we are in need of parental guidance and support. In fact they would be saddened if they knew there was a need they could help us with and we did not call. But to Mom and Dad, they just want to hear us, hold us, have a cup of coffee with us while sitting around the kitchen table. They want to hear about our days, the mundane as well as the spectacular. Even sitting together in silence is enough, and possibly a more a profound act than when we are making noise.
When I pray, I am spending time with G-d in conversation. As much as I stand in the need of prayer, as much as I feel the need to reach out to G-d, G-d longs to hear my voice, to embrace me regardless of whether there is a need or desire or not. I pray the “template” prayers (necessary to guide us through all areas of praying, and for praying beyond our personal needs, to keep us from deteriorating into exclusive “wish list” praying) and I pray the more spontaneous prayers (triggered throughout the day’s activities, events and news.) Prayer is a time to pour my heart out to the ultimate Lover of our souls. It is a time to stand in the presence of our Creator. Prayer is when I offer up thanks directly to the Giver of all goodness, and beseech our Healer for health and life in times of distress.
What do I pray? That is a question I’ve heard many times from many people. My response is usually to urge the questioner to start developing a prayer life by praying the Psalms. Why Psalms? Because Psalms are prayers. Ancient prayers written in biblical times, many set to music, the Psalms express in words the emotions we are oftentimes unable to articulate. They are songs sung to our Creator throughout the ages expressing praise and thanksgiving, fears and doubts, remorse and pleas for forgiveness, petitions for protection from the evils which beset us. As I hinted earlier, regardless of the vast changes in our physical world, things don’t change much when it comes to our spiritual need for prayer. If you don’t know what to pray, turn to the Psalms. And from there, the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings are filled with prayers, guidelines on how and to Whom to pray.
I have a friend who once told me that it was too late for praying. I say it is never too late. If we do not get what we want, then maybe we wanted the wrong things. Or maybe there is a higher purpose and pattern at play, one we cannot fathom from our vantage point. Or possibly the evil in the present will be revealed as the good we could not see. The stronger my relationship with Hashem, the more able I am to meet the challenges of each day. The more I pray, the more Hashem’s holiness is infused into each day.
What does prayer mean to you? How has prayer affected your life?