“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side.
Or you don’t.”
― Stephen King, The Stand
A quote from one of my favorite books, The Stand. This book caused me to lose many hours of sleep–not just once but several times over the years. Even after all these years there are still times when I get anxious when I’m watching a newscast and the announcer starts to cough. Noooooo……
This week has certainly seemed like some type of endurance test. I am thankful to say I’m still standing and mostly smiling.
I was skimming Rabbi Naomi Levy’s book, To Begin Again, in search of something to add to my story today. When I found this segment of Chapter 8, The Comfort of Prayer, I knew I needed to pass it on.
“Often people who are in trouble ask me to pray for them or their loved ones. They say, “Rabbi, I don’t know how to pray.” But anyone can pray. There are, of course, the prayers that were written long ago by our ancestors and have been codified into liturgy. But there are also the spontaneous prayers that flow from our hearts. They might not appear to be as beautifully crafted, but they are infused with an eloquence that is just as powerful–the passion of a soul crying out. A prayer does not have to be a ritualized, structured piece of writing. Anything that comes from the heart, that we communicate to God, can be a prayer.
There are petitionary prayers where we ask God to help us There are prayers of repentance where we turn to God after having transgressed. There are prayers of protest where we cry out in anger, and there are prayers of gratitude for blessings. There are daily prayers and once-in-a-lifetime prayers, communal prayers and individual prayers. There are long, drawn-out prayers and prayers of just one word: “Help,” “Thanks,” “Sorry.”
There are prayers with no words at all. They are the thoughts that we don’t even have to utter. Hager and her son Ishmael were lost in the desert, dying of hunger and thirst. The Bible tells us that God heard the cry of the child. Nowhere in the narrative does it say that the child cried out to God. So how could God hear the cry? The answer, according to one interpretation, is that there are cries that are silent and are heard by no one. But God hears even our silent cries.
Every one of us has a different prayer on our lips. Some of us cry out in bitter protest. Some whisper a secret longing. Others weep in pain. Our needs may be vastly different, but ultimately all our prayers contain the same yearning: a desire to be heard.
In our daily lives we are so often misunderstood. We carry thoughts within us that no one knows, hopes that have never been voiced, confession that are too terrible to speak of, yearnings that are too deep to share with even those who are closest to us. And so we pray in the hope that God will listen and accept us in all our frailty, in all our end, in all our failings.
Each of us has a prayer in our hearts. A prayer of singular importance. Chances are we will only find it by opening our hearts and speaking directly to God. When the moment is right, close your eyes. Take a deep breath, and as you breathe out, relax. Without censoring or editing, look inside yourself. Look deep down inside. Find the prayer of your soul. Tell God your pain, your hope, your rage. Tell God your secret. Tell God what you need to say and listen for a reply.
God, I need to know that You are with me; that You hear my cry. I long to feel Your presence not just his day but every day. When I am weak and in pain, I need to know You are beside me. That in itself is often comfort enough. I do not pretend to know Your ways, to know why this world You have created can be so beautiful, so magnificent, and yet so harsh, so ugly and so full of hate. The lot You have bestowed upon me is a heavy one. I am angry. I want to know why: why the innocent must suffer, why life is so full of grief. There are times when I want to have nothing to do with You. When to think of You brings nothing but confusion and ambivalence. There are times, like this time, when I seek to return to You, when I feel the emptiness that comes when I am far from You. Watch over me and my loved ones. Forgive me for all that I have not been. Help me to appreciate all that I have, and to realize all that I have to offer. Help me to find my way back to You, so that I may never be alone. Amen.”
May Rabbi Levy’s words comfort you as they comforted me.
Have a safe and joyous weekend.