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This I Believe

Sunday, 9 January 2011

I believe in God.
I believe in the power of prayer.

But I see these statements as only somewhat connected.

I believe in a God who is omnipotent. Who is omniscient. And omnipresent. I believe, as well, that God hears our prayers.

But hearing our prayers and bending to our desire are not the same thing.

On the day that the planes hit the Twin Towers, stories about people who were supposed to be at the WTC or on one of the hijacked planes but weren’t were told and retold with a great deal of urgency. “But by the grace of God” accompanied most of these stories. As in “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Ascribed to English evangelical preacher and martyr, John Bradford, who, while imprisoned, uttered a variant after seeing a criminal being walked to the gallows. In other words, if it had not been for God’s mercy, that would have been me.

What that statement implies, and what I find troubling, is the notion that one person is deserving of God’s mercy while another person is not. In other words, what about all those who had the misfortune of being on those planes? Was God not watching out for them?

In the aftermath of yesterday’s horrific shooting in Arizona, there was much confusion. Rumour and fact were co-mingled and then disseminated. Quickly. Inaccurately. Reports of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s death. Then retracted.

Mistakes happen. And in the age of social media, an incorrect report can spread rapidly while corrections seem to take longer. (Feather story, anyone?) What I found shocking were the tweets that seemed to imply that it was the power of prayer that changed the outcome. That the once-dead Giffords had been restored to life as a result of prayer.

Or the prayer vigil that occurred last night at the close of Shabbat. With people wholeheartedly believing that if only enough people prayed or prayed hard enough, that power could be harnessed to restore Debbie Friedman to health.

Given that Debbie, z”l, died in the early hours of the morning, what must those people be thinking now? Do they feel that they somehow failed their mentor, their teacher, their friend? Or that God failed her?

I believe in God. But not a God whose Hand can be tipped by the prayers (or absence of prayers) of others. Or who chooses to love one person more than another.
I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the ways in which we, God’s children, can be strengthened by joining our voices and souls together.
And I believe in a God who holds us in our grief and brings us out of dark places. Helping us sing, once more, in joy.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday, 10 January 2011 12:06 am

    What a beautiful intertwining of the two events of this weekend.

    I can almost hear Debbie z”l leading us in prayers of healing for Gabby Giffords…

  2. Monday, 10 January 2011 4:33 am

    Beautifully and perfectly stated. A favorite quote of mine states “Prayer doesn’t change G-d. Prayer changes me.” Let’s pray that Gabrielle gains strength in recovery and that Debbie has found a great peace.

  3. Former Reform Jew permalink
    Monday, 10 January 2011 9:53 am

    Debbie Friedman touched the hearts and souls of everyone who knew her, and/or her music. My own life is filled with many memories in Jewish camps and youth groups; every song session was infused with several of her tunes. May her memory be for a blessing.

    Regarding prayer:

    The verb להתפלל is reflexive. To pray is to change ones own spiritual composition.

    G-d always gives us exactly what we need, corresponding to our specific spiritual situation.

    When we pray sincerely, and thereby change who we are intrinsically, G-d then gives this new entity, the prayer-altered new person, exactly what this new person needs.

    We can never know completely why G-d does anything. Yet, this lack of knowledge doesn’t seem to bother anyone when they receive what they want.

    Only when G-d delivers circumstances that we did not choose do we demand an explanation. (As if the Infinite Creator of the Universe owes us an explanation!)

    If a man had a bacterial infection, and antibiotics did not work in his particular case, we would not conclude that “antibiotics don’t work”.

    Prayer is effective. Prayer works. Prayer is spiritual medicine. Just like physical medicine, it doesn’t work all the time, in exactly the way we want it to work – and yes, prayer has “side effects” as well. (prayer warning label – side effects may include happiness, calm, confidence, peace of mind, and existential bless)

    It is a time to grieve, remember, and come together. I pray that all of Klal Yisrael continue to enter the Holy dialogue of prayer, and continue to reap its benefits.

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