Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
My Prayers are with You
The weekly carnages that have become the new normal, leave us stunned, afraid, angry and speechless. The responses have become formulaic – prayer vigils, memorials decorated with flowers and candles and items posted on Social Media – “my prayers are with you.”
Sometimes “my prayers are with you” express heartfelt hurt and sorrow. But it also seems to have become a phrase used to dispense our duty to our fellow human beings who have suffered inexplicable loss. Send the tweet and move on to the everyday activities that demand our attention. Self-preservation does demand our ability to move on ...not to become immobilized by the very real fear that we could be the next set of victims.
In spite of the ambivalence that so many of us have about the subject of prayer, “my prayers are with you” is still our go-to phrase when talking to an acquaintance experiencing some horrible event. So what is it that “prayer” is supposed to do beyond being a handy phrase expressing “I’m really sorry for your loss”?
All major religions share the understanding that prayer serves the following purposes – opportunity for self-reflection, a way to express gratitude and a response to awesome or overwhelming experiences. All religions also have a place for solitary contemplation and opportunities for joining voices in communal response.
The Hebrew word for prayer (Lihitpalel) is a reflexive word suggesting that we pray to evaluate ourselves. There are prayers about qualities to which we might aspire – these prayers move me to consider if I’ve been my best self and to set intentions for the day for thoughtful behavior. These provide a daily opportunity to take stock and to improve.
Beyond indicating appreciation, prayers of gratitude are statements about human potential. In a world that seems to run at ever increasing speeds and with increasing violence, that speed and violence seems to control us. For me, prayer means that I take control of that time and space - even for a short time. I get to slow it down – to pause long enough to ‘smell the roses’. I get to step out of that violent space for a time and look at the places where humanity and peace prevails. It means that I make the time to notice beauty all around me. It means that I remember my humanity and that I can see that in those who care to alleviate suffering.
Sometimes there are moments so replete with emotion and feeling that we wish we had the right (the most beautiful) words to express those feelings. Prayer is the language for this. There are traditional prayers for such occasions, and there are so many new prayers that help us here.
I’ve often thought that prayer and an intentional prayer service can be likened to a great symphony or an awesome athletic event. For the participant or the performer in any of these arenas, that experience can be empowering, humbling and transformative all at the same time. ‘My prayers are with you’ doesn’t come close to those possibilities but it opens the door for us to consider the prayer possibilities beyond that phrase.
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,
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