#BlogElul – Pray
When I start and end the day with prayer, when I start and end each meal with prayer, when I pray for some of the things a person is supposed to pray for, I notice my world more. Seriously, I see things more clearly when I pray. I know right from wrong better. All of a sudden, because I took the time to have that moment, I can resist temptation just a tiny bit, and give myself the drive to do a bit more than I thought I could. This is why I pray – it is a conversation with God, which grounds me, focuses me and makes me more capable.
A song of the holidays that I used to enjoy (it was written by a local Kingston artist so I haven’t heard it for a while) had the words “my prayers flow inward; my prayers flow upward; my prayers flow outward.” That rings true to me. My prayers have those three aspects, I feel.
When God is my best self, a quiet voice that inspires me, my prayers flow inward, reminding me of that part. My prayers become a chance to listen and talk to my conscience, my inspiration, my creativity. I can do more when I pray like that. If I am having trouble praying, it is probably a symptom of the fact that there’s something I don’t want to face so I’m not looking. (Of course, sticking fingers in my ears while chanting na-na-na-na, I can’t hear you” is not a working long term strategy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use it sometimes.)
When God stands for ritual and tradition, connection with my ancestors and descendants, when God is the grounding force in my life, my prayers flow “upward” to connect me to that source. This is where I get strength, energy, courage. My prayers are a chance to meditate, to take a step away from work, to find calm, maybe to find the ability to fall asleep. My prayer gives my life structure and meaning when my prayers flow upward. I am a comfortable part of all that is.
When my prayers flow outward, I become more responsible and more responsive. God is now what I see in another’s eye. God is the love that flows between us, honouring us both. When I recognize every person as being in God’s image every day, I am inspired to do more to care for others. I can begin (slowly and ultra reluctantly – mostly I don’t wanna!) to put others ahead of my selfish desires and needs.
In my opinion, one of the most perfect prayers, found as part of the Shabbat prayer is “sabeynu mituvekha, vtaher libeynu l’avdekha be-emet” This is a request prayer, and it’s one I like, because I need it so much.
Sabeynu – satisfy; fulfil; let what we have in life be enough. Help us to feel gratitude for what we have and to realize how good life is. If life isn’t good, show us where we can find that satisfaction. Help us to see the glass as half-full and to enjoy the fact that it’s not completely empty – or if it is, that we have a glass at all! As usual, this is an “us” prayer (note the ‘nu’ ending, people) and ensures that we do it together. One of our sources of satisfaction is other people.
MiTuvekha – of Your goodness; from Your kindness; with the Good that flows from You. Help us all to see what’s real, to focus on the good that comes from God and not on the ephemeral everyday things we seem to grasp for. This is God’s way of reminding us that the miracle is birds and children, loved ones and kittens, fresh vegetables and gardens – and not calculation of dollars and cents, video games, or whatever our obsession is. There is goodness in this world – in being with others, in helping people, in smiles and laughter. We prioritise God’s goodness and we recognize it.
VeTaher – purify; make holy; clean – this is where repentance and change are related to cleaning, to purifying. We remove the things that block us. No more dirt, no more grime, no more petty thoughts and little negative ideas. No matter how messed up are feeling are, we take the time to try and clean them up. But this is a request. Sometimes we need help with this. We ask God to do this job – to remove that which makes us impure from us.
Libeynu – Our hearts; In ancient Israel, this word was also the word for “mind”, as they believed knowledge and thought was in the heart. So, it is our thoughts and feelings, our desires and our loves, our dwelling on irrelevancies, our worries and angers, our hatreds and needs that we are asking for God’s help with. We want pure hearts – we want thoughts and feelings that correspond to the very best of us.
L’avdekha – to serve; Notice how it always comes to service? We serve God – the God within us, the God within others, the God in the world. It sort of clarifies priorities – take care of myself, take care of other people, take care of the world I live in. In this way, I serve God. This prayer is said on Shabbat, and it’s our request so that we can rest properly. The point of both God’s goodness and our ability to think and feel is to make the world (us included) a better place.
BeEmet – in truth; in faith; with honesty and sincerity. We pray for it to be real, something we believe. We pray that our goodness, like God’s becomes more than pretty words, that it is tangible in action. We pray that our outward selves more and more remember our deepest inner selves and that we are accountable for what we commit to. This, the final word, is the hardest for me in the prayer – it reminds me that there is a lot I must do if I am to be true to what I say.
Today, I pray for truth, for guidance, for purity, for strength. Today, I pray to hear the God within and without. I pray to be satisfied. I pray to serve. I pray that the words I say in prayer become reflected in the actions I take.