Some of you know my mantra is “Conversation leads to understanding”, a phrase shared with me by the Camp Director at Surprise Lake Camp in 2010, the first year SLC hosted our Camp Or L’Dor. Since then I’ve let that wisdom guide my interactions with others and find it is a very profound statement, one that would heal our world if universally applied.
My morning routine for decades has been to jog and during that time listen to Messianic Jewish music as I talk with God. It is my time with Him, uninterrupted, just He and I. Such times always brought me more intimately into our relationship and often were, and still are as I write this, the place of inspiration for most of my Shabbat encouragements.
Recently, however, I’ve changed my morning routine to include morning prayer using the Koren Shalem Siddur with annotations by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. So the first thing I now do is pray morning Shachrit from that siddur and then jog on mornings when I have time for both. Admittedly even before doing both I often check the morning news.
So it was this morning. As so often is the case most days, sadness and darkness dominated the headlines. Despite the troublesome events, my mind transitioned as I opened up the siddur. The beauty of this particular prayer book is that it has so many pages of readings and annotations, each day offers a new opportunity to read something new to deepen my understanding and experience of daily morning prayer. Soon my prayer time transported me to a place of equilibrium that nourished my spiritual strength and equipped me to tackle, or better process, so many adversities.
As I was reading/praying I read a sentence in an annotation of the siddur that really resonated with me. I made a mental note to go back to it to share with you this week, for it seemed to so beautifully connect our prayers and history of suffering to today’s world of woes. After I finished praying, I went back to where I thought it was in the siddur and never found it again, after turning page by page multiple times for over a half an hour! So the following is the best I can remember of what I saw:
“Prayer brings hope. Hope vanquishes tragedy.” (Forgive me, Rabbi Sacks, a blessed memory, if that’s not verbatim.)
Suffering is the fabric of mankind as can be seen in so many stories and times of our people. Although the footnote was addressing Jewish suffering in ancient days, and God’s never forsaking His people, I was reminded that when we pray, we do regain hope. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we pray even though we may not think of it in those terms. When I’m praying, whether freeform while jogging or while engaging with the siddur, I am in conversation with God, our Father and Yeshua as one amazingly comforting and intimate Presence. How could one not be hopeful at a time like that?
Prayer time is that time away from this world, away from the secular, a time of intimacy, and also, a time of seeking greater answers beyond our own abilities to solve, a time to intercede to a higher power on behalf of others, a time to transcend this realm to a place between being here and with Him. We enter a space with Him through our words where we meet to stretch from this world to touch His. And He meets us there too.
“Prayer brings hope. Hope vanquishes tragedy.”
Our conversation brings me into deeper relationship with Him and even when penitent, my heart is hopeful for forgiveness, not to mention how hopeful I feel during praise portions of our time together. I become more hopeful even on the tougher issues for I sense His Presence, a power greater than human capabilities. Then, when feeling hopeful, do we not see more possibilities of light in the darkness? Perhaps not complete brightness at the moment, yet a sense in our being that light will prevail ultimately, a reminder He’s got this. Our Abba, our Yeshua has our backs.
Tragedy, not we, will be extinguished. It was these life giving prayers that not only sustained our people thousands of years ago, but also brought some comfort to those lost in the Holocaust dying with the Shema on their lips as they looked at the graves facing them before the guns were shot, walking to the showers. As they died reciting this prayer, they had hope that somehow, someday, this unimaginable tragedy will be vanquished. Such a thought is beyond our comprehension, but all that we have in this realm.
Perhaps it is this emphasis in Judaism on incessant and regular prayer connecting us with our Creator that has helped us to stay committed to our responsibilities in this holiest of relationships, this blessed covenant, that has allowed us to even more fully be with Him. He is always with us. It is we who need to intentionally be reminded to be with Him. To not be vanquished. We as mere humans need this vehicle, prayer, to help us be reminded of the bigger picture, especially when tragedy, or even lesser hardships, strike.
There is no. . . way. . . I thought I’d have time to pray morning Shachrit. My days seemed filled to overflowing already. Yet somehow, it’s happening, and it is a transformative experience in my life. I must say, however, those of you with small children, or busy jobs and/or small children, or time consuming medical issues, or on so many other walks, I understand. The beauty of the “task”, however, is something can be everything. Even starting with prayers of gratitude, freeform, is a beginning. What I think you’ll find, however, is as you open that deeper door to your relationship with God, you will be shocked at how much more you want of Him, how much more you see of Him, and how much more He gives.
For yes, more conversation leads to even more understanding.