The Prayer Problem

Setting aside time every day for prayer is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s like learning how to sit up straight all the time. You try your best, but more often than not, you come up short.

Especially right now, in the thick of the startup of an academic semester, my prayers are more often than not just fleeting moments. Saying the sh’ma in the car, essentially.

But even in the best of times, the harder part is keeping it relevant, and if I’m honest about it, I have to say the fixed order of prayer in Jewish life is more often a barrier than a bridge.

Needless to say, I’m not alone in this. A recent article in Ha’Aretz really reached out and grabbed me:

Effective prayer is a vibrant conversation between an individual or a community, and God. But modern western civilization has, in four separate ways, distanced us from God. The success or failure of our work is no longer palpably dependent upon nature or God’s hand in it. The industrial revolution radically altered the perception of the factors that actually have an impact on our working lives: How can you talk meaningfully to God if you work in a factory or a bank, or in a store or an office?

… To make prayer meaningful for moderns, we need to get God out of the decreasingly significant “gaps” of risk and chance and irrationality. We need to get God and God’s values into the truly vibrant dimensions of our lives – into our productivity and our relationships, into our daily lives as individuals, as communities and as nations. Until then, new and creative Siddurim will have only a marginal affect on the prayer life of modern, socially integrated Jews.

This says a lot to me. Some of the deepest, most transformative moments of prayer I’ve experienced lately have been in flat-out asking God to intervene in the most broken places on Earth, places that human beings — for the moment at least — cannot or will not fix.  The Congo. Afghanistan. Sudan. Sri Lanka. And yes, Gaza. I picture the people there being lifted up, finding health and solace and joy, and pray that the people who oppress them will wake up to God’s presence in their eyes.

Does it help me? Yes, definitely. Does it help them? I don’t know. But if there’s even one chance in a billion billion billion that it does? I’d be crazy not to.

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