Monday, May 3, 2010

On Prayer

For the past week or so, I’ve found myself wanting to be able to “do more” for people, not in the physical sense, but in the realm of prayer. In Judaism, one thing women are especially encouraged to do is to recite Psalms on behalf of people who are ill or injured or otherwise in need of help. There are specific Psalms that are generally used as prayers for the sick, but one can also simply read straight through the Book of Psalms, keeping the sick or injured person(s) in mind while one recites.

Prayer works two ways. If one believes in G-d, then one believes that G-d has the power to heal or cure or repair. So, by prayer, one can request that G-d help a friend or relative or relative of a friend, or a stranger. But, also, by praying we feel like we are somehow contributing to the world in a positive way, by asking for help on someone else’s behalf.

I began to feel like I had quite a few friends who could use a little help on the prayer front. So I made it a point to read a few Psalms every day, including a few that are specifically designated as prayers for the sick. Today I got up to Psalm 25. I’ll read a few tomorrow, and the next day, and eventually I’ll have read all 150. Then, I guess, I’ll start again.

It’s amazing how you feel proactive when you take it upon yourself to do this. I take a few minutes of my day to make a heartfelt plea on behalf of a friend, a friend’s baby, a friend’s nephew, a relative, and maybe, in some small way, I can swing their pendulum in the right direction. I don’t claim to have a direct line to G-d, that I can speak and G-d will go, “Oh, well, if Jessica is asking, then of course I’ll cure so-and-so’s cancer.” That’s arrogance in its highest form. But I still think that there’s some kind of, I don’t know, prayer energy or something that G-d responds to, but we have to put in some of the effort.

This is actually true in most aspects of Judaism. G-d is willing to help, possibly, but you have to do some of the work. You don’t just sit there and let money rain down on you from the clouds. No. Maybe G-d gave you the intellect to go to Harvard and get the medical degree so that you can be a successful heart surgeon and make money that way. But you have to do the legwork. You have to use what G-d gives you. You can pray for parnassa, success, but if you don’t send out resumes or study for tests, you aren’t doing your part.

Obviously, I can’t personally work toward curing a friend’s cancer or helping a baby to become healthy so that he can get out of the NICU. I don’t have the necessary skills. That isn’t part of my G-d-given role in life. But if I can take a few minutes to think about those people, well, shouldn’t I?

I know that famous statistic, that 95% of Americans believe in G-d in some form or another. I have also read of studies that show that when people are prayed for, even if they don’t know about it, they have a better survival rate. We Americans are a religious people, even if a lot of us don’t want to admit it. There’s something about organized religion that some Americans find repugnant. I don’t know why. If organized religion can give us something like this power to pray, this framework for prayer, the community to pray with, and to pray for, and if that prayer can help other people, then I think that’s pretty darn good.

So take a moment to think of people in your life who could use a few prayers. Then open a Bible or prayer book to Psalm 20, or 30, or 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”), or to Psalm 1, and start reading, thinking of the people that you know while you read. How could it hurt?


Ruth said...

Tehillim are amazingly powerful! I put a few favorites on my Blackberry, so I can do a quick Chapter 20 when waiting for a red light.

Pamela Nadav said...

One year ago this month of May, my youngest son, Daniel, was on life support (from severe pneumonia) for 6 weeks.I knew about the Psalms, but never really read them seriously in my life. "What can I do?" I cried to Rabbi and Nechama- Nechama gave me the book of Tehillim and I started reading on the corresponding date and it matched exactly what was going on for my son- it was such a life changing experience and comfort for me.A great miracle- Baruch Ha-Shem Daniel woke up, I gave him the Tehillim book which comforts him and strengthens him everyday of his life with his new name- Chaim Daniel Benjamin ben Sarah.