Monday, February 27, 2017

Conversations with the Almighty

Part of my Introduction to Judaism class that I have really appreciated is the requested reading. They don't really have required reading: just a list of books that they suggest that you read. In addition, each Rabbi has resources that they present to show us interesting ideas that develop whichever point they're presenting that week. I'm currently in the middle of a book called "What Do Jews Believe?" By David Ariel. Between that and the class materials, I came to a startling conclusion (for me): prayer, as a thing, is not about Gd. Prayer, as a thing, is about me. Gd doesn't need me to pray because His ego needs the validation.

I know, right? That is an amazing conclusion. That is even more amazing if you know me (and, gentle reader, at this point you probably should know me pretty well): EVERYTHING is about me. That's how I'm built. So, what took me so long to figure this out?

Prayer as a vehicle for personal affirmation and personal development is obviously not restricted to Judaism. I do understand that, and I am not denigrating any particular faith's made of prayer. I think you guys get this. I'm pretty sure that my grad school roommate and I had this exact discussion on several different occasions. Okay, AB, it took me twenty years to figure this out.

I love the concept of prayer as an affirmation of intent and as a reminder of the million little blessings with which we live on a daily basis. The second part, first: how many amazing things happen on a regular basis, that we just ignore? This morning, I had an amazing cup of coffee first thing upon waking. My oldest son had hopped into bed with us because he had a nightmare; how amazing is it, that we can provide support to him when he is fearful? I listened to an engaging podcast on my to work in the Cinemasins podcast. How many great things had to happen, to bring these friends together to create the Cinemasins YouTube channel, which spun off onto a podcast? Not to mention the whole thing of YouTube.... but you get the point. The rabbis talk about saying 100 blessings in a day, and this is a part of it: finding ways to be thankful for our little miracles and to find new little miracles to notice along the way.

This is something that I've tried to do for years and years and years. I have grown to like the concept of prayer as a vehicle to find these things. I think that I'm pretty good at finding these miracles regularly, although they mostly center around my children: The Boy's amazing growth as a trombone player; the sound of the ball off of Little Bear's bat; listening to The Baby read a book out loud to himself. Lately, though, I've been bogged down by worldly concerns: my own health issues, problems at work, and an unrelenting schedule in life. The concept of working to find 100 blessings in a day, to say 100 prayers through the course of a day, is a really neat goal.

The other thing has been a larger sticking point with me: prayer as an affirmation of intent or a request for assistance. Praying for strength. Praying for the ability to get a hit or make a pitch (or for your 7-year old to succeed). Praying that a cough will stop, or that our car will stop making that funny noise. I think this is the more common expression, and it always stuck in my craw. Why does Gd need to hear from me in those situations? How would this great, unknowable, powerful force of the universe need my little prayer or wish?

Well, he doesn't. Never did. Never will. It isn't about him.

My reframing (of my own issue) is that my racer is an expression to Gd of how I intend to behave. When I pray for strength, it's my intention to behave strongly and to persevere through the hardship in front of me. When I pray for success in an interview, I intend to do my research, find a great outfit, talk to the people for advice, get a decent night's sleep, and present myself as best as I can. Gd doesn't need that, but I do. As a human being, I feel better and more confident when I make a public pronouncement of my intentions. If I say often and loudly that I intend to behave like a good person, then I feel like I'm more likely to do so. (At this point, I do not need examples of the people who are hyper religious and vocal about it, but are complete d bags. I'm aware of them. This isn't about the flaws surrounding organized religion.)

As far as the petition for help thing goes, I'm not entirely sure about that. This is the start of my journey, not its conclusion (I hope). I believe that there is comfort available in asking for support and asking for help, even if the form in which help arrives isn't the form you expect. We prayed for help when The Boy got sick; who knew that the help we needed would lead us to selling our house (and getting lucky when the frozen ground prevented them from being able to further test the inground oil tank), living with our inlaws in Pittsburgh, where we got lucky enough to be noticed at our synagogue to a point where The Wife was asked to sing at services, a path which lead her to be the cantorial soloist and me to my journey into Judaism? (...and the banking industry, but that's why stereotypes are a thing.) The direct call for help - if The Boy would have been "lay Gd's hands on him" healed, then our path and careers likely would not be what they are now. To be honest, I'm happier and more fulfilled than I ever felt as a teacher. Gd is there, and he does help us, but life and his help are more different than we can imagine.

In short, I am in favor this whole prayer thing. I'm looking forward to more explanation and consideration as time continues.

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Location:Love St,Pittsburgh,United States

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