Yesterday I went to hear a speaker at synagogue, the wife of a prominent rabbi visiting from Jerusalem. She spoke about faith, and the rewards of keeping faith uppermost in our hearts, even in dark times. She spoke about prayer and its power, and shared a few miracle stories attesting to it.
Here’s one of them. An Israeli man had to rush one of his twin infants to the emergency room because the infant had displayed frightening symptoms. Alone in the waiting area, the man caught sight of a volume of Psalms, Tehillim in Hebrew. Based on the old adage that there are no atheists in a foxhole, the man, who was secular, spent the night reading through the entire book of Psalms, crying over his sick infant and praying for the child’s recovery.
By the morning, the doctor told him that every test they had run was negative. The child appeared completely healthy. In a “happily ever after” ending, the man became religious.
I have very mixed feelings about stories like this. On one hand, I know they are probably true, but I also suspect some of these stories get exaggerated in the process of retelling. It’s not that I doubt that God performs miracles. In fact, I believe we are surrounded by miracles each and every day, and I have experienced many “small miracles” in my life that have deepened my own faith. I’m sure that one reason we Jews are obligated to pray three times a day is to remind us of all that is actually going right in our lives, when it is so easy to focus on what we lack. And after giving thanks for our blessings, we can pour on the requests for help and redemption.
For the man in this story, true faith may well have sprouted overnight as he had been touched by a divine miracle. But most people need to develop faith over time, and I don’t like it when the quality of having such faith is presented as something that’s as easy as whipping up a pot of chicken soup. It isn’t! I grew up feeling very connected emotionally to my Jewish identity, but I lacked a substantial Jewish education, and had zero education in the art of prayer. It has been the work of my entire adult life to develop the kind of steadfast faith that I admire in others, to really believe that somehow, some way, everything that happens is for the good, even the inexplicably sad and tragic. There are many things we will never be able to understand in this lifetime.
I looked around the room yesterday and saw that several women who had come to hear this speaker were still rather new to this sort of talk, which assumes a certain level of spiritual background and backbone. When I was still new to Jewish observance, I know this sort of presentation would have left me disheartened. “She makes it sound so easy!” I would have thought. Years and years later, I know that this sort of faith is possible, but that, like most other things of value in life, it is the result of effort, focus, and desire. I wanted to speak up yesterday and say to all the women who might have also been disconcerted by her words, “It’s okay to feel the struggle in all of it. Keep on praying, keep on questioning, keep on trying to make the relationship real. The real faith will come, a little at a time.”
I know: this is a pretty different type of blog post than the sort I usually write, and I didn’t make you laugh! Maybe you are disappointed. But the reason I haven’t posted anything new for such a long time, and the reason this post is such a different tone, is because I’ve been focused very intently on finishing a memoir about my own reluctant path to observance. I’m not done yet, but finally I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. So because my faith-life is so much on my mind, I’ll probably be adapting my blog to reflect these thoughts. I’ll still share as much humor as I can, and may split the blog into two pages so I don’t confuse or disappoint readers who are looking forward to some light humor and get some kind of heavy column about prayer instead I don’t mean to be heavy; I still plan to offer both mirth and meaning, but they may not be in equal measures for a while.
Also, I have posted a few recent columns on topics more business-oriented, and you can see those on my Linked In page.
Finally, over the past year I have begun to offer writing coaching services, along with my non-fiction editing services. You can see some of my client testimonials here.
I’ll keep you posted on the status of my book, and will try to blog more frequently. If you enjoy this post, please forward to a friend!