Sunday, October 02, 2016


It was an afterthought. 

I was writing about dysfunctional obsessive behaviors: drinking, drugging, gambling, sex, over-eating, and watching way too many baseball games on television.
Chicago Cubs WIN Flag
he usual coping strategies. And I added, as an afterthought, I considered, just for a moment, prayer. 

But stopped right there. Because, can we really pray too much?

This is the time of year that Jews pray for the welfare of the entire world. Our attention, highly introspective, drilled into us by parents, teachers. God is thought to be closer, He, She's sweating the details, paying attention, trying to see who's been naughty or nice. Santa, sorry, is a total steal.

In the synagogue daily, for the past month, or maybe at home, if you live with a musician, the blow of the ram's horn, the shofar, is a wake up call. Wake up! Think about what you really value, think about the important things. Pray for what matters, strive for better, reach to be a better person, extend yourself. We say that God judges the world, all of it on Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year.

It begins tonight, and the Days of Awe last 10 days. Last month, the prequel. This isn’t a party holiday, it is serious. Those of us who observe it don’t drink much in celebration, don’t want to be caught napping. There are loftier things to do, learning in particular, praying, and that's how we want to be seen, as if God, considering us for the coming year, will merely think of us this way.  

There have been extra prayers penitential prayers, beginning before the holiday, continuing until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. People pray early in the morning, late at night, fall into bed exhausted. Why bother with this? Isn't praying three times a day enough?  Either you believe or you don't, is the answer, and if you believe, then you know there is much to pray for, much that neither Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can or will even try to do a thing about. 

Our lives, the lives of the animals, the fish, the trees, gardens, insects, the atmosphere, the earth's resources, the weather, every income, our stocks, our jobs, you name it, everything is determined, the fates, sealed for a year. It is a one-year contract, designed to keep us on our toes.

Because otherwise, we take everything for granted. This is why therapists try to get you to buy into the idea (with several exceptions) that a little stress is good, a little depression, your problems good too, because these annoyances force our hands, inspire growth, creativity, change. Even learning how to manage emotion, the physiological-psychological baggage that goes with stress, all that painful emotion, is a good thing; managing it, a rite of passage.

When it's not too much.

When it is, when things get really bad, that's when some of us, if we pray at all, start to pray with a vengeance. When things are very bad, people who pray, pray harder. They ask for others to pray with them, for them, for their families. And some of us who never prayed before, begin. Coping in this fashion tends to help us find solace, a little bit of comfort, even if we don't get what we pray for. We will say, You can’t pray too much, you can only pray more. Free will? Sure, but in the end it isn't such a bad idea to ask for help

No atheists in the foxholes.

Once I had an acquaintance who, you could tell, prayed daily, maybe three times a day (since she's Jewish), with intention, meaning attention to the words. People in her synagogue thought this because at weekly Saturday services she spent a long time during the silent recitations of prayers, and she cried, sometimes a lot, sometimes just a bit. So most of us assumed that she had problems, and we guessed at what they were, but we all assumed that she truly believed in the whole idea, the idea of prayer.

Just an aside, in Judaism prayer is important, but actions are more important. During these High Holy Days we're judged on tefilah, tzedukah, tshuvah-- prayer, charity, and a return to doing what we’re supposed to do. (We're assumed to have messed up somewhere). Charity and return are behavioral, not contemplative, and an effort at all three at once holds the keys to life in the coming year.

But back to our story. So one day I noticed this friend wasn’t so intent on her prayers, that she seemed much more relaxed, chatting it up with the other women who sat near her. After services, the women were talking, just idle chatter about books and television, and she joined in. She mentioned that she liked some show that actually bothered me, it had so much gratuitous sex and violence, and I teased her, And here I thought you were so religious. 

She laughed and said, Aren’t you?

Sometimes we are, sometimes we're not. It is the way of all people who appear to be religious. 

Chances are, things picked up for her, something lightened her load. Or, she just burnt out, all that devotion, too much to keep up. She would say, my guess, is that as a coping strategy, prayer can be a masterful, powerful form of meditation, focus. Many of us concur. Still others say, It is more than that. It is life or death.

We can't help but hope that when we do pray, when we talk, when we put an invisible concept in the room, as if our words are under consideration, it will make a difference. There's nothing dysfunctional about that, obsessive or not. Perhaps insisting that others do the same, be the same, is.

Have a happy, healthy new year my friends. May God judge us leniently, give us a good one, rich and meaningful, with snapshot memories that move us to good tears, a year that only gently shakes us out of our comfort zones, motivates us to do whatever it is (for I believe it is different for everyone) that our Higher Power wants us to do.

And it wouldn't hurt, honestly, since She is paying attention, if she waved the blue and white WIN flag, and the Cubs win the World Series.


1 comment:

claiiresmum said...

This RedSox fan is rooting for the Cubs to take home the World Series trophy!!!