I have been prayed for more times that I know. There were blessings I requested two years ago, sending an email to those I loved: “I am struggling and trying to do something different. Because so often I find myself not knowing what to ask for or which direction to turn, I wonder if you would be willing to write a prayer for healing that I might use until I uncover my own words.” January 21, 2008
Six months later, I was unaware of the words being spoken, prayers offered, the fervent pleas for my life. There were circles of women, all strangers to me, who gathered to recite Tehillim, Psalms, on my behalf. Rabbis in Israel who murmured my name as they bowed at the Western Wall. My Hebrew name, Dafna Ariel bat Moshe v’ Miriam appearing on the list of members in need of healing. There were forwarded emails and urgent calls wrapped around the globe as a community of Jews united in their efforts to save a child.
I am no different than most. I tried everything else first. I went to doctors, to therapists, to friends. I tried pills, meditation, yoga, and hospitals. I read books and asked questions, consulted experts who promised to fix. I looked everywhere else first because it didn’t cross my mind. Prayer was for Saturday mornings and lighting the shabbos candles, but as a method for healing, it seemed like a waste of time.
There is a difference between forming words while bowing at the appropriate moment and meaningful prayer. I could read Hebrew but I didn’t understand a word. Reading the translations left me indifferent, dark shadows versus flames of being heard or strength located to hold me upright. I had no idea where to start, how to uncover holiness, or even if I really believed my appeals would be heard. But like so many who wander the midnight streets, I was willing to try.
So I asked and I received. I gathered pages of prayers written by family, friends, those I loved, and those that loved them. I sifted through words of healing, painful petitions and knee-bended supplications, generous donations of soul anchoring me to this world. I was the beneficiary of faithful strangers, pleas recited in circles, songs sung for life.
The question is how do you measure success? Is there a prayer expiration date? Was breathing a passing grade? Does the fact that six months later prayers for my life were once again being circulated, this time against my tired wishes, mean that the earlier prayers didn’t work? Were unanswered? Or is it possible that the response can be discovered in the help offered, shoulders rested upon, tears cried? Is it possible that the earlier prayers I sought were answered with the prayer circles that came later? That the result is found in still being alive six months later? What accounts for my pleasure over puppy kisses this morning? Are you willing to give all of the credit to experts and medication and therapy? Will you praise Hashem as the healer of the sick? Is the answer somewhere in between?
And for whom were the prayers? I can close my eyes and beg for what I think I need or for your health or her sanity, but I am too small to see the ripples. The answer that I really require might have nothing to do with my friend and everything to do with my connection with the Holy, my connection with my soul. Maybe my pleas are answered by the arms that carry me when I tire, by the friends who listen to worries, by family who show up even if I am absent. Perhaps the prayers of years ago were answered as balm for the praying, back door answers bolstering those who bore the burden of fear.
I cannot understand the power of prayer and I cannot judge the answers. I do not question the whys of my journey or demand explanations for pain. As a single leaf, I am blind to the magnificence of my oak tree. I do not know for whom or how or why. I do not comprehend the power of voices rising together, or the potency of ancient words to cure. I can’t convince you with remote prayer statistics or research study data. But I do believe. And perhaps the prayers were answered in this: I finally found my own words. I found my own prayers.
I learned how to lean on ancient blessings and communal words. I learned how to locate the holiness in the spaces between, and how to read the verses of the heart. I practice caring less about specific words and more about the quest for connection, the desire for the holy. I learned that it is in the praying I find my G-d, that I find myself. I learned that hugs are blessings and hands are answers. I found the sanctity in laughter and the holiness in family.
I still don’t know how prayer works or when my prayers will be answered. I don’t always know what I need or for whom to pray. There are times my words become rote, hollow letters strung together, and times when I doubt. But I show up anyway and each morning I say a prayer of thanks.
Thank you for blessing me with unanswered prayers. Thank you for not giving me what I asked for as I begged for an ending. Thank you for responding to the plea behind my words, for knowing the answer I needed was resilient love instead of a burial plot.
Thank you for blessing me with unanswered prayers. Thank you for life.
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