We are faith leaders representing many different traditions and congregations who seek to promote understanding, dialogue, and common purpose in our community. This space offers members of our association an opportunity to share reflections with the broader community. The writings represent our individual views, not the positions of the Association or of our respective congregations. We aim to model dialogue that welcomes a diversity of ideas and perspectives grounded in friendship and respect.
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Does Prayer Work?
If many people pray for someone to get better and the person partially
recovers, did God answer the prayer?Was
the prayer lacking because not enough people joined in?Would the person have completely recovered if
twice as many people had prayed?
The thought of this age old question came to me, along with so many other
thoughts, contemplating the tragic story that unfolded in our largery community
this week leading to the tragic death of John Wile, a man with cognitive impairment
who had been missing after going for a jog earlier this week.My heart goes out to his family.
I was moved how so many people joined in the effort to attempt to locate
him, but without success.So did all our
prayers not work?Did we not offer enough?Do enough?
This is the wrong way to imagine how prayer works.Rabbi David Wolpe refers to such bargaining
prayer – make my loved one better and I’ll be good as “hardly the highest
spirit of faith.”
Would that it were so, and certainly, every so often, it does seem as if it
is, and I dare not to put limits on what God might do, but in my experience,
prayers aren’t answered with rewards sprinkled down on us from heaven.
Prayer does, however, move us to be godly, to be the agents of God, if not
God’s answer, in a world in need of prayer.Prayer is the challenge of love and of hope given voice, given life.It is the recognition, when we use the prayers
of the past, that our challenges are universal experiences of humanity.And when we often our own prayers, it is linking
our own experiences with the universal and, I believe, the Universal.
In our community this week, a life came to an end, hearts were broken and
hopes sank.Our prayers were neither
answered nor ignored.I’d like to think
they opened windows through which all the necessary responses to such a moment
in life entered – sadness, love, advocacy, futility of purpose, the presence of
God, the demand to do more even as one individual.
Just as the urge to find God present in the world motivates us to continually
strive to be just a little closer better than we have been every day, the need for
our prayers hasn’t ended, if anything it is one of the best ways to make
progress along that path of discovering God.
Rabbi Aaron Benson serves at the North Shore Jewish Center.
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