Skip to main content

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.  


Popular posts from this blog

Make even these days count

One of the most popular features on a local newscast of a small TV station is something rather surprising. It is a feature called- “The Day of the Week”.  Today is…….. Monday!  The station put forth this as a kind of joke at first, but it was so popular that it became a regular daily addition to the morning newscast.  Apparently, so many of us have lost track of what day it is that we need a reminder. During this stay-at-home time, every day seems to blend into the next.  It is truly difficult to remember how many days we have all been quarantined at home, what the date is and what day of the week it is.  Many of us have a few markers that help- jobs that pause for the weekend, celebrations of Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays- special days of worship.  But even with these, the days seem to bleed into each other like a striped shirt washed in hot water. The period that we are in right now in the Jewish calendar is ironically, a time of counting. A time when we purposely try to keep

Our Diversity is Our Strength

I was riding the subway with my husband.   We were headed towards Penn Station, returning home after seeing a Broadway show in Manhattan.   It was rush hour, the subway was crowded and I was lucky to get one of the last seats.   It was amazingly quiet for such a crowded car.   Most people were looking at their phones or listening to a device.   There were quite a few pairs of wireless earphones on people.   Their heads nodded slightly to the beat of noiseless music, or their eyes glazed over as a mystery book played in their ears.   There was a rich variety of humanity on that single car- multiple ages, ethnicities, races, ages and income levels.   I marveled at the diversity and the peaceful coexistence in this tiny piece of New York City. My eyes glanced over to the man sitting next to me.   He was holding a book and reading it very intently.   Reading an actual book is a relatively rare occurrence these days, but what truly caught my attention was the unusual prin
Compassion On the radio a few days ago there was a piece about refugees arriving by boat to the shores of a country that in the past had been welcoming, but this time people were yelling angrily and running into the water to block the boats from landing.   The boats were full and there were children on board. The turmoil and anger in the crowd was audible. I don’t speak their language, but the reporter said that people blocking the boats were shouting “Go back home. We don’t care about the babies.” I was repulsed. I could not stop thinking about it. “We don’t care about the babies.” What would it take for me to say that? For my friends to say that? My neighbors? Horrible thought, that people I know might be moved to yell at desperate people “We don’t care about the babies.” I started to ask myself how that could happen, what it would feel like to push away needy people and shout “I don’t care about the babies.” Please don’t stop reading when I tell you that suddenly my hea