How do we speak to God?
Post date: Aug 31, 2012 10:46:48 PM
This is an edited reprint of an email I sent several months ago to the OA mailing list, prior to the Blog. I'm including it here for 2 reasons. First, to have a record of it outside people's personal email accounts, and second, because it is a segue into the next topics for the Yamim Nora'im, the High Holidays - How does God speak to us? and What are the implications of personal responsibility in a universe over which we have no ultimate control?
My topic is the last 3 paragraphs of the Amidah. As you may know, the Amidah, which is at the center of every morning, afternoon, and evening worship service, is one of the oldest, if not the oldest formulaic Hebrew prayer. It is referred to in the Talmud simply as Tefilah, which is the Hebrew word for prayer. The order and the subject matter of the final 3 paragraphs are what really caught my attention. Referring to them by their initial words, they are (a)
Retze, "accept" our prayer (b) Modim, we "thank" You, and (c) Sim Shalom, "grant peace".
So, how does one communicate with God? If God has no form, no boundaries, nothing we can speak to, touch, or feel, what does one do? That is why we start by saying "Accept our prayer." In a sense, we are saying, whatever it is that "You" are, we hope You get our message! We really hope that we as a people are doing stuff that You
as God of the Universe want. We can't know for sure, but we hope that we and our deeds are acceptable to You, whatever You are.
After that, the next thing we say to God is, "Thank You." Thank You for everything, for our breath, for our ability to live. And since there are no guarantees and literally, at any moment, we might (Heaven forbid) suffer even death, therefore, every moment we are alive is a gift, and we are grateful for it. Thank You.
Finally, after hoping that whatever we're doing is acceptable, then thanking God, we actually ask something of God. And what is the one thing we always ask of God? Peace. Please grant us peace.
What is important here is more than the formula for speaking with God. As Jews, our practice of religion is intimately tied with how to act, such that our world becomes a better place to live - for us, for our children, and for all generations that follow us.
So, the important thing (to me) is that this formula for communicating with God is designed to encourage us to act in just and honest ways throughout our day. After all, if you are going to say to God Almighty, "I hope you like what I've been doing," you'd best be sure you're OK with it first, wouldn't you think?
And before one ever asks for a favor, one would be well advised to show appreciation for all that one has already been given. And finally, if you're going to ask a favor of the Creator of the Universe, it should represent the loftiest of all human aspirations, and what could be more worthy than peace?
In this way, our prayer encourages us to deal with each other and with our world both justly and honestly. And our honest and just dealings in this world make us worthy to enter into a spiritual relationship with God.