Early in our courtship, BWB and I were talking about my family’s custom of saying grace before meals.  The conversation expanded to include a broader range of prayer occasions, and I asked him when his family would pray.

Jews don’t pray, he said.

I sputtered.  Don’t pray like Christians, you mean?  Don’t pray out loud?  Nope, he said, we just don’t pray at all.  There was more sputtering on my part, as I was pretty sure I had witnessed prayer on the parts of Jewish friends in the past.  After further discussion, we refined our definitions somewhat.  When BWB spoke of prayer, he meant the stereotype in which a child kneels by the bedside or people hold hands in a circle and loudly proclaim their desire for Father God to bless them Father God and help them Father God to achieve Father God their goals Father God in Your Name Father God Amen.  As an Episcopalian who attended Quaker schools, I’ve grown up with prayer of a more quiet and personal nature, often silent.  I could understand his perception, and yet I pushed the issue — don’t you stop to talk to God sometimes, even just in passing?  Perhaps, he said, but we just don’t pray like that.

By the end of the conversation, I was harboring a little concern for our future family dinners and what grace we would say over them. We let the topic drop, though, one of those things we figured we would work out over time.

Fast forward to last Friday night, when we were sitting in temple service the day after Thanksgiving.  The rabbi, usually one of the more reserved people I have met, stepped out from behind the pulpit (do they still call it a pulpit in a synagogue?) to speak.

How many of you had spontaneous prayer at your Thanksgiving dinner?

Nobody raised his or her hand.  She repeated the question, and I nudged BWB.  We had, I reminded him.  When?  When you randomly announced in the middle of the meal that you were grateful for good friends and good food, and then we all went around saying what we were grateful for.  That counts?  Yeah, I said, and elbowed him again.  So when the rabbi asked if anyone had had spontaneous prayer but just weren’t saying they had, he raised his hand, and I cautiously half-raised mine.  She pounced, asking for details, and he explained what had happened.  Aaah, she said, and nodded, then looked around the room.  Suddenly there were several other families agreeing that they, too, had done this, but they didn’t really think that counted.  That wasn’t really prayer.

The rabbi smiled, and went on to tell us about a trip she had taken to Israel with a group made up of rabbis and Evangelical pastors.  She said that the Evangelicals kept stopping to pray (in the loud, Father God-containing manner mentioned above) and it made the rabbis very uncomfortable.  On the one hand, this was definitely not their style, but on the other hand, shouldn’t they be expressing gratitude for this journey, too?

As it turns out, Jews do pray, and quite often.  We were given a handout with some selections from this book, covering prayers over bread, wine, fruit, food from the earth, prayers to be said when hearing thunder or witnessing a rainbow, prayers to be said when something happens for the first time in a year.  There is apparently a prayer for just about everything, an ancient variant of “there’s an app for that”.  The rabbi told us that one is supposed to be praying about 100 times a day, and over the course of this sermon (is it still a sermon? I’m having some interfaith lexicon issues today) she became increasingly animated, clearly passionate about this topic.  She spoke about these prayers — short, codified pieces which are distinct and definite for each instance — and she asked us why we thought that the holy men who wrote them would have made so many, so different, so specific.

So that we would think about it, BWB murmured beside me.

And isn’t that the point?  These prayers are not long-winded rambles of gratitude and supplication, nor are they solemn moments of silent meditation.  These prayers are meant to make us mindful that every moment is a gift, every flower or raindrop is a blessing, every small joy is something to thank God for.  These are punctuation marks in the harried run-on sentence of our internal monologues.

In the end, we were both right in that original conversation.  Jews do pray, as I suspected, but they don’t pray exactly the same as Christians do, as BWB knew.  I don’t plan on giving up my silent, reflective prayer, and I have an appreciation for loud Evangelical-style praise circles which I suspect is unusual for the average Episcopalian, but I think I will try to add some of these new, Jewish-style prayers into my daily life.  Chalk this up for one more way my life with BWB has enhanced my spirituality and relationship with God.

Also, as far as saying grace goes?  We’re good to go — there’s a prayer for that, too.

Advertisements